Posts Tagged ‘mentors’

An Urgent Call

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

The National Academy of Science, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine issued a report calling for an increase of minority students in science and engineering. Underrepresented minorities comprise just 9% of the college-educated workforce in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). It would take a tripling of those numbers to reflect their portion of minorities in the general population.

The scarcity of minorities in these fields will not come as a surprise to anyone in academic medicine. The specific recommendations of the report, however, are novel. It identifies undergraduate retention as a key area. Minorities pursue science degrees in equal numbers to their peers, but fewer complete their degrees. Some reasons for attrition are financial, but the drop out rates can also result from inadequate support networks.

Freeman Hrabowski, contributor to the report and President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, describes how his campus made inroads in encouraging minority students. They conducted focus groups to understand how different groups felt about the problem or if they even acknowledged it. They also engaged students with a more collaborative curriculum and opportunities to conduct research with faculty members.

The physical separation of the medical campus makes mentoring of undergraduates more difficult, but it is one way that we can prepare the pipeline for a more diverse faculty.

Mentoring Millennials

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I’m a member of Gen X. There are some 50 million members of my age cohort, born between 1965 and 1976. If the demographers are correct, I distrust institutions, strive for work-life balance, and expect to change jobs frequently. Millennials, the generation born after me, work well in groups, embrace technology, and thrive on structure.

In the mentoring literature, several authors recommend tailoring mentorship to different generational styles. For Gen X, that means a more casual, hands-off approach. Millennials, on the other hand, thrive on structured meetings.

I endorse flexibility in mentoring programs, but I can’t help but liken these recommendations to astrology. Does everyone born in the same twenty-year span share similar characteristics? What was the dramatic shift that happened on January 1, 1977? Or was it 1980? Just the fact that experts can’t agree on the boundaries of each generation attests to how squishy a theory this is.

The best mentoring programs are based on research into learning styles. They should be interactive and relevant. That way participants of all ages can benefit.

Mentoring in the Aftermath

Monday, May 17th, 2010

It has been several months since the news of Amy Bishop’s attack on her colleagues at the University of Alabama, Huntsville made national news. Although Bishop’s New England roots have kept the story in the Boston press, it wasn’t until I read an article in a recent issue of Nature that I learned how her department is coping with the loss of key faculty.

When you see the portraits of her murdered colleagues, it becomes clear that the UAH biology faculty included several minority scientists. In turn, they mentored many minority graduate students, who were left without advisers. Retired faculty and area industry leaders have stepped in to help shepherd the doctoral students, but the loss reveals how much effort a mentor must expend to develop a cadre of future faculty.

The second insight from the Nature report is what happened to the deceased PI’s grants. Government funding goes to the institution, not the faculty member, so the department was able to have surviving members take over existing grants. The NSF and NIH also gave extensions on all the grants except for Bishop’s own.

Finding Mentors

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

One of the priorities of the Faculty Development and Diversity Committee is to establish a mentoring program within the Department of Medicine and across the Boston University medical campus.

All the faculty at this institution have already benefited from the guidance of mentors, whether or not they participated in a formal program. As they seek to advance professionally outside the protection of graduate school, mentors will be even more crucial.

A talk I saw on-line reminded me of the importance of mentors. Temple Grandin, a scientist who writes about human-animal relationships, told an audience at a TED conference how important mentors had been to her success. Growing up with autism, she needed the inspiration of a mentor to show her how to channel her talents.