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The Science of Mentorship: A STEMM Podcast

In this series from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, you’ll hear personal stories about mentorship experiences from STEMM leaders, in their own words, to help you learn how evidence-based mentorship practices can help you develop the skills to engage in the most effective mentoring relationships possible.

Inclusive Environments: Finding Support When Isolated

In this episode, Dr. Barabino shares how she responded to a lack of mentorship, where she found supportive networks, and how she’s creating inclusive environments so that marginalized students don’t have to face the same obstacles.

Opportunity: Giving Access to All Students

In this episode, Dr. Michael Summers shares how positive mentoring experiences led him to his current position, how he worked to provide access and opportunity through the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, and what he’s doing to help other universities implement programs and practices to support marginalized students through academia and beyond into their STEMM careers.

Multiple Mentorships: Equipping Students For All Situations

In this episode, Dr. Akiko Iwasaki tells the story of her journey through STEMM academia and beyond as a woman from Japan. There were times she was discouraged from continuing her studies, but supportive mentors guided her through difficult situations with both emotional and technical support. Dr. Iwasaki shares about these experiences and how they shaped her approach to mentoring her own students in innovative ways.

Mutual Benefits: Constructing Great Futures Together

In this episode, Dr. Jedidah Isler tells her story of how her career in astrophysics shaped her development and approach to mentorship. Through times of consistent support and in times where support lacked, Dr. Isler discovered what effective mentoring is. Dr. Isler shares about the obstacles marginalized students face in higher education, the different roles of mentors, and how effective and culturally responsive mentorship can expand what’s possible for marginalized students and STEM fields altogether.

Go Further: Guiding Discovery of Passions

Theoretical physicist Dr. Jim Gates was often the only African-American in the physics departments in which he worked and learned. In this episode, he tells his story of discovering his passion in physics and how effective mentors throughout his life supported him through what could’ve been insurmountable obstacles. Professor Gates also shares how important it is to actively seek mentors, the impact of culturally responsive mentoring, and what mentoring skills he uses most today.

Institutional Barriers: Implementing Effective Mentoring Practices

Biochemist Dr. Keith Yamamoto had positive mentoring experiences during his undergraduate and graduate careers where his mentors consistently guided and helped him develop independence in the field. But when he became a professor, he initially struggled to effectively mentor his students. In this episode, Dr. Yamamoto shares key moments of how he learned what tendencies can damage mentoring experiences, the skills that contribute to positive mentorships, and how academic institutions can implement more successful mentoring practices.

Expectations: Acknowledging The Power We Hold

Biological anthropologist Dr. Kate Clancy shares her experience of observing gaps within the mentoring ecosystem, then taking action to create more inclusive spaces for both students and faculty in higher education. In this episode, Dr. Clancy discusses the coercive power in STEMM ecosystems, how confirmation bias negatively affects mentoring, and what faculty and students can do to create more effective mentoring relationships.

Workplaces: Developing A Culture Of Mentorship

Astronaut and engineer Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to go to space. When she first joined NASA, Dr. Ochoa discovered a culture that recognized the value of effective mentoring for everyone in the space shuttle program. In this episode, Dr. Ochoa shares her story of how this culture of mentorship impacted her career, what she did to develop formal mentoring programs in NASA, and how professionals can be guided further when workplaces value and implement effective mentoring practices and tools like compacts.

Presence: Never Face Obstacles Alone

When pathologist Dr. Vivian Pinn started medical school, she was passionate to learn medicine. But often, as the only African American woman in a world dominated by white men, she experienced pushback to her presence. In this episode, Dr. Pinn shares her story of how she responded to a lack of mentoring in school, how positive mentoring experiences can empower students’ independence, and how she’s working to ensure students and professionals never face obstacles alone.

Role Model: Envisioning a Hopeful Future

Mathematician Dr. Juan Meza initially experienced a lack of effective role models in his academic career. At times, it was difficult to see himself as a future leader in STEMM, especially when there were few mentors who shared his background. In this episode, Dr. Meza shares his story of moments where he was discouraged to pursue STEMM, how certain leaders stepped in to guide him, and how he currently works with students to ensure they are equipped for all challenges.

Finding a Mentor

In this first episode of Season Two, host Bethany Brookshire takes us through the experiences of undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students. These students share stories of what qualities they sought in a mentor, how they found their mentors, and how each mentor guided and supported them to identify and follow their passions.

Setting Expectations and Boundaries

New mentoring relationships can be intimidating. Mentees may not know what to expect of their mentors, or what the goal of the mentoring relationship is. For mentoring relationships to be mutually beneficial, both mentees and mentors must establish expectations and boundaries. This is a skill that can take some practice, but helps students reach their full potential in STEMM. In this episode, students share their stories of when they recognized the need for expectations and boundaries in their mentoring relationships, how they established them, and how they responded when their mentor didn’t respect the boundaries in place. For mentoring relationships to be mutually beneficial, both mentees and mentors must establish expectations and boundaries. This is a skill that can take some practice, but is necessary to help students reach their full potential in STEMM. In this episode, students share their stories of when they recognized the need for expectations and boundaries in their mentoring relationships, how they established them, and how they responded when their mentor didn’t respect the boundaries in place.

The Impact of Effective Mentoring on Family

For many students in STEMM, family life is a top priority. However, some students have found tension when it comes to balancing family life and their STEMM careers, from both faculty and colleagues. For mentoring relationships to be effective, mentors must acknowledge students as whole people with priorities, responsibilities, and important personal decisions that exist outside of STEMM. In this episode, we hear from students who have juggled raising children and new family milestones as they simultaneously researched and earned both undergraduate and graduate degrees. They share about the challenges of balancing family life and career, the moments they needed to ask for support, and how mentors can support students with families without the student suffering repercussions.

Building Trust & Addressing Power

Some students quickly trust their mentors. Others are hesitant to be vulnerable with them. And some students encounter barriers that disallow them to trust their mentors at all. Building trust may sometimes be easy, or it may be awkward, depending on the relationship. But there’s a reason why trust is critical to an effective mentoring relationship. In this episode, students share how they were able to build trust with certain mentors, how students navigated relationships where they were hesitant to fully trust their mentors, and how they responded in situations where trust was broken.

Negative Mentoring Experiences一The Impact

Mentees must rely on someone with more experience and power to support them through their STEMM career. Sometimes, conflict happens. And it can have a massive impact on both mentees and mentors. Negative mentoring experiences in STEMM happen, and they can leave students and professionals feeling stuck and confused. In this episode, students and postdocs share their stories of what circumstances led to negative encounters with their mentors, and how these experiences impacted their careers. Students share the factors that contributed to these negative experiences for them, including unchecked intentions, refusal to get to know students, and uncontrollable circumstances.

Negative Mentoring Experiences一The Response

After a negative mentoring experience, students are often left confused, unhappy, and unsure of how to move forward in their STEMM career. These experiences can be tricky to navigate and respond to. A negative mentoring relationship should never constitute the end of a student’s STEMM career. Students should feel safe to identify when a mentoring relationship isn’t effective and what they need instead. In this episode, students and postdocs share how they responded to negative experiences, how they were recovered, and what strategies may help prevent these experiences from happening in the first place.

Acknowledging Identity in Mentorship

Mentoring relationships are social relationships, so identity - the way you think about yourself, how you are viewed by the world, and the characteristics you use to define yourself - matters. People have multiple identities, such as their gender identification, sexual orientation, place of birth, race, ethnicity, profession, values, and even hobbies. Students’ identities can heavily influence their academic journeys in STEMM. Therefore, mentors must consider and acknowledge identity when supporting their students. In this episode, we hear stories from students and postdocs who all come from various backgrounds and who hold different identities. They share how their identity influenced their STEMM journey, how their mentoring relationship approached identity, and the impact made when their mentors fully considered their identity.

Supporting Students Through Formal Mentoring Programs

It’s easy to assume that most mentoring relationships are organically formed. But effective mentoring can take many forms, and relationships are often formed through formal mentorship programs.

Mentoring in a Post-2020 World

2020 changed everything一the way we live, communicate, and learn. The long-term physical isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic created big challenges for students and faculty, in both their personal and academic lives. Our lives transitioned to exist virtually, and effective mentorship in STEMM was heavily impacted. In this episode, students and postdocs share their stories of how their academic journeys were impacted by the pandemic, their perspectives on virtual and online mentoring, the power of social media, and the importance of creating niche communities in STEMM.

The Mentee Becomes The Mentor

Like the circle of life, there’s the circle of mentoring relationships. If the mentoring is effective, the roles of the mentee and mentor will change. Sometimes, mentees begin the cycle over again, this time acting as a mentor themselves.

Blooper Reel

Enjoy these bloopers from Season 2.

© 2021 The National Academy of Sciences