Written by Dr. Letisha Wyatt
Last year when I was approached by the Director of the Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) , Dr. Gary Westbrook, to work together to create and facilitate mentor/PI training sessions – I immediately jumped at the idea. My personal experiences as a graduate student and post-doctoral fellow influenced me to get involved. Since joining the faculty at OHSU, one thing that I’ve prioritized is offering strong mentorship to any graduate students or post-docs that I’ve encountered and advocating on their behalf for PI training. It was a big thing for Dr. Westbrook to ask: “I’d like to offer a few 2-hr workshops to all of the NGP faculty currently mentoring students…starting in a few weeks.” I was relieved when his follow up was “NRMN has materials and a facilitator guide that we can look to for inspiration.”
At the time, I was unfamiliar with NRMN, but took a deep dive into the website and literature. I was amazed to find so much useful information and thought: “Why isn’t this type of training mandatory for ALL PIs?” Our process was to use the material linked from the Center for the improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER), specifically the Biomedical Guide developed by Dr. Christine Pfund and colleagues. We selected what we perceived to be the more salient chapters and offered a workshop on: 1) effective communication, 2) aligning expectations, and 3) diversity & inclusion, with the focus being some didactic information, case studies, and mostly discussion. The training was largely well-received, with conversations spilling over after the session ended. We typically had about 10 faculty per session and a healthy mix of senior and junior faculty. It was quite interesting to see the dichotomy between “more seasoned” faculty and younger faculty, as they discussed how to best communicate and align expectations with trainees.
What was really neat though, was the thoughtful conversations that happened during the diversity and inclusion portion, which I ended up modifying a good deal from the facilitator guide. As a black, female academic, this segment was what I thought to be the more pressing issue. By the third time offering the sessions, tweaking a bit each time, we finally felt like we landed on a pretty comprehensive and interactive curriculum. Luckily, around the same time that Dr. Westbrook and I were offering the NGP trainings, I was invited to attend a training facilitated by Dr. Pfund herself when she visiting OHSU to engage with mentors of the Portland State University/OHSU NIH-funded BUILD EXITO Program. It was nice to see how she handled difficult questions and stimulated the conversation.
Our plan is to continue engaging with faculty as they join the NGP and we are even considering offering mentorship training for current graduate students and post-docs! Hopefully this will give trainees a sense of what their PIs experienced and what they might expect as they assume mentorship roles throughout their scientific careers. We couldn’t have done it without the NRMN and are very grateful for having access to such valuable content.
Letisha R. Wyatt is the Biomedical Research & Data Specialist at the OHSU Library and has faculty appointments both in the Library and the Neuroscience Graduate Program. She holds a Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology & Toxicology from the University of Southern California. Her research focuses on the roles of different receptors in brain disorders and developing novel therapeutics. Letisha is a former NIH pre-doctoral fellow and has strong record of mentorship in the laboratory and classroom. She works to support the information needs of the OHSU basic science community, facilitating efficiency, impactful research practices, and problem solving across the research and data lifecycles. Read more about Letisha’s role on her departmental webpage and find her on twitter: @dr_lrwyatt.