Ask scientists about their career pathway and they will undoubtedly share a story about one of their mentors. Many will describe the ways in which they were inspired, supported, or encouraged by a mentor. Others will describe being pushed to achieve more than they thought possible. And yet others will describe how they succeeded despite their mentors (often referred to as tormentors). Unfortunately, there are also a multitude of stories from trainees who left along the way, not because they lacked interest, motivation, or ability but because they did not feel supported, encouraged, or understood by one or more mentors. Often these trainees acknowledge the roles and responsibilities they played (or should have played) in making the relationship work, but they note, often longingly, that they wish their mentor(s) had tried to understand them, to make them feel as if they belonged in science, and to help them better navigate the training environment. And this becomes even more important and impactful when the talented mentee is a member of a group already underrepresented in science.
National Efforts to Improve Mentoring Relationships
The newly established National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN; www.nrmnet.net) is partnering with individuals, institutions, and organizations around the country to improve the access of diverse mentees and mentors to resources that can help enhance the quality of those mentoring relationships.
NRMN operates on the hypothesis that granting all researchers access to evidence-based mentorship, professional development, and networking opportunities and resources will increase the success and persistence of those scientists from groups that are currently underrepresented in the biomedical sciences workforce.
The NRMN, part of the National Institutes of Health’s Diversity Program Consortium, is designed to address the problem of underrepresentation of scientists from key populations across the biomedical sciences. The program’s overarching goal is to contribute significantly to national efforts to increase the size, quality, diversity, and research productivity of the biomedical workforce. NRMN programs are designed to 1) increase access to mentoring across career stages; 2) to improve mentoring relationships, broadly defined, through training; 3) to increase access to research resources and career development, and 4) to promote the value of mentoring across the nation.
Now starting its third year, NRMN is up and running and reaching thousands of mentors and mentees across the country and would welcome your participation. We all face challenges in our mentoring relationships and typically have little guidance on the best ways to resolve them. Listed below are some amazing resources from NRMN’s wide range of free mentorship and professional development programming. For further information about each, visit www.nrmnet.net and select a topic from the drop-down menu under “Programs.”
The NRMNet guided virtual mentorship platform, which pairs mentors and mentees from around the nation, centers around weekly discussion topics that emphasize diversity, inclusivity, and culture. This online platform, built in partnership with MentorNet, links each mentee to another person who has successfully navigated or is currently navigating a similar career path. Using regularly delivered discussion prompts, the program guides mentor–mentee pairs in critical conversations designed to enhance the success of diverse scholars and scientists. Each mentoring relationship is programmed to last four months and is supported by short training videos throughout. After the fourth month the mentee can continue with the same mentor or switch mentors. These virtual pairs meet synchronously or asynchronously on the Web or on the phone. The system is very flexible.
- Intensive grant writing coaching groups that address both grant proposal writing basics (for those with limited experience with proposal submission) and advanced proposal tactics (for those with substantial experience working on a proposal submission or resubmission) are offered regularly. Such coaching is critical because most first grant submissions are not funded and many writers, especially those from underrepresented groups, do not resubmit! Rejection is normal and resubmission after revising a proposal with the help of a coach is a key to being funded.
- The opportunity to be a grantsmanship coach or scientific/methodology advisor and provide guidance to mentees within a grantwriting coaching group is available. Complete descriptions of these roles, eligibility, and expectations and links to the online applications can be found at https://nrmnet.net. Selected coaches engage in training and real-time advising and coaching.
- Evidence-based training workshops to maximize the effectiveness of mentoring relationships as a mentor or a mentee are available. NRMN offers research mentor training curricula and workshops for mentors working with trainees across disciplines and career stages in the following formats: in-person, self-paced online, and synchronous online. NRMN also offers training, curricula, and resources for mentees to help them more successfully navigate their mentoring relationships.
- Training on facilitating and implementing a mentorship training program at ones’s home institution is available. New workshops are coming in 2017.
- Mentor certifications are offered to formally recognize research mentors who have demonstrated certain key skills and experience with respect to mentorship. Mentors can be recognized as an NRMN Mentor, NRMN Certified Mentor, or NRMN Master Mentor depending on the depth of their qualifications and can add this acknowledgement to their own CVs.
- The MyNRMN mentorship networking platform, a powerful social networking platform for students and researchers, connects users with one another for anything from general questions about research and professional development as a scientist to scheduling more formal mentorship appointments one-on-one or as a group. Simply go to the https://nrmnet.net site and sign up.
- If you are interested in participating in NRMN’s programming, visit https://nrmnet.net/nih-notice and create a profile to get started.
Expanding National Capacity
Among the goals of NRMN are to serve as a national hub to enhance mentor and mentee training efforts, to disseminate best practices in training and empower others to implement them, and to study the impact of training at a national level. A particular area of focus has been to improve the ability of mentors and mentees to be more culturally aware and responsive, meaning they are better able to examine and recognize their own bias, cultural ignorance, or uncertainty about addressing cultural diversity and to learn from mentees from whom they may differ.
To build national capacity for mentor and mentee training, NRMN has embarked on offering train-the-trainer workshops using an evidence-based approach.1 More than 200 individuals have been trained to implement mentor or mentee training at their institutions. Longitudinal tracking via an annual survey of training implemented by these individuals is underway using a centralized evaluation system, supported in part by NRMN. Moreover, NRMN has recruited and trained a cadre of Master Facilitators who provide mentor, mentee, and facilitator training for diverse populations across career stages in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. The cadre includes 35 faculty and staff representing 16 institutions across 11 states from various disciplines in the basic and health sciences. Visit the NRMN website or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can get involved, to find out which NRMN Master Facilitators are near you, and to link to future reports and publications describing the impact of these initiatives.
Welcome to NRMN!
1Pfund C, Spencer K, Asquith P, House S, Miller S, Sorkness C (2015). Building national capacity for research mentor training: an evidence-based approach to training-the-trainers. CBE Life Sci Educ 14:ar24.
About the Author:
University of Wisconsin-Madison