Mentorship on the minds of many at Duke
Everyone can name people who have greatly impacted their lives. Try it. Who came to mind? Aside from family members and friends, you likely named at least one mentor. This is especially true for post-bachelor trainees in the academic setting, where mentorship is the core of the training model. The mentorship model is incredibly flexible and powerful when done properly; it allows each mentor-mentee relationship to be unique and flexible to suit the specific needs and styles of those involved. But the mentorship model can be a double-edged sword. The same flexibility that makes the model useful can also lead to poor accountability, unclear expectations, and shortfalls in training.
From interviews with Duke stakeholders, conducted as part of the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), it was apparent to our team that mentorship —whether positive or negative—was very much on the minds of Duke students, postdocs, faculty, and staff alike. Our team decided to devote our energy to a project to improve mentorship on campus, to fulfill ELI’s charge to improve the Duke campus environment for graduate students and postdocs.
Improving mentorship is a priority at Duke
Recently, Duke organizations have identified mentorship as both a critical ingredient in trainees' success and a challenging area that requires significant improvement on multiple levels. A 2017 ad hoc committee on Re-Imagining Doctoral Education reported that improving mentorship at Duke was among the most critical steps Duke could take to improve doctoral training. But mentorship issues are complex and multifaceted, and a solution isn’t simple. Good communication underpins good mentorship, yet our mentee-stakeholders reported that they did not feel comfortable bringing up mentorship concerns with their mentor, and our mentor-stakeholders believed that Duke lacked the necessary norms around mentoring that would inspire (or incentivize) mentors to create a culture of mentoring.
Fostering a mentorship culture: Our contribution
What facets of the mentor-mentee relationships could we address over the course of the eight-week ELI program? First, empowering mentees and inspiring—or even simply reminding—mentors to engage in the mentorship relationship was at the front of our minds. Mentorship can often be placed on the back burner, and before you know it, weeks can go by without addressing budding mentorship issues. Second, we could shine a light on the existing resources at Duke, since many of our stakeholders were unaware of the mentorship resources already compiled by Duke. Third, we sought a nonintrusive but ever-present method to keep the dialogue between mentor and mentee open. Lastly, we wanted the project to be accessible and implementable at any level of Duke administration. That’s when the idea came to us.
The monthly mentorship calendar
Our idea was a monthly mentorship calendar. With an aesthetically pleasing calendar to draw people in, we could serve up tips, best practices, resources, reminders, and inspiration relating to good mentorship in a fun and unobtrusive way. We dedicated each month to a broad aspect of mentorship, choosing topics and resources that coincided with the challenges faced by mentors and mentees at different times of the year. The calendar could be used not only in an engaging way after its creation but we also decided to engage the community in mentorship discussion during the creation process.
Building community through calendar art and anecdotes
We solicited the Duke community at large for their original artwork—from finished compositions to chalkboard doodles—to enliven the calendar. Our goal was to get members of the community personally invested in this project, and make the calendar visually exciting. We also reached out to recognized outstanding mentors in the Duke community for insights into their mentorship philosophies and examples of impactful mentoring experiences which we spotlight each month.
Our result is a colorful calendar packed with helpful content, that can get in the hands of Duke students, postdocs, faculty, and staff, seeding a culture of good mentorship at all levels of the Duke community. In its current form, the calendar can be printed in limited runs by any department that wants to offer them to incoming students, or be scaled and distributed more widely throughout the student or faculty populations.
Turning the page
Near the end of the semester, the timelines for in-person collaboration at Duke were shortened. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus began to spread across the country, we were unable to find times to pitch our calendar to organizations around the university. Currently, the calendar remains in an electronic format awaiting a return to normality. At this point, we’d like to urge the Duke community to reaffirm its commitment to improving mentorship around the university. Take some time during this period of social distancing to reassess and reset your mentoring relationships so that you can get the most out of your limited time at Duke. Remember that while your time at Duke may be short, positive mentoring relationships can have a lifelong influence.
Postdoctoral associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Amalia Turner, Ph.D., completed her graduate studies on nanomaterial transport in complex media in Duke’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, after which she continued her research as a postdoctoral associate in the same lab. She is also involved in the Team Science Core of Duke’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, where she explores the factors that improve or impede interdisciplinary collaborations.
Ph.D. candidate, Biochemistry
Jason Arne is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in biochemistry. His research elucidates how the subcellular localization of protein synthesis effects proteostasis, the proper balance of the cell’s proteins. Going forward in his career he hopes to leverage the problem-solving and interpersonal skills that he has honed in graduate school to tackle many more problems from all walks of life.
Postdoctoral associate, Infectious Diseases
Jens Petersen, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow at the department of infectious diseases, researching malaria pathogenesis and how host factors such as sickle-cell trait protects against severe disease. He is hopeful advances in malaria treatment and interventions will help reduce global health inequities.
Ph.D. candidate, Chemistry
Jesús Valdiviezo is a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry and an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering student. For his research, he uses computational methods to study the charge and energy transfer processes of bioinspired molecules and nanomaterials. Jesús wants to contribute to the development of better materials for clean energy and promote science and education.
Professional Development Tag
- Collaboration and Teamwork
- Emerging Leaders Institute