ON CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
Marc Horowitz, Director,
Office of Loan Repayment and
Treisman holds aloft
subject of mentoring commands a lot of attention at NIH; this summer,
at a specially convened Mentoring Roundtablethe first
of its kind at NIHthe focus was on mentoring students
from disadvantaged or minority-group backgrounds.
Sponsored by the Office
of Loan Repayment and Scholarship (OLRS), whose Undergraduate Scholarship
Program (UGSP)* supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds,
the roundtable featured invited university faculty with more than
90 years of combined mentoring expertise and substantial experience
mentoring disadvantaged and minority science students. More than
100 NIH denizensundergraduate and postdoctoral students, scientists,
and administratorsattended the roundtable.
Guest panelists were
Lawrence K. Alfred, professor of biology at San Diego State University;
Frank J. Talamantes, professor of biology at the University of California
at Santa Cruz; and Uri Treisman, professor of mathematics at the
University of Texas at Austin. The roundtable was moderated by John
F. Alderete, professor of microbiology at the University of Texas
Health Science Center at San Antonio and president of the Society
for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in the Sciences.
In his 25 years of
working with Chicano students, Talamantes said, he'd observed in
many a deference to authority, a subdued demeanor in the presence
of a generally acknowledged leader in the field. Such characteristics,
he noted, could be a handicap in the world of scientific research.
The mentor's challenge with such students is to help them question
authority without disrespecting their cultural values. In general,
Talamantes emphasized, mentors need to take students' concerns and
problems seriously, listen carefully, and respect students' individuality.
But they also need to challenge students' ideas of what they want
to do and help them explore other options.
Treisman pointed to
the learning environment as the critical factor in minority students'
achieving their science career goals. Successful mentoring, he said,
is most often accomplished in educational programs in which mentoring
is a group enterprise with strong support and leadership from the
department chair and administration. Good mentors, he said, are
able to define excellence in their field, know how to achieve it,
and share that information with their students. The most important
mentoring tasks senior scientists can perform are to monitor student
progress, publicly ask questions, and scrutinize students' lab practices,
Alfred emphasized "nurturing"
to help students overcome fears and to foster in them a belief in
their own academic abilities. He also recommended that links be
established between NIH scientists and the university mentors of
students in NIH programs. He posed two key questions: How can we
get more faculty members, especially those with NIH research grants,
involved in mentoring? How can mentoring outcomes be measured more
effectively? Panel members agreed that mentoring must be a part
of the broader mission of an institution and the responsibility
of mainstream faculty members, especially if disadvantaged students
are to succeed in the field of biomedical research.
Gottesman, deputy director for intramural research, noted that
Director Harold Varmus and NIDR
Director Harold Slavkin, who
chairs the Committee for the Recruitment of Ethnically Diverse Young
Talent into Biomedical Research (also known as the Slavkin Committee),
are working to close the gap between students' expectations and
the reality of the NIH research experience. A committee report and
handbookare expected by
Each student in the UGSP is assigned an NIH researcher to serve as
a mentor. This mentoring relationship is initiated during a 10week
summer program, when students work as paid employees in NIH research
laboratories. A goal of the UGSP is continuation of the mentoring
relationship into all seasons. Marc Horowitz, director of the Office
of Loan Repayment and Scholarship, Office of Intramural Research,
oversees the UGSP and is always eager to identify intramural scientists
willing to take active roles in mentoring his program participants,
especially beyond the time spent in NIH's labs. Information
on the UGSP can be found at <http://ugsp.info.nih.gov>
or by calling Horowitz at 4025666.