The Science of
Effective Mentorship in STEMM

Online Guide v1.0

There are ways to establish, develop, and manage your mentorship program and activities. This section lays out key research and examples to help improve mentorship for both mentors and mentees and their organizations—and establish a culture of effective and inclusive mentorship.

Mentorship Education

One way to improve mentorship—including mitigating negative mentoring experiences— is to help mentors and mentees develop effective mentorship skills. Fortunately, there are proven mentorship education programs to do just that.

Formal Mentor Education

One of the most well-studied and well-known approaches to mentorship education in STEMM is the Entering Mentoring program, (Handelsman et al., 2005; Pfund et al., 2015). This program introduces core mentorship competencies, allows mentors to experiment with various mentorship strategies, links mentors to mentorship tools, including those discussed above, and provides a forum in which small peer groups of mentors can address and solve mentorship issues. Training sessions, or modules, can be implemented and conducted as a series of hour-long, interactive sessions facilitated by one or two faculty, staff, or postdoctoral researchers.

Entering Mentoring, which has been used to educate thousands of mentors across the country, across career stages, and across STEMM disciplines, stresses six core competencies:

Align expectations

The mentor makes expectations explicit and creates a safe space for mentees to make their expectations explicit, and the pair engages in negotiation to ensure that expectations of both parties can be met.

Assess understanding

The mentor works with the mentee to understand what the mentee knows and is capable of and considers what the mentee can do to further develop and achieve success.

Communicate effectively

The mentor engages in active listening with the mentee, provides timely and constructive feedback, recognizes that communication styles differ, and works with the mentee to accommodate their personal communication styles.

Address equity and inclusion

The mentor reflects on and accounts for the biases and assumptions they may bring to a mentoring relationship and acknowledges and accounts for how their background might differ from the background of their mentees.

Foster independence

The mentor works to motivate the mentee, build their confidence, stimulate their creativity, acknowledge their contributions, and navigate their path toward independence.

Promote professional development

The mentor helps the mentee to set career goals, develop and refine plans related to career goals, develop a professional network, and access resources that will be helpful in their professional development. The mentor also recognizes the impact they have as a professional role model.

The online platform Blackboard Collaborate has adapted Entering Mentoring for an online, synchronous platform that enables small groups of participants to engage in small and full group discussions, chat room discussions, collaborative writing, and group problem solving.

Additional examples of mentorship education for mentors of undergraduate and graduate students in STEMM include:
  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which has created an online mentor orientation program for faculty, project staff, and others who advise or mentor students, research participants, or interns in a formal or informal program (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, 2019). This program is aimed at both first-time and experienced mentors.
  • The Nucleus Learning Network (Nucleus Learning Network, 2019), which has developed customizable workshops and training options aimed at development of STEMM mentors for underrepresented students.
  • Optimizing the Practice of Mentoring, which is an online course that takes 90 to 120 minute to complete and prepares faculty to be effective research mentors to graduate students, junior faculty, and postdoctoral researchers by providing descriptions of different mentorship approaches, an overview of roles and responsibilities within the mentoring relationship, a structured approach to mentorship, a toolkit of resources, and interactive learning exercises to illustrate strategies for effective mentorship. At the end of the course, participants develop an individualized mentorship action plan for applying what they have learned.

Culturally Responsive Mentorship Education

Given the scarcity of underrepresented faculty in STEMM, it is important that all mentors learn how to engage in culturally responsive mentorship.

One example of a program designed to enhance mentors’ ability to effectively address cultural diversity matters in their research mentoring relationships is Culturally Aware Mentoring (CAM). CAM has three components:

CAM Online Module
A 1-hour online, self-directed session that reviews key cultural diversity terms and research on the relevance of race, ethnicity, and other dimensions of cultural diversity to research training in the biomedical, behavioral, and clinical sciences.

CAM Training
In the 6-hour intensive training designed for mentors who have already completed some mentorship education, participants examine their own racial and ethnic identity, and use insights from these reflections to identify personal assumptions, biases, and privileges that may influence in their research mentoring relationships.

CAM Skills Survey
a 21-item skills self-assessment relating to culturally aware mentorship.

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Another example is the Promoting Opportunities for Diversity in Education and Research (PODER) program, a 16-hour training that increases participants understanding of structural racism and its impact on student development in STEMM. PODER challenges mentors to develop research questions, methods, interpretations, and applications relevant to their experiences and framed in familiar social justice issues.

Fair Play is an example of an interactive culturally responsive mentorship education program. Structured as a “game”, Fair Play provides players with the opportunity to take the perspective of Jamal Davis, a Black graduate student on his way to becoming a renowned professor. Players experience racial bias during interactions with other characters, as well as in the virtual environment. As Jamal, the road to success involves navigating the academic world; as a Black student, bias can steer you off of a successful path. Winning in Fair Play involves learning when and how to name biases. While many will succeed in Fair Play, the true winners are those that learn the reality of bias.

Formal Mentee Education

Institutions and organizations have developed and implemented additional approaches to prepare mentees to effectively engage in a mentoring relationship. These approaches take many forms, including activities at orientation sessions, professional development conference workshops, department seminars, or full semester courses.

One well studied and extensive approach to mentee education for undergraduate students is the Entering Research curriculum. Entering Research is a process-based curriculum that brings undergraduate researchers together to discuss the challenges they face as novices in learning to conduct research and in navigating their mentoring relationships. Entering Research can be integrated into existing undergraduate summer research programs or offered as a one-credit seminar in the academic year. Qualitative and quantitative data from diverse undergraduate student mentees who participated in Entering Research reported significantly higher gains in research skills, knowledge, and confidence when compared to a control group who participated in undergraduate research experiences but not the Entering Research training. Entering Research includes 96 activities and a trainee learning assessment tool (Branchaw, 2019) designed for both undergraduate and graduate student mentees across STEMM disciplines.

The activities and assessment tool are organized by the Entering Research conceptual framework, which includes seven areas of trainee development:

chart listing 7 areas of training development

These activities can be in integrated into existing undergraduate or graduate research training programs, or offered as stand-alone workshops, for-credit seminars or courses in the academic year.

Mentorship Education for Peers and Near-Peers

It is also important to teach students the skills of serving as effective peer and near-peer mentors. One example of a successful program is the Canvas Network’s online 6-week mentorship education program, offered by The Ohio State University Global One Health Initiative. This program works specifically with third- and fourth-year undergraduates who will be mentors for underrepresented freshmen and sophomores majoring in STEM student peer mentors.

Incentivizing Engagement in Mentorship Education

For institutions and organizations that want to implement mentor and mentee education, it is important to have a plan in place to effectively market the program to faculty, students, and postdoctoral researchers and engage them in mentorship and mentoring relationships. Potential talking points include:

  • Effective mentorship has been linked to enhanced mentee productivity, self-efficacy, and career satisfaction, and is an important predictor of the academic success of scientists in training.
  • Established mentor education curricula are available, and even experienced mentors learn strategies for more effective mentorship from these curricula.
  • Federal funding agencies are calling for evidence-based mentor education and the use of IDPs in particular, which is addressed in research mentor education offerings.
  • There is a recognized mentee education curriculum available that will help mentees identify a research mentor with aligned research interests and develop a strong positive professional relationship with this mentor.
  • By participating in mentorship education, mentors and mentees will receive resources and materials on how to be a more effective in their mentoring relationships.
  • Mentor and mentee education provides the opportunity to discuss mentorship challenges with peers, share best practices, read relevant literature, and review structured documents for mentorship success, including mentorship compacts and IDPs.
  • Mentorship education can help mentors and mentees attend proactively to their relationships and resolve mentorship challenges, thereby making their relationships more effective AND efficient.
  • Increasing access to effective mentorship is a strategy toward inclusive excellence.

Matching Mentors and Mentees

While mentees may prefer social identity matching with their mentors, what is ultimately important is the mentor’s acknowledgment of the role of students’ social identities in their career development.

Effective mentorship is based on the ability of mentors and mentees to trust, share strengths, identify with, and authentically engage with one another (Blake-Beard et al., 2011). However, research is equivocal on the value of same-race and same-gender mentoring relationships, and in fact, mentees can benefit from mentoring relationships matched on both deep and surface levels.

Deep-level similarities include shared attitudes, goals, interests, values, and even perceived similarity in problem-solving style.

Surface-level similarities include normally readily detectable attributes such as race, ethnicity, gender, and age.

(Eby et al. 2013; Ortiz-Walters and Fullick 2005).

Some literature on underrepresented STEM students and mentorship suggests that having mentors who are similar to mentees on key identities, such as race and gender, may produce benefits for underrepresented students, especially in terms of psychosocial support (Blake-Beard et al., 2011; Patton and Bondi, 2015). In addition, same-race and same-gender pairings had the potential to provide an understanding of shared experiences of being underrepresented in STEM spaces (Felder and Barker, 2013). Having a mentor who has been through similar experiences based on a shared identity is also beneficial in terms of identification, developing interpersonal comfort, building trust, and setting expectations. Shared social identity in mentorship has also been found to be more likely to be able to engage the student holistically (Baker and Griffin, 2010; National Academies of Sciences, 2017; Pfund, 2016).

One study focused on mentoring outcomes in STEMM found that an overwhelming majority of over 1,000 racially diverse undergraduate and graduate STEMM students surveyed felt it was important to have a mentor of the same race and gender (Blake-Beard et al., 2011). Respondents in same-race and same-gender mentoring relationships were more likely to report they had received more career and psychosocial support. However, there were no apparent effects of this greater amount of mentoring in terms of outcomes such as increased grade point average, self-efficacy, or confidence about their fit in science (Blake-Beard et al., 2011). The participants, particularly underrepresented students, felt it was important that mentors understand how students’ backgrounds could affect their professional careers. This suggests that while mentees may prefer social identity matching with their mentors, what is ultimately important is the mentor’s acknowledgment of the role of students’ social identities in their career development. Moreover, some workplace mentoring research indicates that a mentor from a well-represented background can use their available social capital through the mentoring relationship to benefit the mentee’s career support and outcomes (Eby et al., 2013; Johnson and Smith, 2016), suggesting one potential benefit of cross-identity mentoring relationships.

While surface similarities may be important for some students, deep-level similarity in terms of having shared interests, values, and goals is also important for effective mentoring relationships even across cultural differences. Mentors and mentees having deep-level similarities (Harrison et al., 1998) predicts interpersonal comfort, which in turn predicts psychosocial and career (instrumental and networking) support (Brunsma et al., 2017; Ortiz-Walters and Gilson, 2005).

Program Assessment

How do you know mentoring is working well (or not)? You need basic monitoring and evaluation. Think about your theory of change and what needs to be measured – the figure below can provide ideas – and then select evidence-based measures when possible, that is, you do not need to recreate the wheel. Then, establish basic reporting process with stakeholders to review your data at least annually and make adjustments.

A Simplified Process-Oriented Model of Mentorship

Assessments by Career Stage

The Committee compiled a list of assessments with moderate validity evidence for various career stages and disciplines. Available here.
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