Entering Mentoring Interactive Webinar Series: A Successful Beta Test

By Samarpita Sengupta

A year ago, when I was thinking of applying for the NORDP mentoring program as a mentee, I was encouraged to apply as a mentor too. I remember the paralyzing terror I felt thinking “what do I know about mentoring someone else” and “how am I even qualified.”

For some people, like the extraordinary members of the NORDP Mentoring Committee, mentoring comes easily, but for others, it is a learned skill. The Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) and the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) were established to fill in the gap; to educate researchers of all stages on mentoring; to create best practices; and to establish a mentoring culture within academia.

NRMN established curriculums to offer mentor training, mentee training and facilitator training. These courses are now offered through CIMER. NORDP members and pioneers, Jan Abramson and Etta Ward went through the Facilitator training offered by NRMN and CIMER. They immediately saw the potential and began hatching plans for providing mentor training to the NORDP community. As luck may have it, they met Paula Carney, who had gone through the Facilitator training and the NORDP mentor training subcommittee was formed. Subsequently, other members of the group, Kathryn Partlow, Erica Severan went through the training;team member Kristen Boman has worked with the NRMN Mentor Training program since its inception. The subcommittee has recently recruited Tabitha Finch, a new NORDP member, and a trained facilitator.

Over the past year, the Mentor Training subcommittee of the NORDP Mentoring Committee has been hard at work adapting the Entering Mentoring training curriculum for RD professionals. They created case studies, didactics and a workshop to be delivered at the NORDP Annual Conference. And then the pandemic hit!

When the conference was canceled, the team quickly pivoted to a Zoom-based delivery format. After hours of discussions on how to best deliver the trainings, duration of each session and how to preserve the most interactive portions of an in-person workshop, namely, the conversations around mentoring case studies and sharing of personal, sometimes vulnerable, experiences; the team put together the 8-part Mentor Training Session that was tested among a small cohort of NORDP members this past summer.

The sessions were spread out over 8 weeks with one hour each session, followed by a Room in the Zoom where the presenters hung around to keep conversations going and answer questions. The topics covered included:

  1. Introduction
  2. Maintaining Effective Communication
  3. Aligning expectations
  4. Assessing Understanding
  5. Addressing Equity and Inclusion
  6. Fostering Independence
  7. Promoting Professional Development
  8. Articulating Your Mentoring Philosophy

The sessions were well attended and almost all of the people who started the 8 week session were present at the final session. There were rave reviews about the virtual format and its ease of use, the use of breakout rooms to facilitate conversations and provide networking opportunities, zoom polls and word clouds to drive the points home and overall knowledge gained by the trainees. Most people thought very highly of the presenters and found the program met its learning objectives and that the information they gained was going to be useful for them. Open ended questions yielded excited responses from the attendees: “EXCELLENT and very well-done!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I know a TON of work went into the adaptation of this material, and it showed.”

While most of the feedback was positive, most attendees felt that the time devoted to the sessions was not adequate. One-hour sessions were not enough time to get into deep conversations about the topics being covered.

The Mentor Training team has taken the feedback into consideration and they are now working on innovative solutions to the problem of less time while being cognizant of the limitations of virtual platforms and the associated attention spans. A NORDP Circle has been created so that the beta tester attendees can maintain the sense of belonging to a cohort.

As someone who was once terrified of being a mentor, being a part of the subcommittee and attending these sessions has helped me come a long way. I now know what my mentoring philosophy looks like and I know what my strengths and weaknesses as a mentor and by extrapolation, a mentee are. I feel better prepared for any future mentoring relationships, especially those with people who are different than me. I not only feel that I have grown as a mentor, but the session on addressing equity and inclusion have helped me grow as a compassionate human aware of my biases that I can extend to all my relationships.  

NORDP mentoring committee plans to offer future sessions of the Mentor Training Workshops soon. Furthermore, there are additional exciting opportunities in the pipeline! If you are interested in joining the Mentoring Committee or the Mentor Training team, please email mentorprogram@nordp.org

Stay tuned to this space for more soon!