Help us to put mentoring at the heart of academia!
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 harassment report which came out recently points to the need for multiple mentors, rather than relying on a single mentor for your career;
- The NASEM report on Graduate Education in STEM in the 21st Century recommends:
- “Rewarding Effective Teaching and Mentoring: Advancement procedures for faculty, including promotion and tenure policies and practices, should be restructured to strengthen recognition of contributions to graduate mentoring and education.”
- The National Institute of General Medical Sciences recently asked for feedback on improving transitions of postdoctoral researchers into faculty positions, and the second-most mentioned barrier – and solution – was mentoring;
- The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) has been working now for several years on studying, and providing support for, mentoring.
What are we doing?
At Future of Research, we are making a big push to improve mentoring, not by reinventing the wheel and replicating what the groups mentioned above have done, but rather to figure out how to highlight and support the ideas and experiments currently underway to implement positive mentoring practices in academia. We plan to begin this work by at FoR Chicago 2019 on June 14th, 2019, in order to design a plan for how to shift academic culture towards a central focus on mentoring. Read on to find out more:
Our proposal for change
We have a proposal as to how we envision effecting change: by making use of a third party to evaluate departmental and institutional mentoring. The idea is similar to the Athena SWAN program in the UK, which aims to increase the participation of women in sciences and engineering. In this case, a third party would receive survey results from mentees and compile results to then report back an anonymized summary to the department and institutions. They would then receive badges based on fulfilling certain criteria, to allow early career researchers to assess whether institutional commitment to mentoring fits their needs.
This certification system could be used by various stakeholders:
- Early career researchers: To evaluate departments and institutions for the appropriate mentoring fit for them.
- Departments and Institutions: To attract graduate students and postdocs looking for good mentoring in a shifting academic training market; and to attract talented junior faculty who are looking for how departments will support and reward good mentoring.
- Funding agencies: Particularly for those awarding fellowships, certification could be beneficial to ensure their investment in scholars is maximized in a supportive institutional environment.
What will happen at FoR Chicago 2019?
The goal of the conference
The immediate goal of the meeting will be to design and pilot a transparent system for evaluation of the quality of mentoring in academic departments. A report outlining the findings of the meeting will be released, incorporating the findings of the meeting and building on relevant materials from the NASEM study on mentoring which will be released shortly after.
The nuts and bolts
Prior to our one-day meeting, we will provide participants with preliminary information on available resources for mentoring best practices, as well as a working model for the third-party evaluation system proposed. This preliminary model will be broken into different competencies important in fostering successful departmental mentoring climates. This will be done in collaboration with the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER).
Following introductory remarks, the meeting itself will consist of small breakout sessions (workshops) in order to answer the following questions:
- What metrics should be included in the evaluation?
- Should the evaluation include mentee surveys and/or departmental self-reporting?
- When does mentoring training take place and how do we ensure time is set aside and protected to do so?
- What is the best model for implementation (i.e.. How do we survey and work with pilot institutions)?
- What are the barriers to implementation (e.g. reforms to tenure and promotion)?
Depending on the topic, workshops will be facilitated by topic-specific experts invited to the meeting, who will also be asked to give short, introductory talks relevant to the workshops. Participation in the workshops will allow participants interested in piloting the third-party certification platform and ECRs to discuss the different competency areas and how to best rate and certify them in a way that truly reflects the reality of the varied and diverse institutes across the country.
To ensure wider discussion, we also aim to set up satellite meetings in other locations, to stream talks and workshops to institutions and to provide a setting for on-campus discussion about mentoring.
What will happen at participating satellite meetings?
Those organizing satellite meetings at their respective departments will be asked to hold workshops of their own to provide case uses, feedback, and insights that can also be used to modify and design the working model. Following each set of workshops, time will be allotted for reporting back and discussion among the entire group. Final remarks and a close-up session at the end of the day will allow participants to share their experiences and plan for next steps regarding the project. Satellites will be able to participate in contributing to the output of the meeting.
What does success look like?
Success will be determined by the production of a framework for evaluation and pilot implementation; identification of materials necessary for the creation of a useful output report; and the identification of willing partner pilot departments. In the short term, we hope to see a pilot of departmental evaluation of mentoring at a number of participating pilot departments.
Who is helping us?
We have already identified experts and stakeholders who are essential to the functioning of the meeting, and have created a Steering Committee to involve them in the process of the meeting planning and organization. Members include:
- Joanne Kamens, Addgene;
- Elizabeth Wu and Danika Kong, Scismic;
- Bruce Alberts, University of California San Francisco;
- Nancy Schwartz, University of Chicago;
- Michelle Swanson, University of Michigan;
- Elba Serrano, New Mexico State University;
- Geleana Drew Alston, North Carolina A&T University;
- Veronica Womack, Northwestern University;
- Sarah Hokanson, Boston University;
- Nathan Vanderford, University of Kentucky;
- Denise Hien, Rutgers University;
- Gonzalo Torres, CUNY School of Medicine;
- Michael Zigmond, University of Pittsburgh;
- Antonio Nuñez, Michigan State University; and
- Laura O’Dell, University of Texas El Paso.
Please Help to Support our Meeting!
We are extremely invested in moving the needle on mentoring, and know how important this is to the next generation of researchers, and to ensuring a sustainable research system to foster the success of future generations. This is therefore why mentoring has become the focus of our major fundraising effort for 2018. By the close of 2018, we are aiming to raise $100,000 towards organizing a Summit, and sustaining an effort and pilot studies to put mentoring at the heart of academia.
If you would like to support this effort, or also know of others who would be willing to support it, please check out our GoFundMe page and the #FoRmentors hashtag on social media for more information!
Please help to support this effort – check out our GoFundMe page and the #FoRmentors hashtag on social media for more information!
We particularly want to thank our #FoRmentors heroes, who donated or provided matching funds to obtain $1000 donations:
Angela De Pace
Harvard Medical School Department of Systems Biology
Each #FoRmentors hero will be receiving a hand-stitched #FoRmentors tote bag!