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Long-Distance Mentoring Over Email

San Diego, CA, March 20, 2007 --  Long-distance relationships are often tough. But when it comes to mentoring, the distance can turn out to be a good thing. Over email, a mentor who is hundreds or thousands of miles away can give advice and feedback based on a perspective that you might not get from an advisor down the hall.

At no charge, all UCSD engineering, mathematics and science undergrads, grad students, postdocs and new faculty members can link up with a mentor over email thanks to a partnership between UCSD and MentorNet – an e-mentoring network promoting diversity in engineering and science.

Anna Raskin, a bioengineering PhD. candidate at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, joined MentorNet in June 2006.

Anna Raskin
Anna Raskin, a bioengineering PhD. candidate at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, joined MentorNet in June 2006.
“I was finishing up the third year in my PhD. program and had spent the last four months working 12 hour days trying to optimize an experiment that would never end up working, while trying to juggle 10 other projects. My experiences left me questioning my abilities and commitment to obtaining a PhD.”

A few days after registering with MentorNet, Anna was paired up with an e-mentor named Julie. “As we became more comfortable with our relationship, I opened up to her more and more. I found she too had had many of the same feelings and similar experiences while working towards her PhD. She has not only been a major source of support for me throughout the months we worked together, she also provided me with thoughtful and solid advice, guiding me objectively towards my academic and career goals,” said Raskin.

MentorNet is a nonprofit organization working to further the progress of women and others underrepresented in scientific and technical fields. Since 1998, MentorNet has linked over 18,000 mentor-protégé pairs through email-based mentoring relationships.

Any UCSD student, postdoc or new faculty member from an engineering, math or science discipline who is interested in this mentor-protégé matching program can fill out an online questionnaire (www.mentornet.net) in order to be matched with compatible e-mentors from academia, industry or government, as available. MentorNet relationships, by definition, continue for at least 8 months and generally exist over email, unless the pair chooses another mode of communication. (Services for pre-med students are not offered at this time.)

Mentoring for Success: Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor

On Thursday March 1, 2007, a group of UCSD engineering, science and math students and faculty, as well as industry neighbors, attended an event called “Mentoring for Success: Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor.” The group learned about mentoring opportunities, strategies and benefits, networked with potential mentors or protégés, and interacted with Carol Muller, the president, founder and CEO of MentorNet.

Alycia Mosley
Alycia Mosley, a neuroscience PhD. candidate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, has an e-mentor from Boston who has helped extend her professional network.
One of the students who helped to organize the event was Alycia Mosley, a neuroscience PhD. candidate at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies studying the molecular mechanisms of cortical development.

Mosley is the vice president of UCSD’s Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GradWISE), a representative on the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (CACSW), and a new MentorNet participant.

Mosley’s mentor works in Boston and has already helped to extend Mosley's professional network. In addition to big picture career insights, Mosley has received nuts-and-bolts practical advice on things like how to approach someone who is a potential networking contact.

“MentorNet is great if you have some idea of the kind of advice you’re looking for. Some sort of objective – like ‘I need help or advice on this’ or ‘I want to hear about how you accomplished that,’” said Mosley.

According to MentorNet, the five most common types of support that a mentor can provide are: information, networking, emotional support, constructive criticism and career advancement.

“Women are more likely to leave their studies in science and engineering fields, in part, because of confidence issues and not because of achievement or ability issues,” said Muller. “The fact that students often report receiving encouragement, reassurance, moral support and confidence boosting from their e-mentors is a good sign. It may help to keep people in fields they are interested in and make them more aware that they are in position to make significant contributions.”

To find a mentor, either through MentorNet or by other means, Muller advises to first think carefully about your goals, needs, and the amount of time you want to commit to the relationship.

Muneera Beach
Muneera Beach, a biochemistry PhD. candidate at UCSD is looking for an e-mentor on MentorNet.
Muneera Beach, a biochemistry PhD. candidate at UCSD who will be graduating in about a year, hopes to find a mentor on MentorNet who can give her some advice on what to do after graduation:

“I am hoping to interact with someone from industry. I want to know what industry is looking for in biochemistry PhDs. I am also interested in opinions on what kinds of postdoctoral positions are most likely to set me up for the best industry job opportunities later on,” said Beach, who studies structure and function relationships in proteins involved in blood coagulation.

 After Muller’s talk, attendees participated in a series of round table discussions on related issues. Talk at the doctoral/postdoctoral mentoring table bounced through a range of topics, including the number and variety of mentors that doctoral students often need.

The consensus from the table: you need a mentor from within your institution who can advise on practical issues and local politics. It’s also good to have a mentor who is an expert in your precise specialization, and an external mentor who can help you identify important skills that you still need to develop. External mentors can also offer a different view of the academic terrain and provide access to professional networks, which can be especially important when you are in the job market.

Those who do land academic jobs often find themselves, in a few years, in great demand as mentors. MentorNet is always looking for e-mentors from academia. “Once faculty do it, they tend to really like it,” said Muller, who noted that mentors, who can be of any gender, often learn new skills, gain new contacts and feel reenergized by the experience.

“To be able to use the wisdom you have developed in your own career and transmit it to someone else is a profound way of giving back,” said Marye Anne Fox, Chancellor, University of California San Diego, at the mentoring for success event.

 At Alysia Mosley’s discussion table, a UCSD faculty member who had participated as a MentorNet mentor sat with other faculty who had questions about mentoring via email. “She said it was easy. Over email she said she was able to have a significant impact on the person she was mentoring,” said Mosley.

 

Beth Simon
Beth Simon, a lecturer in the Computer Science and Engineering department at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering, has served as a MentorNet mentor.
That mentor was Beth Simon, a lecturer in the Computer Science and Engineering department at the UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering. Simon recently mentored a woman pursuing a computer science PhD. at a small, geographically remote school in the Midwest.

“I tried to broaden her horizons regarding potential jobs after graduation. Among other options, I encouraged her to consider teaching online courses as a way to pass on her knowledge and wisdom without having to relocate,” said Simon, who acknowledged her already heavy workload but said the email-nature of the relationship made it easy.

The origin of the term “mentor” comes from Homer’s Odyssey, Muller explained in her presentation. Mentor was Odysseus’ good friend. When Odysseus went to fight in the Peloponnesian War, he left his son Telemachus under the care of Mentor who guided him through the years that his father was away.

“But when you go back to the Odyssey, you see it was Athena, the goddess of wisdom, who came down and assumed the guise of Mentor, guided Telemachus and helped him grow and develop as a promising leader. So it was Athena, the goddess of wisdom who was really behind mentoring!” Muller quipped.

MentorNet is freely available to UCSD undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty in science, engineering and mathematics (the mentor pool does not include medical doctors).

To sign up, go to www.mentornet.net

Sponsors for Mentoring for Success: Find a Mentor, Be a Mentor:
The Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women (CACSW)
Women in Science & Engineering (WISE)
Graduate Women in Science & Engineering (GradWISE)
Women’s Leadership Alliance (WLA)
Office of Postdoctoral Scholar Affairs (OPSA)
Office of Sexual Harassment Prevention and Policy (OSHPP)
Triton Community Fund

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