On the fifth day of Christmas #FoRMentors gave to me….a center for mentors and trainees

On the fifth day of Christmas #FoRMentors gave to me….a center for mentors and trainees

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 guest post by FoR Board Member Juan Pablo Ruiz, the leader of the mentoring working group When I speak to folks, regardless of career stage, about my passion for improving mentoring environments and competency among biomedical researchers, especially among those who currently have students and postdocs in their labs, I’m often asked questions relating to the difficulty in defining just exactly what constitutes mentoring: “How can you define mentoring, it’s so different for everyone, and changes as you develop across a career? No one model fits all.” “How do you differentiate between supervision and mentorship?” And more often than not, “But where’s the data, and how do we know what works and what doesn’t? Aren’t most of those workshops and trainings just a waste of time?” The thing is, for how much stock most of us, as life scientists, put into data and publications, we are either unaware of, or, more unfortunately, uncomfortable with, data and publications coming from our colleagues in the social sciences. And while many of us have been asking these questions regarding mentoring and lab environments during our lunch breaks or at the pubs after a day in the lab, social scientists have actually been providing a significant amount of rigorous literature on these topics, helping us answer these questions and ask better ones. In particular, one group, known as the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), has been providing mentoring training and assessment...
Our third of twelve days of #FoRmentors: the perception gap between lab members and lab leaders

Our third of twelve days of #FoRmentors: the perception gap between lab members and lab leaders

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! One of the issues we most frequently encounter at Future of Research is a gap in perception between what early career researchers experience, and what senior researchers perceive to be happening. This comes up in issues such as salaries and financial hardship; career awareness and development opportunities and even issues related to scholarship. In “Some hard numbers on science’s leadership problems“, survey data illustrates some of these gaps in perception. From “Some hard numbers on science’s leadership problems” in Nature, survey data illustrating the perception gaps between junior and senior lab members. One of the reasons for our focus on mentorship is improving communication between junior and senior lab members. Often junior researchers are not communicating issues to more senior members, likely due to fears about power dynamics and the role senior members can play in career progression (we will discuss power dynamics in an upcoming post). But likewise often senior lab members are simply unaware of issues junior researchers may face, even when entirely sympathetic to them, especially when the system is more competitive than when they may have passed through it, depending on when they navigated their way through the academic system. Greater communication is needed between researchers at all levels of the research enterprise, to fully appreciate what the realities of the system are, but also to ensure research and training are...
Our second of twelve days of #FoRmentors: addressing mental health in academia

Our second of twelve days of #FoRmentors: addressing mental health in academia

Table from “Towards sustaining a culture of mental health and wellness for trainees in the biosciences” summarizing recent studies into graduate and postdoctoral mental health. 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! The mental health of graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and academics in general is a topic of great discussion but with relatively little data. A recent paper, “Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education” used a voluntary survey of graduate students to point to a high incidence of anxiety and depression, and while the paper has not gone without criticism (read here for example) it has more recently been supported by work on American Economics departments and has tapped into what is very clearly a very important topic for early career researchers: the high incidence of mental health issues, and lack of support to address them, in academia. Mentoring is one factor in the mental health of academics. The relationships between mentors and mentees, or more accurately, between the principal investigator and those who work for them, can be critical in affecting mental health. In “Towards sustaining a culture of mental health and wellness for trainees in the biosciences“, Jessica Tsai and Fanuel Muindi summarize the recent data on mental health and point to the need for shared responsibility in addressing mental health issues, and also indicate a key part of the equation: that many postdocs and graduate students themselves are...
“On the First Day of Mentoring, #FoRmentors gave to me: a mentor who needs recognizing”

“On the First Day of Mentoring, #FoRmentors gave to me: a mentor who needs recognizing”

Donate to our mentoring effort! Over the last 12 days of 2018, we want to discuss various aspects, and release details about, our meeting to Put Mentoring at the Heart of Academia in Chicago, June 14th 2019. You can read more details about the meeting here, and we’ll be updating the page as we go along! We are continuing to fundraise through the end of the year – at time of writing, we have raised just under $11,000 towards the meeting from our Giving Tuesday efforts, so please continue to share our GoFundMe and join the conversation online at #FoRmentors! The first discussion we want to kick off is a key component of our mentoring project: the lack of recognition for good mentors. This post is written by our Executive Director, Gary McDowell. On one of my recent trips, I was sitting in an airport eating dinner with a professor. We got to talking about mentorship in academia, and the professor mentioned one of their personal training activities. This professor would encourage a postdoc to write a grant application, would then edit it and work with them to improve it, and then submit it under the professor’s name, because postdocs can’t apply for these kinds of grants themselves. If the grant was awarded, the professor would then write in the postdoc’s letters of support for faculty positions that the grant was the postdoc’s in all but name, and that the postdoc was capable of getting independent funding, both by virtue of having been trained to do it, and being critical to the award being made. It may not be an ideal situation, but certainly worked to the best...
Putting mentoring at the heart of academia #FoRmentors #GivingTuesday

Putting mentoring at the heart of academia #FoRmentors #GivingTuesday

Image by Lipofsky: Future of Research members at our first summit in Boston in 2014   Academia is reaching a critical turning point, where effective and positive mentoring is more necessary than ever before. A slew of recommendations, reports and surveys are showing that recognition for good mentoring and appropriate responses to poor mentoring (or even egregious behavior) are currently not up to par with the standards of excellence required to sustain the research enterprise. Most importantly,  early career researchers are recognizing this deficit, and demanding change. Failure to effect this change will cause the research enterprise to lose or squander talent.   There are a number of striking problems that can be traced back to a lack of mentoring focus by departments, institutions and funding agencies:   ⅓ of those who start biology PhDs in the U.S. do not complete them. Sexual harassment in U.S. academia is at a rate second only to the military. For foreign postdocs, precarious visa situations are being exploited to make them work more, for less. There are postdocs facing barriers to taking their own research projects with them when they leave a lab under someone else’s “mentorship”. Retention of underrepresented populations in research is hindered by a focus on diversity in numbers, rather than on generating more inclusive and welcoming environments with culturally-appropriate mentoring.   However, there is also increasing recognition of the need to center mentoring in the research enterprise: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) are currently carrying out a study, with a report due next Fall, on The Science of Mentoring in STEMM; The NASEM sexual...
This #GivingTuesday, let’s put mentoring at the heart of academia!

This #GivingTuesday, let’s put mentoring at the heart of academia!

Future of Research is bringing mentoring back to the heart of academia.   Mentoring the next generation of scientists is critical to the future of research. Unfortunately, academia has lost its focus on the development and wellbeing of young scientists. This has led to problems including: Mental health problems at crisis levels, Sexual harassment in academia at levels second in the U.S. only to the military, and Creating barriers to scholarly independence and academic freedom As an organization built by and for young scientists, we can see the profound effects this culture has on our up and coming scientific talent first hand. Poor mentoring and egregious behavior can be a selection factor in who stays in research regardless of ability, and can particularly affect those from populations underrepresented in academia. Future of Research is committed to making a better and more successful academic environment for everybody. We are developing a framework for mentoring evaluation, to introduce accountability and to act as an incentive for institutions to pay more attention to the environments they are providing for their academics. We have a proposal to kickstart discussion on how to succeed in this mission. Key roadblocks to inspiring and ethical mentoring which we seek to overcome with this project are: Awareness of mentoring best practices; Incentives for positive mentoring; and Accountability for egregious behavior. We are building a consortium of partner organizations and are also looking for “early adopter” institutional partners to pilot a possible evaluation mechanism. Our goal is for these initial steps to culminate in a Mentoring Summit at University of Chicago in June 2019.   How can you...