"Won’t you be my mentor?".
Asking that question can be as awkward, and scary as asking "will you marry me?"
Approaching someone to be your mentor can be a very intimidating proposition. After all, this potential mentor is someone you admire, otherwise, you would not be approaching them. They are an expert. A master of their domain. And here you are, asking them to take time out of their busy schedule to mentor you. How do you even do that?!
I have been a mentor to hundreds of students and emerging scientists. I have also been a mentee, and currently, have two mentors whom I meet with regularly. One mentor helps me with career issues within my department and the other advises me on issues outside of academia. I am now in the process of finding a third mentor to help me with expanding my business life outside of academia, especially regarding public speaking. So I understand how you might feel when you first approach a potential mentor. Here are some tips to help you approach a mentor with confidence:
So be specific when you approach a potential mentor. Be clear about what you want to learn from them and why. And be open to listening for unexpected advice. Clarity, preparation, and open-mindedness will help you when you approach a new mentor and will take the awkward out of what can be a very uncomfortable first step.
This is the second in a series of blog posts about mentors. To download a free checklist about the things to discuss on your First Meeting with A New Mentor, click HERE.
5 Tips for a Successful Summer Internship
OK. Summer is here. Some of you will just chill by a pool somewhere. But many more of you are also starting your summer internships.
Summer internships are beneficial to your academic and professional career. For some students, they can be truly life-changing. Internships are an opportunity to learn from professionals, try career options, and meet new mentors. Whether you have already secured a great internship or whether you’re still looking for one, take a moment and think about how to become a successful intern so that you can get the most of out of your experience. After all, landing an internship is just a beginning, and it is up to you to make it a productive experience. Here are some tips:
1. Be humble: As talented as you may be, one thing to remember is that you are there to learn. So be open to feedback and guidance from your supervisor and colleagues, because “true humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know”.
2. Act As If: While I say humility is important, this notion shouldn’t be mistaken as permission for you to be passive or uninvolved. Rather, it’s crucial that you remember that you’re part of the organization, even if it is only temporary. Act as if you are an employee. That means to be mindful of punctuality, your attire, and other common office courtesy and rules. Get involved in life as a member of the organization.
3. Engage: Your supervisor will be more willing to offer you challenging and fulfilling tasks if they believe that you genuinely care about the work that you’re doing. Take notes, ask questions, and share your ideas so that they know that you’re interested. Establish a good relationship with your supervisor, and meet with them regularly so that you can keep track of how you are performing, and make sure that both of your expectations are being met. Show enthusiasm and interest in the work. No one will want to teach you if you appear uninterested.
4. Communicate, and communicate well: Communication skills are a highly valued asset that many employers look for in job candidates, and this applies to interns as well. Think about how you’re communicating with your supervisor and colleagues, both verbal and written, and explore ways to improve it. It is also important that you ask questions if you are unsure about any aspects of your work. Do not assume anything, especially if your action could affect other people's work. It is better to be the annoying intern who asks a lot of questions than the intern from hell who broke a major piece of equipment. Know how, when, and to whom to ask questions and you will be fine.
5. Keep in touch. Before your internship is over, make sure that you leave all of your work in order and provide a summary of all work products. After you finish your internship, make sure to let your mentors know where they can reach you if they have any questions about your work. Send a note of appreciation. Don’t just disappear after your internship is complete! Make an effort to stay in touch with your supervisor and colleagues, by sending them updates or checking in to say hello. Your supervisor is a very valuable contact to maintain. You might want to ask them for advice or for a letter of recommendation later on. Contacting your internship mentor only when you need something from them will not be well received.
Internships can be very rewarding, productive and can have a big impact on your life and career. Here is a great opportunity for you to shine.
This is the first in a series of blog posts on internships and mentors. To download the Free Checklist for Meeting with an Internship Mentor, click HERE.
Diversity in the workplace is starting to be more than a buzzword. Many companies are making diversity one of their top priorities. Amazon, the biggest retailer in the world, recently announced that it will nominate women and minorities to its board of directors.(1) Amazon said in a statement that:
"...diversity will benefit companies by providing greater access to talent, harnessing existing talent more effectively, and improving decision making by reducing groupthink and similar psychological biases."
The issue of "groupthink", defined as "the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group in a way that discourages creativity or individual responsibility" is more common in non-diverse workplaces, to their detriment.(2)
If you are a hiring officer, chairman, or leader at your workplace, consider how you can get ahead of your competition by hiring people of diverse backgrounds. Here are some ideas to help you improve diversity in your workplace.
Stop with the Excuses Already! Stop saying that you can't find good minority candidates to hire. That is no longer a good excuse. Although there are still small numbers of us in some sectors, particularly in academic STEM fields, there are at least some minority if you know where to look. For example, I direct a research program for minority graduate students. Every year, I receive 400-600 applications for 10 spots. There are many great candidates in that pool of applications. Similarly, if you advertise broadly you will be able to attract a diverse group of candidates.
Learn about Diversity: Incredibly, it is 2018 and many leaders don't know what we mean when we talk about diversity and even worst, they don't know how diversity may benefit their organizations. An increasing number of business leaders and academics are becoming aware of the evidence that shows that diversity in their teams can improve their revenue, but this knowledge is not yet widespread in many organizations.(1)
Train Staff: Researchers at Montana State University conducted a randomized controlled trial to test whether they could improve hiring of women faculty in science and technology positions. In the study, search committee chairs in the intervention group received training on gender bias and work-life integration. The researchers found that the search committees that received this training were much more likely to hire women for faculty positions as compared to the search committees that did not receive this training.(3)
Outreach: Advertise positions available in your institution broadly, particularly through organizations for minority professionals. Many professional associations and societies have chapters for underrepresented minorities in their profession and they can help you advertise through those channels.
Diversify and Empower your Committees: It is particularly important that search committees for positions available are diverse and have the mandate to consider qualified candidates from diverse backgrounds. This is important for at least two reasons. First, a search committee that is racially and gender diverse will distribute announcements for positions available through their networks which are more likely to be diverse as well. Second, candidates who are underrepresented in the fields may find it encouraging to see that the recruiting team is diverse. No one wants to be the only underrepresented minority in a team, so minority candidates may be more likely to accept a position in a team that has more diversity.
Create and Implement a Diversity Policy: Make sure that when you advertise positions available, that you include an equal opportunity statement. And mean it! We have all seen the now ubiquitous: "Equal opportunity employer". But companies that value diversity are being more explicit advertising their employment policies. For example, Google includes this statement:
“At Google, we don’t just accept difference — we celebrate it, we support it, and we thrive on it for the benefit of our employees, our products, and our community. Google is proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and is an affirmative action employer.”
Boston University gives examples of more proactive language for improving recruitment of underrepresented minority faculty, such as:
"BU is committed to building a culturally diverse faculty and strongly encourages applications from female and minority candidates. Women, minorities, individuals with disabilities and veterans are encouraged to apply. BU is dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic faculty committed to teaching and working in a multicultural environment and strongly encourages applications from minorities and women. Candidates should describe how multicultural issues have been or will be brought into courses. Candidates should describe previous activities mentoring minorities, women, or members of other underrepresented groups."
Lead by Example: Create a culture of diversity by showing that you GET IT. As a leader, you set the tone for your organization. Show that you support a corporate community of inclusion. You can do this by supporting, promoting and encouraging diversity. Start by looking around your organization and ask yourself if it reflects the population outside company's door.
Increasing diversity and equal access to opportunity in your workplace is not charity, diversity benefits all.
I care about diversity in academia. Makes sense since I am a senior faculty, I am Latina, and I am a tenured professor at a large medical center. Is it self-serving that I want to see more women and underrepresented minorities in senior faculty positions like mine?
Yes, maybe it is self-serving. But perhaps not for the reasons that you might think.
True, we underrepresented minorities and women want equal opportunity and fairness. And of course, it would be nice if discrimination, racism, and unconscious bias didn't exist. But I also see the need to increase diversity in academia as a missed opportunity. Diversity in the workplace is turning out to be a secret sauce for success in organizations. And I do want my organization to be successful.
Evidence-based research in the business sector shows that diversity can improve the bottom line. A 2009 study showed that "racial diversity is associated with increased sales revenue, more customers, greater market share, and greater relative profits.(1) More recently, a study conducted by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, found that companies that were ethnically diverse were 35% more likely to perform better than the national median for their industry. They also found that companies that were gender-diverse were 15% more likely to be making more money than the median.(2)
In spite of this and other evidence, many leaders are resistant to increasing diversity in their teams. According to a paper by Ellison and Mullin, this resistance comes from the fact that people enjoy being with other like-minded people.(3) It is human nature.
In their paper, Ellison and Mullin wrote that:
--“The more homogeneous offices have higher levels of social capital" but ..."higher levels of social capital are not important enough to cause those offices to perform better. The employees might be happier, they might be more comfortable, and these might be cooperative places, but they seem to perform less well.”--
I understand this to mean that resistance to diversity may come from a level of comfort that individuals in a homogeneous group have from being with each other. Diversity challenges that level of comfort and "happiness", even when it can measurably improve productivity and profits. This is fascinating and sad at the same time. So you are telling me that leaders in homogeneous teams like to be with each other so much that they will prefer working with people who look and think like them, even if diversifying would make their organization more successful? Really? Wow!
I want my organization to be more diverse, not just because I would enjoy my work more if I could be with others who are like me, but also because I want us to be more successful. I want us to have the faculty and staff to respond to more diverse research opportunities and to be able to reach out to many different populations.
If diversity is good for business, is it good for academia?
I don't see why it wouldn't be.
So, yes. I'd like to see more diversity in the research workplace. Yes. It would make me happier to see more minority women faculty, but I would also hope that by bringing different perspectives, abilities, and resources, underrepresented minorities can make our academic institution more successful.
So I ask, please don't do us a favor. Diversifying your workplace is not a charity case. Diversity is good for you, even if at first it might be a little uncomfortable.
I should use a magnifying glass to be able to see the percentage of underrepresented minority women in the graph above. This graph, published in a paper written by officials from the NIH, shows the percentage of women and men underrepresented in academia (African-American, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander...) and those that are "well-represented" (White, Asian).(1)
According to the paper, underrepresented minority women make up a healthy proportion of graduate degrees awarded, but our numbers dwindle at the highest levels of academia. There are hardly any tenured full professors who are women of color. I care about this because I am indeed a Puerto Rican, female, tenured professor, and I am NIH-funded.
Although the reality of this lack of people who look like me in academia stares me in the face every morning when I arrive at work, seeing it depicted in this graph makes me feel even lonelier.
I swear that I try to do my part to increase the numbers of underrepresented men and women in academia: I mentor. I develop and get funding for training programs. I recruit. I create networks. But there are many forces that contribute to the attrition of women and minorities from the highest levels in academia. Loneliness is certainly one that I can attest to, and also discrimination and exclusion, both subtle and overt. It seems to me that students come to academia, they see the struggle, and they leave thinking "I don't want to put myself through that". And I understand.
Many minority students have asked me "How do you do it?" "How do you persist?". Here are some of the things that I hope can help underrepresented students and faculty, both male and female, survive and thrive in academia:
In an interview for a Mother's Day article, a reporter asked me to talk about the best career advice that my Mother ever gave me.
My Mom gives me a lot of advice, but it has never been particularly career-oriented. Nevertheless, I have found that her wisdom can be applied to all aspects of my life, including my professional life.
As I answered the reporter's question, I struggled to translate my Mom's advice from her original Spanish, not just because of the language, but because my Mom speaks in funny anecdotes that may not make much sense to you at the moment.
Writer Emily Moore, captured motherly career advice from my Mom and 12 other professionals in her article for Glassdoor.com, the employers rating website.
Here is the section on my Mom:
"Although my mother only has [a] middle-school formal education level, she is one of the wisest persons that I know... Roughly translated, one of the best pieces of advice that she has given me is 'Try not to lose the rope trying to catch the goat.' What she means by this is that when you have something (a rope, a job), don't throw it out trying to get the next thing (a goat, a venture) — that rope can help you catch many other goats if you learn how to use it.
I have heeded my mother's advice by building on my career from my steady base as a tenured professor. From this position, I have written a book, built a consulting business and helped others build their own careers. So I feel that I have used my rope to catch many goats."
To read the full article and see pictures of each contributor with our mothers, click HERE .
Do we work to make a living
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.