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Amplifying Voices: Investigating a Cross-Institutional, Mutual Mentoring Program for URM Women in STEM

Abstract

Underrepresented minority women in STEM comprise the faculty group most likely to leave academia. To address this issue we instituted a program called “Amplifying Voices,” a virtual, mutual mentoring program linking four groups of six women across 20 institutions. We facilitated bi-weekly Zoom meetings for two years and evaluated the effectiveness of the program. Participants reported reduced isolation, increased confidence, and enhanced self-efficacy. The groups were considered most successful when comprised of women who had similar career goals, but different perspectives, experiences, academic ranks and institutional affiliations. To inform future mentoring efforts, we identified issues and strategies frequently discussed in meetings.

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Notes

  1. NEAGEP institutions include Bennett College; Boston University; Jackson State University; Lincoln University; Medgar Evers College; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Pennsylvania State University; Rutgers the State University of New Jersey; and the Universities of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico Mayaguez, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for this work was provided by a pilot project grant through the National Research Mentoring Network Grant NIH U54GM119023.

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Correspondence to Sandra Petersen.

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Appendix

Appendix

Most frequently discussed topics in Amplifying Voices mutual mentoring sessions (listed in order of descending frequency)

  1. (1)

    Dealing with multiple demands and stress of academic work, family, and personal life

This category included such topics as balancing research and administrative responsibilities with personal life, time and task management, decision-making, and self-care (including health, weight and exercise). Solutions focused on organizational strategies, specific self-care ideas, self-affirmation, and limit-setting.

  1. (2)

    Research and publication productivity

This category included issues such as publishing, grant-writing strategies, research productivity, and gaining the support of one’s department chair. Solutions in this category tended to be very concrete and included blocking out time in one’s calendar, finding partnerships in nearby institutions, reaching out to senior and junior faculty for writing feedback, declining tasks that would not enhance one’s academic portfolio, obtaining recommendations for specific grants to apply for, working on publications before grants, getting co-PIs with grant experience, using critical reviews to develop alternative strategies, and mapping out plans for effective use of time.

  1. (3)

    Importance of networking and collaboration

This topic included discussions of building relationships in one’s department and discipline, ways to engage colleagues, and the difficulties of entering male-dominated networks and scientific networks as minority women. Solutions discussed were strategies for reaching out to potential mentors, using existing contacts in academia and industry to expand one’s network, using mentors and sabbaticals to find and establish collaborations, and finding opportunities with researchers with similar interests.

  1. (4)

    Managing the tenure process

Topics centered on managing the process, navigating expectations of research vs. service, deciding when and if to extend the tenure clock for children, and dealing with tenure stress and negative reviews. Solutions included doing an internal audit of what one needs to achieve tenure, waiting to see what reviews were like before reacting, and managing one’s responses to tenure reviews.

  1. (5)

    Discrimination in the work place

Topics included dealing with chauvinism, microaggressions, negative comments, isolation at work, not being heard at meetings, racism and student incivility in the classroom, and aggressive or hostile competition in the work place. Solutions included seeking support from female colleagues in other departments and supportive deans, sharing resources to address poor support from faculty peers, practicing self-advocacy and self-compassion, avoiding conforming to the perceived cultural context, using theoretical frameworks to understand the situational dynamics, refraining from ruminating about colleagues’ intentions when microaggressions occur so that you can thrive in the environment.

  1. (6)

    Career development

Group members discussed topics such as making transitions within academia, dual-career couples, opportunities outside academia, interviewing, and fit within one’s university.

Solutions included specific advice on job searches, how to solicit recommendations, and how to determine whether discontent with academia was a misfit with one’s institution or discontent with the field.

  1. (7)

    Navigating political and institutional issues

Issues included problems dealing with peer and departmental politics at work, tackling space issues, confronting the implications of national political changes on federal research funding, and the impact of the political climate on one’s work life and classroom dynamics. Solutions discussed in this category included how to deal with the pressure of departmental politics, how to negotiate for space, and how to identify senior mentors or sponsors to help. Participants shared personal coping strategies for dealing with difficult times, especially for people of color. Open and transparent conversations were suggested as a strategy for establishing good working relationships. Also suggested was creating safe environments for a classroom culture that promotes critical thinking and evaluation of what is going on so that people do not feel bullied or personally attacked in class.

  1. (8)

    Student issues

Discussions in this category were about mentoring students, teaching at under-resourced institutions, and dealing with new courses and student feedback. Solutions proposed included setting boundaries on one’s time (engage students but do not take on their problems), not always needing to have the answer (particularly about diversity issues), developing successful teaching styles, and accessing teaching materials from archives or other faculty.

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Petersen, S., Pearson, B.Z. & Moriarty, M.A. Amplifying Voices: Investigating a Cross-Institutional, Mutual Mentoring Program for URM Women in STEM. Innov High Educ 45, 317–332 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10755-020-09506-w

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Keywords

  • Underrepresented minority
  • URM
  • Women
  • Mentoring
  • STEM