Seek a mentor’s advice! Allow experience to speak!

The situation for women working in STEM fields has begun to improve over the past years. Yet women still struggle with evident or unconscious bias, old-fashioned traditions, and segregation in in- and formal networks. Women in these fields are not as well paid, are promoted less often, obtain fewer research grants and are not as likely to continue working in scientific research as their male counterparts who are equally qualified.[1] So what can we women do in order to change the status quo? And what might help you outline and follow your career path? What if you read my last article on building more self-confidence but still think that this is not enough to reach your goals?[2] Maybe you need a push to believe in yourself and your capabilities? We know that life-long learning is essential to success, so have you ever tried to seek advice and accelerate the learning process?

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Sometimes, we are in real need of someone who can look at our problems from a new angle, someone who shares their knowledge and experience with us and gives advice. We might even want to follow the footsteps of successful women or men who can guide us as role models. Mentoring is the kind of powerful, value-adding, longer-term inter-personal relationship that can help shape your future.

So have you ever considered mentorship? Why is it so normal to seek advice for a natural process like motherhood and parenting, while professional mentoring has so rarely crossed our minds?

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” John C. Crosby

A famous example of successful mentorship that contributed to the career of one of the most powerful women in business today, is Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. At crucial moments in her life she followed the advice of mentors like her former college professor, Larry Summers. Even Mother Teresa had a mentor, Father Michael van der Peet. Without his encouragement and friendship, she could not have accomplished all her wonderful charity work like supporting orphanages and AIDS hospices.[3]

So, what are the advantages of having a mentor? [4]

1.     A mentor can be a source of positive energy and continuous encouragement that inspires you to discover your own potential.

2.     A mentor can help develop respect, confidence and responsibility; the key values that will make you a professional.

3.     A mentor can help tolerate and appreciate diversity, whether cultural or societal.

4.     A mentor can help you make the right choices when it comes to a difficult decision. Mentors help you see the bigger picture and provide you with useful tools to make the decision process easier.

5.     A mentor encourages you to challenge yourself and to approach new tasks.

Seeing these advantages, early-career researchers of the Global Young Academy (GYA) have collaborated to form a platform for online mentorship. The Global Young Academy is addressing challenges that interest the global scientific community and tries to raise a voice to be heard by policy makers.[5] One of the main goals of the GYA is to try to make a paradigm shift by establishing the Women in Science (WiS) Working Group. The diversity in this group is huge; the participants – not only women but also male researchers – come from different countries and different research fields. This diverse cultural background makes this group of researchers unique. But the members of this group are not born with mentorship skills. As the co-leader of this group, I have organized the Global Women in Science Leadership Workshop in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).[6] This workshop helped us, as WiS WG members, as well as the CIFAR Global Scholars, to challenge cultural, societal and personal barriers by providing us with the resources to develop our mentorship and leadership skills.

During this workshop we participated in a series of hands-on activities that taught us personal problem solving styles as well as methodologies to address leadership challenges. Struggling with gender bias was one of the main topics of discussion. We also discussed how to prioritize goals, responsibilities and tasks and how to effectively contribute to policy change. The learning we took away from this process was not only how to develop our career and that of others on a professional level, but also how to keep in mind our general work–life balance.

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Photo: © CIFAR: Trainer Izzy Mamnoon (KnowInnovation) during the Global Women in Science Leadership Workshop at the Banff Centre For Arts and Creativity, Canada, 2016.

 

The workshop provided strategies useful in addressing and dealing with social commitments and pressure women encounter in their daily interactions and suddenly daily hurdles were normalized! We benefited a lot from this workshop and the vision for an online mentorship platform for female researchers crystallized.[7]

 

“When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves.” William Arthur Ward

 

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Photo: © CIFAR: GYA WiS WG members and CIFAR Global Scholars during the Global Women in Science Leadership Workshop at the Banff Centre For Arts and Creativity, Canada, 2016.

 

This platform offers an integrated search tool that allows you to find the best mentor for yourself according to gender, discipline, culture and even leadership position; a mentor who can offer advice on a confidential basis, who can be a vent for your own emotions. You will gain clarity on the goals you hope to achieve through the mentoring relationship. Engaging in discussions and referring back to the goals you put together periodically is a wonderful way of refocusing on them and assessing progress. Through open and credible conversations you will work together towards achieving these goals and overcome challenges women face as scientists, but also as wives and mothers. So don’t miss out this opportunity and seek a mentor’s advice!

 

[1] Specials: Women in Science, Nature, 495, 2013.
[2] http://www.fallingwallsfragments.com/2017/07/27/to-be-trapped-in-your-own-thoughts-and-beliefs-its-time-for-a-wall-to-fall/ 
[3] Jean Rhodes, The Chronicle of evidence-based mentoring, Top 25 Mentoring Relationships in History. https://chronicle.umbmentoring.org/top-25-mentoring-relationships-in-history/, 2015.
[4] Chris Myers, Mentorship Is Key To Career Success For Young Professionals in The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets, FEB 21, 2016.
[5] https://globalyoungacademy.net/
[6] https://www.cifar.ca/
[7] Mentorship platform by the Gobal Young Academy Women in Science Working Group: http://gyawis-mentoring.com/

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