If you follow academic discussions on Twitter, you may have caught sight of a discussion recently about grad school experiences prompted by Dr Kathryn Milligan-Myhre at the University of Alaska:
For those of you who had/are now having a difficult time in grad school, what support was/is lacking? If you don’t feel comfortable posting from your handle, PM me, I will post for you.
— Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre (@Napaaqtuk) March 24, 2019
What followed was a long thread of experiences and messages received by Dr. Milligan-Myhre detailing a multitude of problems including stories of power-imbalances, and departmental or institutional inaction. Stories such as these are familiar to us over at Future of Research; it’s part of the motivation behind our efforts. Having fostered this dicussion, Dr. Milligan-Myhre then posed the question to departmental staff and faculty:
Faculty/GS dept people: These stories are heartbreaking, but an accurate picture of grad school for many of our students. Next step: What are YOU going to do to make grad school experiences better for students? https://t.co/DPK8u7GqEj
— Dr. Kat Milligan-Myhre (@Napaaqtuk) March 29, 2019
If you’ve been following our work over the last few months, you may be aware that FoR is organizing the Mentoring Future Scientists meeting (primarily in Chicago, but facilitating remote participation through satellite meetings) to bring together graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty and departmental leaders and representatives, to discuss what departments can do to prioritize attention to mentoring.
The importance that departments and institutions attach to supporting good mentorship, and providing mechanisms for accountability and addressing poor mentorship, have become an issue of intense scrutiny for early career researchers. Our meeting on June 14th 2019 at the Big Ten Conference center in Chicago, IL, is dedicated to greater prioritization of mentoring practices in departments and at institutions.
Why are we undertaking this effort?
Good mentors often are not recognized for their efforts in mentoring (and not only for mentorship of people in their own research groups; they are also often picking up the slack for other poor mentors in the department, and so can become overly burdened). Poor mentors may not be identified and supported in improving their mentorship and management skills.
So-called “Tor-“mentors or “De-“mentors, actively exploitative or bad actors, all too often face little to no consequence for their poor mentorship, despite at times these actions being an open secret in a department, institution or research community. We propose that a lack of focus on mentoring is partly responsible for preventing ECRs from reaching their full potential (see our meeting page for a list of evidence to support this claim).
Our meeting aims foster greater transparency for ECRs regarding mentoring efforts, and greater attention to mentoring standards by departments and institutions. The short-term outcome for our meeting is to develop an agreed set of guidelines, and to get a commitment from participating departments to adopt them as a first step towards a greater focus on standards of mentorship at departments and institutions.
You can see more details about the full schedule over at the conference page, but we’re very excited to have workshops facilitated by:
- Dr. Kathryn Milligan-Myhre from the University of Alaska, to promote the work being undertaken by faculty in response to the Twitter discussion above;
- Susannah Harris from The PhDepression;
- Dr. Danika Khong and Dr. Elizabeth Wu from Scismic.
We will also have a keynote presentation from Dr. Melissa McDaniels from Michigan State University, Co-Director of the NIH National Research Mentoring Network Master Facilitator Initiative, which works to promote the training of mentors in mentorship.
How can you participate?
Come join us!
We have opened up registration to the central meeting in Chicago here. We are particularly keen to involve graduate students and postdocs; junior faculty; and representatives of departments or graduate programs.We have a suggested donation of $100 to help cover conference costs but for ECRs, and those for whom the cost is prohibitive, we ask you to sign up here instead.
Join us remotely!
We are looking for help in hosting satellite meetings around the country. We will be able to stream the talks and workshops to facilitate remote participation in the meeting, and we need your help! Please see our satellite meetings guide: Mentoring satellites.
- We have a satellite taking registration in Boston – the event will be at Boston University, please register your interest here.
- We also have a satellite event planned in University of Wisconsin Madison – register here
Get your departments to join us!
We are particularly interested in hearing from departmental representatives – those with experiments on mentoring under way, those interested in hearing from others and resource-sharing, and those potentially willing to be pilot signatories on the guidelines. Please pass this flyer along to people in your institution who you think could help us with the departmental/institutional perspective and are interested in seeing mentorship take a more central role in departmental interests.