Interviewed & Written by Alexis Short
Dr. Baskin has dedicated her life’s work towards the advancement of health disparities research, with a focus on community-based participatory research. As a faculty member in the division of preventive medicine at University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Dr. Baskin has been involved in a number of health disparities related training programs. She was first approached with an opportunity to collaborate on a National Research Mentoring Network initiative a few years ago by Dr. Mona Fouad, Director and Professor, Division of Preventive Medicine, also from UAB, to facilitate meaningful discussions surrounding health research. In Dr. Baskin’s talk surrounding community-based participatory research, she is able to discuss the impacts of these methods and curriculum.
What speaks to you about NRMN?
Diversifying the workforce in biomedical research and ensuring people transitioning in this field have the support that they need in order to be successful.
What is the importance of networking in the biomedical research field and how can we help facilitate network development for future researchers?
My experience has been that networking is critical in this field. It is helpful to get a better understanding of where the field is going, where there might be opportunities for innovations and discoveries.
It’s also critical to have an interdisciplinary team. Sometimes that is not possible on your specific campus and so your larger network can be supportive in fostering an environment for success.
Networking has been helpful to me personally, but also to my mentees in terms of career advancement. For example, as young investigators are navigating academic careers, having a strong cadre of faculty to suggest for external reviewers for grants, promotion and tenure review, and/or letters of reference for future employment is helpful. It is so important to make sure that you have a group of people that really understand the type of work you are doing when for example when writing references.
Do you have advice to other mentors in this field?
For me, mentoring is a very significant role, so it is very important for mentors to make sure they have the time commitment to mentoring the individual. Also, it is important to start off the mentoring relationship with a discussion of expectations of both the mentee and mentor.
Mentors: Be On the lookout for opportunities for mentees to increase their leadership skills and visibility. In addition, be willing to help steer and guide the mentee’s career in a way that minimizes some of the burdens that often happen to junior faculty and staff, particularly if they are underrepresented in biomedical research.
As a mentor, I am careful about guiding my mentees into activities and responsibilities that are going to be mutually beneficial. Not only giving service to their institution, but also making sure that those activates are aligned with where they want to go.
What are some things to be aware of when mentoring an underrepresented group?
One thing is to recognize that even if the mentor and mentee appear to come from similar backgrounds, whether that is gender, race, ethnicity, or any other kind of background, it is important not to take for granted that you understand exactly what that person’s lived experience is. Be careful that you don’t go down the road of stereotyping in terms of what you think the person knows, what they need and so forth. Working with someone to get to know what their experiences are and then focus on the alignment with their expectations for the mentoring relationship is critical regardless of who the individual is.
I use my experience being an African American woman in biomedical research, to help guide individuals to perhaps see some things down the road that they may need to be cautious about, without limiting them. So again, without making assumptions, being able to share information and use your own experience, if you are also from an underrepresented group, to highlight some things to expect.
Make sure that you expose your mentees to lots of different opportunities and emphasize the importance of networking. People from well-represented groups in the biomedical field often times have that cadre of networks, just because they have been around in that field for a while, they know individuals, etc. For persons from backgrounds without a long history in the field, you want to emphasize the importance of networking.
What is the importance of sharing your experience? How do you get your message out about your experience in this field?
Often times when you are a part of an underrepresented group and you have such a small network, people feel like their experience is unique to them and no one else has had dealt with something like that. So, I think it’s very important that those of us who have had experience that are similar, to tell those stories so that those mentees and others don’t internalize and think that this is just about them. It is also important to have that support, and to see people who, in spite of it all, have still been able to go on and be successful. Being able to see people with a shared background as you in positions you aspire to be in is critical. So I am very open in those conversations, and certainly think that it is a part of my responsibility to make sure that stories like mine get told.
Why would you say your research is critical and what are some real world applications at this time?
I think it is critical because of the noted health disparities on most leading causes of death are still there. I think that it is pretty blatant that certain groups are disproportionally impacted in terms of disease mortality and morbidity, and for many of them we really don’t know why. That is where my research is trying to investigate the causes of those conditions. The second part of my work is once we figure out some of the reasons why, to then go in and intervene and try to do something about it.
The other reason why it is critical is because of the fact that people like me are still very much underrepresented in biomedical research. So, our lived experience, is not necessarily considered when thinking about the causes of some of these conditions, or how to best culturally tailor some of the interventions. It is so important to have that diversity among researchers and clinicians, so that those thoughts and experiences are a part of the solution.
Why should one become involved in NRMN?
What I would say to someone contemplating joining, is leading with my own story. And that is the tremendous benefit that I have had through great mentoring. I don’t believe that I would have the success I have to date if I did not have a diverse group of mentors. Not just one person, it has been multiple people, and because of that I have chosen to be a part of mentoring programs to essentially give back. And, I think this is a way to really honor the terrific mentors I have had throughout my career. I would say to a mentee, it is so critical to get involved in networks like this [NRMN] to get that support that I think is often necessary when you do feel like you’re either the only one or you are one of the few. The support, understanding, and having someone to bounce off your ideas off of who is a part of a supportive environment as opposed to an environment that is very valuable. This unique experience is definitely one of the many benefits of being involved with a program like NRMN.
Dr. Baskin has played an instrumental role in drawing attention to these issues within her research. To find out more about Dr. Baskin’s research, take a look at her NRMN Health Research talk, below:
What is Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) and Why Do It? Monica L. Baskin, PhD Professor of Medicine UAB Division of Preventive Medicine
Video Interview with: Ann S. Smith, MPH | Director, MHRC Training Program
UAB Minority Health & Health Disparities Research Center (MHRC)Preventive Medicine | School of Medicine