By Elena Makareeva
This summer I attended a course on "Mentor Training" conducted by Dr. Lori Conlan, Director of the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and Betsey Wagener, Deputy Director of the Graduate Partnerships Program, Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE). The course was based on the book "Entering Mentoring, A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists."
Dr. Conlan began the workshop with a presentation entitled "Summer Interns Are Coming - Are You Ready?" This was followed by eight weekly small-group sessions that were tailored to mentoring summer interns.
During the initial sessions, we reviewed ways to design an achievable, challenging, and meaningful project for a summer intern. We discussed the importance of teaching students to develop analytical and critical thinking skills, perform literature searches, troubleshoot experiments, and last but not least, love science. In particular, the workshop highlighted two key aspect of mentoring a summer student: the importance of effective communication between the fellow and intern and the establishment of clear expectations during the first week of the internship.
Much of the workshop enforced that effective communication, established expectations, and positive role modeling can aid in the most common mentoring challenges: a lack of student understanding, slow progress, and inappropriate use of social electronic devices. We discussed different approaches and tools to assess a student's level of independence and comprehension. A separate session was devoted to the issues that can arise from students' diverse backgrounds. Specifically, we conferred about how differences in culture, language, gender, age, race, religion, politics, social skills, family situations, and motivation may affect mentor-mentee relationships, and the workshop covered options to deal with such issues.
To solidify the ideas and concepts taught during the workshop, each fellow participated in a series of homework assignments. Fellows were encouraged to write a mentoring philosophy, generate a perfect letter of recommendation, describe a mentee's project, reflect on the ways to communicate with a mentee, and consider how mentor and mentee differences may affect the mentorship relationship.
The topics discussed during the Mentor Training Workshop are relevant to any mentor-mentee relationship and promote the confidence to handle difficult issues. The most important lesson I learned during the workshop series was to be flexible in my mentoring approaches and to appropriately adjust my mentoring style to the student's needs. Group discussions were particularly useful: listening and considering other fellows' opinions — sometimes very different from my own — opened my mind to try new approaches in my own mentoring.