Mentoring Future Scientists: The role of grads and postdocs as mentors

Mentoring Future Scientists: The role of grads and postdocs as mentors

Future of Research is organizing a meeting to develop a set of departmental mentoring climate guidelines, with the potential to be used as an assessment tool by departmental leaders wishing to commit to actionable departmental improvement, and by ECRs to establish which departments are centering good mentorship in their priorities. To join the meeting in Chicago, or at one of our satellites around the US, see the conference page here!   We often talk about the idea of academic mentorship in terms of a professor fostering the career of a researcher earlier in their career, such as a graduate student or postdoc. But of course the reality is that many graduate students and postdocs are themselves mentoring others themselves, including undergraduates. Two recent pieces discuss mentorship by “trainees” from a personal perspective, and in a scientific paper.   In Symbiosis: the mutual benefits of mentoring undergraduates in the lab on the ASCB COMPASS blog, Jami Conley Calderon recounts the experience of mentoring undergraduates and provides some key steps from their experience in an approach for graduate students to take when mentoring undergraduates: Explain the lab’s research; Encourage questions; Be present; Give students agency over their project; Be understanding; and Respect their time. You can read the full post, with more details on each step, here.   In Volunteered or Voluntold? The Motivations and Perceived Outcomes of Graduate and Postdoctoral Mentors of Undergraduate Researchers, published in CBE-Life Sciences Education, Limeri, Asif and Dolan take a systematic approach to look at the postgraduate perspective of this mentoring experience.   Using exploratory interviews, the authors identified and characterized motivations for 32 postgraduates...
Please tell us what you think about FoR (plus a chance to win a FoR tote bag!)

Please tell us what you think about FoR (plus a chance to win a FoR tote bag!)

June 28th will mark the last day for staff support at Future of Research on our seed grant, and so will see the departure of Executive Director Dr. Gary McDowell. This gives the organization an opportunity to look back over the 3 years of the non-profit’s full-time operations to see what has worked, what hasn’t, and plan future directions.   To help with this effort, we would like your help – please complete this survey (all sections optional) to tell us your thoughts. There’s also the chance to be entered into a draw for a hand-stitched FoR motif on a tote bag by our own ED!   Please feel free to be honest – the organization and our ED would all appreciate critiques in moving forward, to learn from mistakes or past successes that we may not be fully aware of....
Co-reviewing good, Ghostwriting bad: The role of early career researchers in peer review at journals

Co-reviewing good, Ghostwriting bad: The role of early career researchers in peer review at journals

Last year at an ASAPbio meeting on peer review, one discussion centered around the role of early career researchers (ECRs) in peer review, and particularly how frequently ECRs contribute to peer review behind the scenes. This was fueled by a survey in eLife, a journal publishing life sciences research, indicating that 92% of those surveyed had undertaken reviewing activities, but more than half had done so without the assistance of their advisor. Dr. Gary McDowell (FoR Executive Director) and Dr. Rebeccah Lijek (former FoR BoD member and faculty member at Mount Holyoke College) led workshops discussing the reasons for, and questions about, the likely unrecognized involvement of ECRs in the peer review process. Those conversations inspired a year-long project to collect data on how frequently ECRs contribute to peer review when they are not the invited reviewer (“co-review”), and how commonly ECRs co-review without being acknowledged to the journal editorial staff (“ghostwrite”). Results and recommendations have now been published as a preprint here at bioRxiv. You can also read an article about the preprint in Physics Today. 1,952 publications in the peer-reviewed literature were evaluated though an exhaustive search and no previous studies about ECRs ghostwriting peer review reports were found. 498 researchers were then surveyed about their experiences with, and opinions about, co-reviewing and ghostwriting as ECRs. This found: 3/4 of those surveyed have co-reviewed and most find it to be a beneficial (95% agree) and ethical (73% agree) form of training in peer review; co-reviewing is the second most commonly reported form of training in peer review besides receiving reviews on one’s own papers; 1/2 of those surveyed have...
FoR Chicago 2019: Mentoring Future Scientists – Join us locally or remotely to help departments focus on mentoring

FoR Chicago 2019: Mentoring Future Scientists – Join us locally or remotely to help departments focus on mentoring

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...
Achieving independence in research career transitions

Achieving independence in research career transitions

On March 13th 2019, FoR ED Gary McDowell led a workshop, “Training Transitions: Pathways to Independence in Research” at the University of California Irvine School of Biological Sciences.   What does “independence” mean for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine study for The Next Generation Researchers Initiative (of which FoR ED Dr. Gary McDowell and FoR President Dr. Jessica Polka were members) took the definition of independence from a previous 2005 Academies study, Bridges to Independence:   “The definition of ‘independence’ as a researcher in a tenure-track faculty position who has received his or her first R01 research project grant is outdated… …we define an ‘independent investigator’ as one who enjoys independence of thought… …In addition, the committee has affirmed the interconnectedness of scientific research and research training. Mentoring and research training cannot be separated from scientific research for anyone in postdoctoral- or graduate student- positions and should not be considered as separate objectives.””   The barriers that early career researchers (undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty) may face in establishing themselves as independent scholars are a topic of increasing discussion, in an ever more hypercompetitive academic environment. For example, a major issue for postdocs is the tension between being supported from research project grants, fulfilling the aims of someone else’s research project, rather than being in the ideal postdoc position of developing their own research project and goals, and learning how to lead a project, with mentorship from another investigator. This is just one example of the conflict that has arisen between fostering academic scholarship, and providing the labor for...
Postdoc Salaries: New salary threshold for overtime proposed for Fair Labor Standards Act

Postdoc Salaries: New salary threshold for overtime proposed for Fair Labor Standards Act

The data above is from our paper “Monitoring the compliance of the academic enterprise with the Fair Labor Standards Act” showing how institutions were expecting to change salaries after the last FLSA update was blocked.   The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) establishes standards such as minimum wage and overtime pay for employees in both the public and private sectors in the United States. Through the FLSA a minimum wage and overtime pay (for working more than 40 hours per week) at 1.5 times the employee’s regular rate are guaranteed (United States Department of Labor, 2016a). On December 1, 2016, the FLSA was due to be updated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). One key change proposed was an increase in the annual salary threshold for exemption from overtime pay from the 2004 level of $23,660 to $47,476. The other key change was indexing the salary level so that it would be updated automatically every 3 years pegged to the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest-wage Census region. On December 1st, 2016, the threshold at which salaried workers receive overtime payment for working more than 40 hours per week was due to increase from $23,660 to $47,476 per year, under updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This was delayed by an injunction granted November 22nd (see here for more information) and was declared invalid as of August 31st by the same court. The Department of Labor has now proposed a new set of updates to formally retract and replace the 2016 proposal. The proposals: would likely come into effect January 1st 2020 would raise the threshold for overtime exemption from...
A Tale of Two Tenure-Reversals: Ongoing developments at Johns Hopkins vs Vanderbilt

A Tale of Two Tenure-Reversals: Ongoing developments at Johns Hopkins vs Vanderbilt

This post is by FoR Executive Director Dr. Gary McDowell.   March 8th was International Women’s Day 2019, during which you likely heard about numerous financial and funding disparities in academia, including but not limited to: a gender pay gap in scientist salaries; our own research showing a gender pay inequity in U.S. postdoc salaries; nearly half of women in full-time science leave after having a child; women setting up labs get smaller start-up funding pots than men; women who are first-time NIH grantees are receiving lower funding amounts than men (study here); a focus on “people” rather than “projects” in awarding funding favors men.   In addition, there have been a number of recent developments around sexual harassment. Sexual harassment in academia was the subject of a recent study at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, demonstrating that rates of harassment in academia in the U.S. were at levels second only to the U.S. military. In response, there has been an increased focus on the actions taken by institutions in protecting their researchers (or lack thereof), including early career researchers who may be in particularly precarious circumstances of temporary unemployment and temporary visas. A new non-profit, MeTooSTEM, has emerged which is sharing the stories of those who have been harassed on their site and aims to develop resources for those who have been targets of harassment. Two recent incidents illustrate the crossroads that institutions are reaching on taking action vs continuing to defer it. One concerns the reported vote last week to revoke the tenure of a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, who was...
Comments on proposed changes to Title IX to reopen on Feb 15th for 24 hours

Comments on proposed changes to Title IX to reopen on Feb 15th for 24 hours

This post is a modified and updated version of a post from January 2019.   The U.S. Department of Education is reopening submission for comments on changes to Title IX (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance) for one day only on February 15th. We are urging you to contact the and submit comments; to learn more, please read on.   News: The Department of Education is reopening commenting on Title IX on February 15th only. Having already received 104,367 public comments, many from scientists and scientific organizations, comments are being reopened due to technical difficulties experienced on the last day of commenting previously. Read on to find out more, and how to comment on February 15th.   What is Title IX? Title IX protects students and employees of educational institutions from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX has helped women in education in various ways.   What is happening with Title IX right now? At the moment the Secretary of Education is proposing rule changes to Title IX, which you can read in detail here, but a great summary is here at 500 Women Scientists.   Comments may be submitted on February 15th via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=ED_FRDOC_0001-0830   For more information, please check out the Take Action Tuesday page at...
Take Action and Comment on Title IX by January 30th

Take Action and Comment on Title IX by January 30th

The deadline to comment on changes to Title IX (Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance) has been extended to January 30th. We are urging you to contact the U.S. Department of Education and submit comments; to learn more, please read on.   What is Title IX? Title IX protects students and employees of educational institutions from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial assistance. Title IX states that: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX has helped women in education in various ways.   What is happening with Title IX right now? At the moment the Secretary of Education is proposing rule changes to Title IX, which you can read in detail here, but a great summary is here at 500 Women Scientists. They are currently taking comments – over 65,000 have currently been submitted – on the proposed rule changes.   Comments may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=ED_FRDOC_0001-0830   For more information, please check out the Take Action Tuesday page at 500 Women Scientists, this page at UAW 5810, or this site set up by a Faculty group which aggregates a resources aiming to help faculty and other educators who wish to write comments, and to encourage commenting by others inside or outside academia. It includes information on how to easily submit relevant research. You can also...
On our twelfth and final day of #FoRmentors: power structures, power dynamics and anti-racism in systemic changes to mentoring

On our twelfth and final day of #FoRmentors: power structures, power dynamics and anti-racism in systemic changes to mentoring

This is part of a series of blog posts explaining our push for centering mentoring in academia. We are organizing a meeting in Chicago in June 2019 to take action – you can learn more about the effort here. Donate to our mentoring effort!   This is a post by BoD member Dr. Kaliris Salas-Ramirez. This takes us into January, which is National Mentoring Month. We will continue to discuss mentoring and provide updates as our conference planning progresses here.   Mentorship, leadership, institutional policies and systemic change should be something that researchers, as part of institutions, should always be thinking about. Understanding power structures, power dynamics and engaging in bias training that includes learning about racism as a social construct, is critical for bringing about transformative change in the sciences.  As professionals committed to innovation and improving the lives of others, understanding these different aspects of systems will allow us to deepen our mentoring relationships within our laboratories and departments. These play a critical role in the development of scientists at every career level and can elevate the voices of even the most marginalized and oppressed groups to promote equity in the research enterprise. Based on my lived experiences, identities and roles, I have many things to say when it comes to privilege, bias, racism and relationships in the academy. I am a Puerto Rican Neuroscientist that trained at Michigan State University (the first to graduate with a doctorate from an underrepresented group (URG), Black and Latinx, in Neuroscience) and is currently faculty at the CUNY School of Medicine (one of three people of color with PhD’s in the...