The transition from graduate school to a job in industry, a postdoctoral position, or any other next step can prove to be a challenging endeavor. At this junction, many newly minted Ph.D.’s can become isolated as they lose the built-in mentoring structures that may have been readily accessible in graduate school. This reality is one of the driving factors of the newly launched AGU Mentoring Network program, a core initiative of the AGU College of Fellows (COF).
The COF was founded with a mission to foster excellence, integrity, and interdisciplinary collaboration in the Earth and space sciences, provide expert and strategic advice to AGU about global scientific issues, and support the professional development and engagement of scientists at all career stages and from all backgrounds. Rana Fine, a professor of oceanography at the University of Miami, and Billy Williams, AGU’s vice president of ethics, diversity, and inclusion, helped to spearhead the COF, along with the recent addition of Artesha Moore, COF staff liaison and AGU’s vice president of membership and engagement.
The array of COF initiatives is advised by the Steering Committee, chaired by Fine. The Mentoring Network is a product of the mentoring subcommittee, led by Susan Lozier, a professor of Earth and ocean sciences at Duke University, and Claude Jaupart, a professor of geological fluid dynamics at Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris.
A New Way of Mentoring
The program began accepting applications from interested mentors and mentees in April 2018 and officially kicked off mentoring meetings in June 2018. The inaugural cohort is composed of 36 early-career scientists and 12 middle- to late-career scientists, split into six groups. Although the initial mentor cohort is composed of AGU Fellows, any senior scientist within the AGU community is invited to participate in future mentoring group cohorts.
Mentees and mentors meet for an hour each month through an online video conference calling platform for the duration of one calendar year. Mentoring groups can discuss any topics relevant to the group and are driven by the concerns, questions, and challenges reported by the mentees.
The Mentoring Network program is the latest addition to AGU’s suite of existing mentoring programs, including the Fall Meeting mentoring programs and the Web-based Mentoring365 program sponsored by AGU and its partner groups, the American Meteorological Society, Association for Women Geoscientists, Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology, and Society for Exploration Geophysicists.
The program draws from the expertise and success of a similar community mentoring effort, the Mentoring Physical Oceanography Women to Increase Retention (MPOWIR) program.
Lozier, along with a cadre of physical oceanographers, established the MPOWIR program in 2007. A hallmark feature of the program is its online, monthly teleconference-based group mentoring structure along with various in-person workshops and meetings. Since its start, the program has enjoyed tremendous success, as determined by outstanding mentee satisfaction surveys and retention statistics.
Turning to the AGU Community
According to Lozier, broad-based, community mentoring efforts, such as MPOWIR and the Mentoring Network program, tap into the resources and expertise of the scientific community and place the responsibility for mentoring on the community, particularly senior scientists, instead of relying solely on mentoring efforts at the local, university level.
Community-based mentoring “is based on the premise that the more senior people in the field have a collective responsibility to mentor the junior people in the field,” Lozier explained.
“In terms of AGU, it’s a broad group of scientists across all of geoscience and space science, saying, ‘Yes, we have a collective responsibility to help mentor and nurture early-career scientists.’”
A community-based approach to mentoring can also help early-career scientists from underrepresented backgrounds to feel more connected to the scientific community and mitigate the isolation and “solo status” that individuals from these backgrounds often feel. Although there may not be anyone from a similar background at the mentee’s local institution, the virtual aspect of the Mentoring Network program enables mentees to find commonalities and solidarity with other early-career scientists experiencing similar issues, even if they are a few states, a continent, or an ocean away.
The Benefits of Mentoring
Mentees benefit from the insights and experiences of the senior scientist mentors and continue to clarify their personal and professional goals, just as they would in an in-person mentoring relationship. Additionally, program participants have access to a robust peer mentoring structure, as mentees often share their own challenges and triumphs and can learn from the experiences of other mentees in their cohort.
In fact, many of the junior scientists who participated in the MPOWIR program cited the sense of solidarity and community that comes with realizing that other early-career scientists are also facing significant challenges (however different they may be) in their careers to be the highlight of the program. Mentees often told Lozier that “listening to somebody else enunciating what difficulties they were having or what triumphs they were celebrating” was helpful in making sense of and dealing with their own unique struggles, challenges, and triumphs.
The goal of the AGU Mentoring Network program is not to replace traditional, in-person mentoring relationships, but instead to provide additional perspectives and resources to early-career scientists seeking to continue their professional and personal growth. By drawing on the collective resources of the AGU community, the program provides established scientists with a low-cost, high-impact way of paying it forward and an opportunity to pay homage to the mentors, teachers, and advisers who have guided and supported them throughout their careers.
“I’ve never heard anybody say to me that they were sorry they spent an hour a month on mentoring,” Lozier said. “The reward far exceeds the time and energy required.”
—Danya AbdelHameid, Summer 2018 Talent Pool Intern, AGU; and Leslie Marasco (email: [email protected]), Student Program Coordinator, AGU