Introducing the Science of Mentorship Podcast

Article from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Science of Mentorship Podcast artworkWe’re excited to announce the release of The Science of Mentorship, a new podcast from the Board on Higher Education and Workforce of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

This 10-part series explores how students in STEMM can discover more of their potential when they have responsive and effective mentors, told through the personal stories of top researchers in the United States.

Leaders like physicist Dr. Jim Gates and pathologist and former CWSEM member Dr. Vivian Pinn will share their experiences with mentorship throughout their careers. Whether positive or negative, each story focuses on mentorship skills that can and should be learned so all students’ potential can be unleashed to advance in STEMM.

The first episode, featuring the incoming Chair of the Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine, Dr. Gilda Barabino, will be out on January 14.

A Skill That Can Be Learned How training helps enhance faculty mentoring.

By Kathrine Havrilla

In January 2020, faculty from across the Harvard community were invited to attend Research Mentor Training workshops presented by Christine Pfund, director of the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The workshops—held on both the Cambridge and Longwood campuses—gave Harvard faculty a chance to learn about the scholarship around effective mentorship and to engage in skills-based activities with their colleagues and mentoring experts.

“CIMER came to be by our perceived need for a national entity that would be a go-to place for institutions and organizations looking to optimize their mentoring relationships,” says Pfund. “That included a place where folks could come for evidence-based mentor/mentee training across stages and disciplines, and a centralized data pool for the national conversation around the science of mentorship.”

Pfund has visited Harvard three times now to present about how to learn and grow faculty-student mentorship; she was invited for the first time in 2019 by the Department of Government in collaboration with GSAS, and then again that year by Grace Gill, director of Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) to facilitate daylong workshops for faculty.

“Mentoring workshops have a deep history in the life sciences, and there’s a lot of research and data in these disciplines that shows that mentorship training works—both for advisors and advisees,” says Gill. “The push to have these kinds of workshops here on campus actually came from the HILS students—they wanted more training for faculty and for them to have a better understanding of students’ mental health issues, and CIMER was the perfect fit.”

For Reba Rosenberg, who had recently come on board at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences as the inaugural director of The Advising Project, the HILS/CIMER collaboration was serendipitous.

“I was just starting to research what GSAS was already doing regarding mentorship when I came across Grace’s CIMER brochure on the bookshelf next to my desk, and I was excited to learn more,” says Rosenberg.

“In Learning You Will Teach, and in Teaching You Will Learn”

During the CIMER Research Mentor Training workshops, more than two dozen faculty from across Harvard attended, many of whom were senior faculty with many years of both academic and mentoring experience. 

Grace Gill

Grace Gill is the director of Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS).

“We saw this not as a lecture, but as a time to discuss mentorship challenges that most of these faculty have seen throughout their time as educators, and to give them the opportunity to think about them in-depth—and not in a time of crisis,” said Gill. “Many of our faculty really care about advising and put a lot of energy into it, but they don’t have the time or space to develop their practice in a meaningful way. These CIMER events gave them that chance.” 

Sometimes, improving a mentoring relationship can be as easy as adding in a little empathy.

“Something as simple as starting a session with your mentee with ‘How are you?’ instead of ‘What have you accomplished?’ sets a completely different tone for the meeting,” says Rosenberg. “You don’t have to become a totally different person to be a better mentor, as simply showing genuine care and engagement go a long way toward inspiring trust and confidence in a student.”

The faculty response to the CIMER workshop was highly positive: Post-event surveys reflect that faculty felt that not only was the workshop worth their time, but that they would change their mentoring practices in some way because of it.

Rosalind “Roz” Segal, professor of neurobiology and dean for graduate education at Harvard Medical School, attended the CIMER event both for her own mentoring practice and to prepare to help educate faculty in the future.

“I found that the training was helpful for me as I direct a lab, and also provided great guidelines for new faculty who are learning to manage and mentor a group of trainees,” says Segal.

For Kayla Davis, a PhD student in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Segal’s participation in the CIMER event had an immediate impact on their advising relationship.

“Roz is the chair of my dissertation advisory committee, and I get together with my group once every six months or so to discuss my research and how I’m doing on my path to graduation,” explains Davis. “But at my most recent meeting, Roz—having just taken the CIMER workshop—asked me what I was doing outside of my research to prepare for life beyond Harvard.”

That simple change had a powerful effect on Davis. “It was so validating to talk about other things that aren’t often recognized in that space, or with certain advisors or committees. That conversation had a big impact on me, because my graduate experience is quite a bit bigger than my thesis research.”

For Segal, her attendance at the CIMER event was highly useful, especially in thinking critically about how a mentor can respond to different situations, and the repercussions of what one says versus what a mentee might hear. 

“There’s this myth that faculty can’t be trained to be better mentors; to me, that’s like saying that some people are good at public speaking, and others just aren’t,” says Segal. “Yes, some people are better at mentoring naturally, but it is a skill set that can be grown—no matter what discipline you come from.”

Research that Transcends Disciplines

The CIMER event in January had marked Pfund’s first public workshop since the release of “The Science of Effective Mentorship in Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, and Mathematics (STEMM)” report in October 2019 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM). Pfund served on the committee for the report.

Reba Rosenberg

Reba Rosenberg is the director of The Advising Project

“This is one of the most heavily referenced reports NASEM has ever produced, and it does an excellent job of increasing visibility on mentorship,” says Pfund. “Folks in the industry knew it was an important topic, but Harvard was ahead of the game in beginning to address their own mentorship on campus before the report even came out.”

Throughout her two years on the NASEM committee for the report, Pfund says that the biggest takeaways are:

  • The clear evidence that an effective mentoring relationship leads to greater student successes and productivity in a number of measurable ways, and 
  • Both faculty and students can improve their mentorship skills through mentorship education and a proactive outlook.

“The NASEM report comes right out and says that mentorship is a skill that can be taught,” says Pfund. “Some people have natural abilities, but it’s a talent that can be practiced. Mentoring is a working alliance between mentor and mentee, and all of the standard relationship practices apply. Are we speaking the same language? Are we moving toward a common goal? Healthy mentoring relationships can have broader impacts than you know.”

And, while this particular NASEM report is focused on mentoring in the sciences, technology, and medical fields, the results are highly translatable to other disciplines.

“Many of the core concepts and findings ring true, no matter what academic field you come from,” says Pfund. “Effective communication and aligning expectations are discipline-agnostic—what’s more important is how those models look within the context of different academic areas and relationships.” 

The Future of Mentorship at GSAS

The goal of these CIMER collaborations is not to move GSAS faculty to adopt a single advising model and become more homogenous—quite the opposite.

“The idea is to build the strengths within each member of our faculty community by helping them understand and become accustomed to some best practices in student mentoring,” says Rosenberg. “We’re also encouraging faculty to share their mentorship experience and practices so we can help each other grow in the future and improve Harvard’s community as a whole.”

Some Key Recommendations from “The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM”

  • Use an evidenced-based approach to support mentorship
  • Establish and use structured feedback systems to improve mentorship at all levels
  • Recognize and respond to identities in mentorship
  • Reward effective mentorship
  • Mitigate negative mentorship experiences

View the report’s interactive guide to learn more.

Outcomes of Positive Mentorship

  • Graduate students are more likely to persist in their academic decisions if engaged in positive mentoring experiences
  • Positive mentoring experiences increase recruitment of underrepresented mentees into graduate school and research-related career paths
  • Women and underrepresented students are better integrated into the STEMM academic community if engaged in positive mentoring experiences
  • Mentored graduate students and medical trainees are more likely to publish their research than those who are not mentored

The UI Journal Presents: The Use and Impact of NIH-fueled Resources for Mentoring— Reports from the Field

Recently, CIMER Executive Director Christine Pfund and WISCIENCE Director Janet Branchaw were chosen to be special editors in a special issue of the Understanding Interventions journal. In addition, a number of CIMER staff members and affiliates have articles featured in this special issue.  

See below for more information about this special issue of Understanding Interventions Journal.

The UI Journal Presents

In August 2019, the Special Issue editors elicited our interest in publishing a series of papers from the NIH Diversity Consortium. Specifically, the papers would report results from the implementation of various research mentor and/or mentee training interventions at BUILD (Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity) institutions using resources from the first phase of NRMN (National Research Mentoring Network). 

We are very pleased to present this Special Issue, The Use and Impact of NIH-fueled Resources for Mentoring— Reports from the Field, consisting of seven papers plus an Introduction from NIGMS and an Overview by the Special Issue editors. We believe this collection reflects state-of-the-art lessons for the UI community.  We also welcome suggestions of topics for other special issues.

All papers were subjected to a two-stage review process, the first overseen by the Special Issue editors, the second by UI Journal reviewers. We are indebted to all the reviewers who shouldered several submissions and revisions— Clifton Poodry, Frances Carter Johnson, John Matsui, Richard McGee, Mona Trempe, Angela Ebreo, and Chantel Fuqua. As always, the technical assistance of Shanta A. Outlaw is appreciated.

With many thanks,

Daryl E. Chubin, Editor & Anthony L. DePass, Publisher

The Use and Impact of NIH-fueled Resources for Mentoring— Reports from the Field


The Diversity Program Consortium Mentor Training 
Mercedes Rubio and Alison Gammie, NIGMS, NIH

Interventions to Optimize Mentoring Relationships for Diverse Biomedical Researchers 
Janet Branchaw, Lourdes Guerrero & Christine Pfund, Special Issue Editors

The NRMN Master Facilitators Initiative: Building a Community of Practice to Broaden Program Implementation
Stephanie C House, Melissa McDaniels, Kimberly C. Spencer, Emily Utzerath, & Christine Pfund

Investigating a Multiple Mentor Model in Research Training for Undergraduates Traditionally Underrepresented in Biomedical Sciences 
Thomas E. Keller & Jennifer Lindwall   

Near-peer Mentoring in an Undergraduate Research Training Program at a Large Master’s Comprehensive Institution: The Case of CSULB BUILD
Sewwandi U Abeywardana, Sarah Velasco, Nancy Hall, Jesse Dillon, & Chi-Ah Chun

How much is enough? The Impact of Training Dosage and Previous Mentoring Experience on the Effectiveness of a Research Mentor Training Intervention
Jenna Rogers, Janet Branchaw, Anne Marie Weber-Main, Kimberly Spencer, & Christine Pfund

BUILD Peer Mentor Training Model: Developing a Structured Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Training for Biomedical Undergraduate Researchers
Danielle X. Morales, Amy E. Wagler, & Angelica Monarrez

The BUILD Mentor Community at CSULB: A Mentor Training Program Designed to Enhance Mentoring Skills in Experienced Mentors
Kelly A. Young   &  Kaitlyn N. Stormes

Introduction to Research: A Scalable, Online Badge Implemented in Conjunction with a Classroom-Based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) that Promotes Students Matriculation into Mentored Undergraduate Research  
Laura E. Ott, Surbhi Godsay, Kathleen Stolle-McAllister, Caitlin Kowalewski, Kenneth I. Maton, & William R. LaCourse

S309 How to make mentorship a dream -Acadames Podcast

Today, Sarah talks with Dr. Christine Pfund, a senior scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Pfund defines mentorship, discusses how to be a better mentor and mentee and explains why effective mentorship matters within the academy. Together, they consider strategies to cultivate strong mentorship relationships and offer resources for academics at all career stages.

Article authored by Entering Research team presents evaluation data for second edition of Entering Research

Article authored by Entering Research team presents evaluation data for second edition of Entering Research

A recent article in CBE-Life Sciences Education presents two design and development research studies examining the effectiveness of the second edition of Entering Research, an undergraduate and graduate research trainee training curriculum.  In this paper, Entering Research authors Janet Branchaw, Amanda Butz, and Amber Smith describe the process of revising and expanding the curriculum to 96 ​active learning activities, which was a collaborative effort that began in 2015 and involved 24 practitioners across the country.  The manuscript provides a summary of pilot testing data collected from a national sample of 78 facilitators and 565 undergraduate and graduate research trainees from 20 sites, as well as data from four ​Entering Research facilitator training workshops. 
The second edition of Entering Research is available from Macmillan and individual activities are available for free on the CIMER website. For more information on the Entering Research curriculum, evaluation and assessment tools, and upcoming facilitator training opportunities, visit or contact the Entering Research authors at


The second edition of Entering Research (ER) is a collection of customizable active-learning activities, resources, and assessment and evaluation tools for use in undergraduate and graduate research training programs and courses. Results from two design and development research studies examining the effectiveness of the second edition of the ER curriculum and a 2-day ER facilitator training workshop are reported. Pilot testing of the second edition of the curriculum at 20 sites across the country (42 unique implementations) with 78 facilitators and 565 undergraduate and graduate research trainees provides evidence that the ER activities are clear and complete and that they were effective in helping trainees gain knowledge or improve their ability to do research. Overall, research training program directors and trainees were satisfied with courses and workshops that incorporated activities from ER. Likewise, evaluation data from four ER facilitator training workshops showed that participants valued the workshop and reported significant gains in confidence in their ability to successfully develop and implement a custom ER curriculum. Together, these results provide evidence that the ER curriculum and training workshop warrant further efficacy, effectiveness, and scale-up research.

Read the full article at CBE-Life Science Education Online Journal

Meet the Authors

Janet Branchaw

Janet Branchaw

Director of WISCIENCE, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology

Amanda Butz

Director of Evaluation & Research at WISCIENCE

Amber Smith

Associate Director of WISCIENCE & Director of Research Mentor and Mentee Training

Dr Christine Pfund – Improving Mentoring Relationships in Science: Mentors Need Mentors

Dr Christine Pfund is a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. With a strong network of colleagues and collaborators, her work focuses on developing, implementing, documenting, and studying interventions to optimise research mentoring relationships across science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine. Read on to discover how the success of these initiatives has resulted in the development of a national network of mentors in the USA.

Mentors in Science

Mentors play a critical role in developing the careers of junior scientists. A good mentor inspires, encourages, and supports their mentee. This commitment is especially important for those from traditionally underrepresented groups in science who typically receive poorer quality mentoring than their non-minority peers.

The benefits of mentoring are clear. Mentored graduate students are more likely to publish their research and report greater career satisfaction. Benefits have also been identified for mentors themselves, including increased productivity, sense of fulfilment, and refinement of leadership and other key skills, in addition to their existing subject-specific expertise.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the mentor-mentee relationship is unsuccessful, resulting in a detrimental impact on the happiness and motivation of both parties. This circumstance may be due to a lack of training and support offered to mentors; despite its critical importance, mentors typically learn by example, trial and error, and peer observation.

Dr Christine Pfund at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW), along with her colleagues and collaborators, places particular focus on optimising the mentoring relationships that occur in the research context. Currently, this team is leading several national programs based at the UW, including the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) and the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER). By using evidence-based curricula and approaches to foster the persistence and success of a diverse group of trainers, mentors, and mentees, the team focuses on aligning expectations and strengthening communications for mentoring relationships.

The team has also developed a strong, collective scientific foundation for research mentor and mentee training that includes both face-to-face and online delivery across a variety of disciplines and career stages. Indeed, their work is supported by a convincing track record of success in creating, implementing, publishing, and rigorously investigating interventions for scholars from diverse groups and their mentors.

Dr Pfund leading a mentor training workshop’

UW Madison as a National Mentor Training Hub

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is supporting the Diversity Program Consortium (DPC) to develop new approaches to engage and support researchers from populations which are underrepresented in biomedical sciences. Due to the established national reputation of Dr Pfund and her colleagues in the field of mentorship, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) became a national hub for research mentor and mentee training for the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), part of the DPC.

The NRMN aims to provide all researchers, regardless of their position or background, access to evidence-based mentorship, professional development, and networking opportunities. The main aims of the project in its first phase were to: 1) increase access to mentoring across career stages; 2) improve mentoring relationships through training; 3) increase access to research resources and career development, and 4) promote the value of mentoring. As a nationwide project, the overarching goal is to assist in the development and expansion of a diverse, high-quality biomedical workforce.

As one of the NRMN Principal Investigators, Dr Pfund and the NRMN team developed training materials for both mentors and mentees with a focus on attributes known to impact mentee persistence, including cultural awareness. The team also assembled a group of 32 Master Facilitators who have collectively trained over 6000 mentors across the country. Starting in July 2019, Dr Pfund will launch the NRMN Coordination Center, which will support eleven NRMN research projects and a resource center to catalyse long-term potential across the collective. Dr Pfund and colleagues have also been involved in building capacity for training beyond NRMN, teaching others to implement evidence-based mentor and mentee workshops, and to further extend the reach of the initial programme.

Additional Training for Mentors and Mentees

Dr Pfund and the team are actively involved with other training programs, both at UW and at other institutions, aimed to establish, foster, and promote effective mentoring relationships at a broader level.

For example, at UW, they lead mentor and mentee training efforts at the Institute for Clinical and Translation Research and are part of efforts to optimise the mentorship training provisions for graduate students, post-doctoral trainees, and junior faculty for this and other programs. As part of their work, the team is also developing and testing new training modules and assessment tools.

Dr Pfund also directs the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER; at UW. Here, the focus is on the development, implementation, and evaluation of mentor and mentee training using theoretically grounded, evidence-based, and culturally-responsive training interventions and investigations. One element of this work involves making evidence-based curricula available to the public. Another element is the development of a platform which can be used to assess researchers’ mentoring experiences both in mentor and/or mentee training as well as in their mentoring relationships.

As part of their national efforts through CIMER, Dr Pfund and colleagues are implementing and testing an integrated mentor-mentee training package in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as part of the prestigious Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Study. Gilliam scholars engage in an evidence-based session at their annual meetings to support effective and proactive navigation of their mentoring relationships. Mentors of the Gilliam scholars engage in a full year of culturally responsive mentor training which includes face-to-face meetings, online modules, and other resources, all with the aim of fostering an environment where mentors can learn and support their peers.

Dr Pfund and two NRMN Master Faciliators discussing ways to improve mentor training curricula
‘Mentoring is known to be a critical factor in the satisfaction, productivity, and advancement of researchers across career stages.’
Chris Pfund
CIMER Director

How and Why Do Mentoring Relationships Work?

It is important to understand how and why mentoring relationships work from a solid theoretical perspective. Dr Pfund and colleagues have investigated several frameworks to inform future practice. These conceptual frameworks consider, for example, what factors are associated with academic persistence and career attainment. They provide a means of understanding the relationships between these factors and experiences, such as mentoring. Social cognitive career theory is one framework that helps explain these factors as potential mechanisms underlying key factors in motivation to reach a specific career goal.

Other frameworks of importance to Dr Pfund and the team include science identity development and social negotiation. These frameworks aim to explain how an individual adopts his/her professional identity and social capital. However, to advance the science of mentorship and understand what works for whom and in what context, more research is needed to determine the most appropriate metrics for assessing mentors, mentees, and mentoring relationships. This question requires further research, and is one of the goals of the NIH Diversity Program Consortium.

Research is also needed to understand the process by which evidence-based approaches in mentoring, such as Entering Mentoring, are disseminated and implemented on a national scale. A recent article by the UW team, led by Kim Spencer and colleagues, describes the approach the team used for national scale-up. Using these approaches, the team has trained more than 600 facilitators nationwide. The majority of these facilitators went on to implement mentor training for more than 4000 other researchers.

It is important to also note that barriers still exist to implementing research-mentor training. These can include a lack of support and resources, including training materials, personnel for planning and organising training, dedicated time for training, and a lack of confidence in implementation. However, outcomes from facilitator training sessions have revealed that having attended, delegates report more confidence and preparedness, and also reported that the opportunity to develop connections with other delegates was invaluable.

Dr Pfund and the NRMN Master Facilitators

Key Findings

When asked what the key findings of current and past projects were, Dr Pfund identified the following take-home messages:

  1. Mentor and mentee training interventions can improve the knowledge and skills of both mentors and mentees, and improve the effectiveness of mentoring relationships.
  2. Despite evidence supporting the importance of mentoring, it remains unclear which mentoring relationships have the most impact. What specific factors best account for key outcomes in mentoring success? Critically, mentoring relationships do not occur in isolation – they are inherently woven into the social and cultural contexts of individuals and their academic institutions.
  3. Facilitator training/train-the-trainer workshops are a demonstrably effective means of national dissemination and capacity-building.
  4. Critical factors, known to impact mentees persistence and development in their careers, can be incorporated into mentor and mentee training. In this way, mentors and mentees are better able to address these factors in their relationship(s).

We can clearly see how the work of Dr Pfund and her colleagues benefits all – mentors, mentees, and the scientific workforce more generally. As Dr Pfund notes, ‘Mentoring is known to be a critical factor in the satisfaction, productivity, and advancement of researchers across career stages.’

By building, improving, and evaluating the relationships between mentors and mentees, this work is playing a critical role in shaping the success of research establishments from local to national levels within the USA, with potential for application even further afield.

Meet the researcher

Dr Christine Pfund

Wisconsin Centre for Education Research
University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI

Dr Christine Pfund is a Senior Scientist at the Wisconsin Centre for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW). She is also director of the Centre for the Improvement of Mentored Experience in Research (CIMER) at UW, one of the principal investigators of the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN). Dr Pfund completed a PhD and post-doctoral projects at UW and served as the Associate Director of the Delta Program in Research, Teaching, and Learning and the Co-Director of the Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching for more than a decade. Dr Pfund’s work is conducted in collaboration with an established network of colleagues and collaborators, focusing on the development of mentor-mentee relationships across several academic disciplines. Currently, Dr Pfund is co-leading multiple studies focused on the impact of training on both mentors and mentees, and understanding specific factors in mentoring relationships that account for positive student outcomes. She is a member of the National Academies committee that recently published the consensus report and online guide, The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM.





Dr Janet Branchaw, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Dr Christine Sorkness, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Dr Angela Byars-Winston, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA

Dr Rick McGee, Northwestern University, USA


National Institutes of Health (Common Fund, NIGMS, and NCATS)

Howard Hughes Medical Institute

National Science Foundation


A Byars-Winston, V Womack, A Butz, R McGee, S Quinn, E Utzerath, C Saetermoe, S Thomas, Pilot study of an intervention to increase cultural awareness in research mentoring: Implications for diversifying the scientific workforce, Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 2018, 2(2), 86–94.

J Rogers, CA Sorkness, K Spencer, C Pfund, Increasing research mentor training among biomedical researchers at Clinical and Translational Science Award hubs: The impact of the facilitator training initiative, Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 2018, 2(3), 118–123.

KC Spencer, M McDaniels, E Utzerath, JG Rogers, CA Sorkness, P Asquith, C Pfund, Building a sustainable infrastructure to expand research mentor training, CBE Life Sciences Education, 2018, 17:ar48, 1–11.

CA Sorkness, C Pfund, EO Ofili, KS Okuyemi, JK Vishwanatha, NRMN team, A new approach to mentoring for research careers: The National Research Mentoring Network, BMC Proceedings, 2017, 11, 171–182.

C Pfund, A Byars-Winston, J Branchaw, S Hurtado, K Eagan, Defining attributes and metrics of effective research mentoring relationships, AIDS and Behavior, 2016, 20, S238–S248.

AM Byars-Winston, J Branchaw, C Pfund, P Leverett, J Newton, Culturally diverse undergraduate researchers’ academic outcomes and perceptions of their research mentoring relationships, International Journal of Science Education, 2015, 37, 2533–2554.




From service to science: NIH shifts focus of mentoring network aimed at boosting grantee diversity

By Jeffrey Mervis

Christine Pfund (left) leads the the National Research Mentoring Network’s coordination center. TODD BROWN/UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN, MADISON

As co-director of graduate affairs at the University of Chicago, Nancy Schwartz spent the past 4 years helping faculty members at 15 major research universities become better mentors. The project was supported by the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN), a $23 million effort that the National Institutes of Health launched after discovering an embarrassing racial gap in who gets NIH grants.

Begun in 2014, NRMN was designed to scale up successful mentoring practices in the biomedical sciences. NIH officials hoped its efforts would boost the fortunes of minority applicants. But last summer, when NIH renewed the network for another 5 years, officials decided to spend most of the money on the science of mentoring, that is, testing different approaches to mentoring with a small, carefully chosen population. Barely 10% of NIH’s $50 million investment in phase two of NRMN is going to the type of services, including an online portal that provides one-stop shopping for a cornucopia of mentoring activities, that characterized first phase.

Schwartz’s project is a casualty of that shift in emphasis from service to research. And she is one of several researchers familiar with NRMN who wonder whether something will be lost as NIH remakes the program. “What’s wrong with more service?” she wonders. “Or at least a mix of both approaches?’”

Using what we know

NIH’s decision to refocus NRMN comes as the role of mentoring in training scientists is attracting greater attention from researchers. In fall 2019, a panel assembled by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) released a major report that makes the case for mentorship as a worthy field of study and describes several areas where more research is needed. “Despite its important place in academic scientific culture, mentoring rarely receives the focused attention, evaluation, and recognition of other aspects of professional development such as teaching and research,” it declares.

That lack of attention is what drove NIH to pour $39 million into 11 studies of mentoring as part of NRMN’s second phase, says Hannah Valantine, NIH’s chief officer for scientific workforce diversity. An additional $5.5 million will go to a center to coordinate those studies, and the remaining $5.5 million to what is now called the NRMN resource center.

Valantine says the research projects should help NIH understand why a particular approach works. “In phase one we did very important work with mentoring and coaching workshops and they look as if they are working well,” Valantine says. “But because those activities didn’t include a randomized control trial, we don’t know if there was selection bias. We don’t want to continue spending resources on an activity if there isn’t evidence that it is working really well.”

At the same time, the authors of the NASEM study urged their colleagues not to wait for more data before making changes in how students, including those from groups underrepresented in science, are trained for academic careers in biomedical research.

“A growing body of evidence exists about how to create and sustain successful and inclusive mentoring relationships,” says Angela Byars-Winston, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin (UW), Madison, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “We hope our report can catalyze [the] use of that evidence.”

Jamboor Vishwanatha runs the National Research Mentoring Network resource center. ALEXIS SHORT/NATIONAL RESEARCH MENTORING NETWORK RESOURCE CENTER

Putting mentoring on the map

For 5 years, NRMN has been a mechanism to do exactly that. Nearly 15,000 people have registered through its online portal. For some students, it’s the first step toward a guided virtual mentoring experience with a faculty member who matches their interests. Thousands more have taken advantage of other types of NRMN-arranged professional development. Postdocs and early-career scientists have learned how to write better grant proposals, faculty members have improved their mentoring skills, and an elite group has been trained to share knowledge with colleagues.

The scientists involved in phase one of NRMN have also worked hard to disseminate their results so that others can put them to use. A string of publications by NRMN investigators “offer interesting evidence on what works and doesn’t work in trying to scale mentoring to a national audience,” says Christine Pfund, a UW Madison developmental biologist.

Pfund ran the mentor training core in NRMN’s first phase and now oversees the phase two coordinating center. In addition to generating results, Pfund says NRMN 1.0 has helped put mentoring on the academic map.

“NRMN brought together the entire research community to talk about where mentoring was and where it needs to go,” she says. “So, I think it’s had a huge impact on raising the visibility of mentoring.”

Pfund and her NRMN colleagues acknowledge the shift in emphasis. “Yes, NIH is going in a different direction,” says Jamboor Vishwanatha, who ran the online component of NRMN and who now leads the renamed resource center. But they say NIH’s vote of confidence is appreciated and insist their ability to provide direct services won’t be curtailed.

“NIH has told us that we were very successful,” Vishwanatha says, “And everything we were doing—the web portal, online platform, the matching process, and the network—is continuing.”

NRMN was never meant to demonstrate the type of efficacy that Valantine wants to see in phase two, according to Pfund. Phase one wasn’t “resourced sufficiently” to study why a particular approach to mentoring worked, and for which audience, she says. Phase two will allow for that type of deep dive, she adds.

Byars-Winston, who was also part of the NRMN 1.0 team, says she can’t wait to take the plunge. “There was no money for research in phase one,” she says. “Now, in phase two we can experiment.”

In her case, that means leading a project aimed at addressing cultural biases in mentoring, one of the hottest topics in the field. Byars-Winston and her team hope to train 600 faculty members at 32 universities in understanding and practicing culturally aware mentorship (CAM), then assess how that training affects both how they mentor their graduate students and institutional policies relating to diversity and inclusion.

A counseling psychologist who studies the impact of culture on career development in academic settings, Byars-Winston has spent 2 decades experimenting with various facets of CAM. She says NIH’s new approach to NRMN will give her a chance to drill down even deeper into the science of mentoring and run more experiments. “And for us, the experiment is dosage,” she explains. “Does a half-day of training have the same impact as a full day? That’s a hard-core research question.”

Taking an institutional approach

Schwartz, meanwhile, finds herself on the outside for phase two. She applied for one of the science-of-mentoring awards, but didn’t make the cut, despite the success of her phase one project.

Over a career spanning 5 decades, Schwartz has received NIH support for both her research on skeletal and brain development and disabilities and her commitment to improving graduate training in the biomedical sciences. The NRMN grant she received in 2015—a $250,000-a-year supplemental award—allowed her to expand her work with the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a 15-school consortium that served as a Midwest hub for NRMN.

The project addressed training issues across the academic research pipeline, from bolstering the self-esteem of first-year graduate students to facilitating the mentoring activities of senior faculty members. Schwartz, who is also a professor of pediatrics, has yet to publish her results, but preliminary analyses suggest its interventions had exactly the type of impacts that NIH had hoped NRMN would achieve.

For example, the 160 faculty members who were trained as facilitators returned to their campuses and led mentoring workshops attended by 2700 students, postdocs, and other faculty—demonstrating the ability to scale up successful practices. A majority of the 137 people in the grant-writing workshops were underrepresented minorities, showing that these services can reach their target audiences. And those young scientists have put the knowledge to good use: Nearly half of their applications to NIH and other funding sources have been successful, and many of the postdocs have been hired into tenure-track faculty positions, including some at the institutions involved in the project.

“We were able to put together multiple things that had been shown to work on their own,” Schwartz says. “And combining them amplified their impact.” NRMN leaders apparently agreed: Of five supplemental awards and 10 other small projects, hers was the only one that survived a midcourse vetting.

Schwartz suspects her comprehensive view of mentoring wasn’t a good fit for the individual research projects that NIH wanted to fund. “We took an institutional approach,” she says. “So, there’s no way for us to plug into phase two of NRMN. Everybody liked what we were doing, so it’s frustrating not to be able to continue.”

Using NRMN as a springboard

Elizabeth Jakob is having a much easier time staying connected to NRMN. But she’s also worried that its revamped structure may hinder further expansion of mentoring efforts like hers.

A behavioral ecologist and associate dean for the graduate school at the University of Massachusetts (UMass), Amherst, Jakob runs a mentoring academy based on NRMN training she received. The academy’s ability to operate on a shoestring budget is a testament to what NRMN was able to accomplish by emphasizing service, she says.

“Without NRMN, maybe we could have put out a handbook, or brought in a few speakers,” Jakob says. “But definitely not the type of mentor training that we’ve been conducting.”

Jakob admits she was skeptical of the value of the first NRMN-sponsored workshop she attended. “I had been through other training that didn’t make a difference,” she says, “But its superinteractive format keeps you engaged.” After honing her skills, she began to think about what it would take to reach the 1100 tenured and tenure-track faculty members at UMass.

“I realized I couldn’t do it myself,” she admits. A dozen colleagues stepped up and took the additional training needed to become a facilitator. Armed with enough instructors, she began to advertise the course across the entire campus. That’s when she realized that marketing skills were as important as mentoring skills.

As Jakob tells it, “Having a department chair say, ‘I took it and it was worthwhile,’ is a lot more effective than saying, ‘Hey, we noticed your students are taking a very long time to graduate. Maybe you should think about ways to provide them with better guidance.’”

Those endorsements help her hold down the cost of the training. “Faculty just show up,” Jakob says. “We don’t provide any payment or incentives.” Trainers receive a small stipend, she adds, but the only other expenses are coffee, doughnuts, and the training materials.

Jakob estimates that more than 20% of the faculty have been trained since the workshops began in 2017. She thinks she needs to reach at least 40% to make a lasting impact on the quality of graduate education mentoring at UMass. But it’s a question she may never be able to answer.

“What’s difficult is measuring the impact on mentees,” she admits. “We haven’t been collecting the data ourselves.”

That’s been the role of NRMN for the past 5 years, she says. “We implement their training modules, and we just assume that they are following up.”

That assumption may have been true during NRMN 1.0, when Pfund led an administrative center than managed all NRMN-related programs. She also directed NRMN’s mentor training core, of which Jakob’s academy was an offshoot. Data were collected and passed along to an evaluation center based at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

But NRMN 2.0 doesn’t have the same reporting lines of authority. The UCLA scientists will be collecting and analyzing some follow-up data on the online mentoring and mentor training components of phase one but will not handle anything coming from the 11 research projects. And Pfund’s phase two coordinating center has no administrative authority over the 11 research projects.

“It is not appropriate for the coordination center to have any input in the study design or their recruitment effort,” Pfund explains. “Those issues are between the project and their NIH program officer.”

Members of the National Research Mentoring Network engage in a team-building exercise. KRISTIN STEINER, PUBLIC RELATIONS ASSOCIATE/UNIVERSITY OF UTAH

Helping students and faculty

Some of the projects in NRMN’s second phase put down strong roots during phase one. For example, Manoj Mishra, a biologist at Alabama State University, will be testing variations of NRMN’s online mentoring training on first-year students at his and two other historically black institutions in the South. One group of 150 students at each campus will be automatically enrolled in NRMN after arriving on campus and given instructions on how to use the online resources. A second group of equal size will not only join NRMN, but will also receive coaching, peer mentoring, and mentee training. A third group, the control, will consist of those who decline any mentoring support.

The goal is to measure the impact of the mentoring intervention on the students’ undergraduate experience—for example, did they pursue a science major, did they engage in research, and did they build a stronger support network as a result of the mentoring? The last variable is especially relevant for students at Alabama State, Manoj says.

“Some 60% of our freshmen come from rural areas, and Montgomery is the first time they’ve been in a city,” he notes. “Some of them need the motivation and mentoring just to keep from dropping out and going home.” The project adds an experimental element to what Vishwanatha’s team has been doing in serving those who come to the NRMN portal voluntarily.

In contrast, Akshay Sood’s project tackles an issue within a population that was not central to phase one. A pulmonologist at the University of New Mexico’s (UNM’s) health science center, Sood and his team will be measuring the efficacy of online versus face-to-face mentoring to reduce attrition among faculty members at UNM, Arizona State University, and the University of Oklahoma. Attrition is a major problem among women and underrepresented minorities, he says.

“Most of our faculty are clinician educators with a heavy teaching and clinical load,” he says. “But they also need to maintain an active research program.” The target audience is junior faculty members, where turnover is nearly 50% over 5 years. The project is unique in having early-career faculty members as mentees, he adds.

An uncertain future

NRMN is part of the Diversity Partnership Consortium that NIH created in the wake of a 2010 report by University of Kansas, Lawrence, economist Donna Ginther showing that African American applicants stood a much lower chance—by 10 percentage points—of receiving a bread-and-butter research project grant (R01). The bulk of NIH’s initial 5-year, $250 million investment in the consortium went to 10 projects aimed at helping minority undergraduate students taking their first step toward a career in biomedical research, and those projects have been renewed for another 5 years.

Valantine has calculated that the funding gap could be eliminated through a relatively modest increase in the absolute number of African American scientists who win NIH grants. But she’s not willing to settle for parity.

“The biggest problem is the minuscule number of African American scientists in tenure-track positions in biomedical research,” she says. “That is what leads to the tiny number who are applying for R01 grants. Of course, we want to eliminate the gap, and I am confident we will be able to do so. But that would not be victory in my mind,” because she would like to see an increase in overall numbers.

NRMN 1.0 was all about putting more minorities in a position to submit winning grant applications. That meant tackling all the components involved in training the next generation of scientists, with better mentoring and grantwriting skills at the top of the list.

But doing that takes time. NRMN investigators always assumed they would need to find another source of support after the diversity consortium went out of business. “One of the major goals of phase two is sustainability,” Valantine says.

The principal investigators on the new research projects say they have not been told what will happen when their grants end in 2024. “It’s a research grant,” Sook says. “If the results are good, we certainly hope that NIH will want to renew it.”

The stakes are even higher for those who have been with NRMN since its formation. Enlarging the pool of scientists engaged in and benefiting from high-quality mentoring remains their top priority. But they aren’t sure what sustainability means under the new format for NRMN 2.0.

“We’re all concerned,” Pfund says. “We’ve been told that funding [for NRMN] will end in 10 years, and we don’t know what NIH is planning to do after. Whatever happens, she says, “we don’t want people to feel abandoned.”

American Astronomical Society -White Paper

White Paper on Improving Mentored Experiences in Research in Astronomy and Physics

A response to the call by the education task force of the American Astronomical Society


The responsibility and opportunity to mentor the next generation of astronomers during research apprenticeships has been a key driver of progress in the field for generations. How did those of us who are now supervisors of undergraduate and graduate research students learn to mentor in the first place? Presumably, we took what we liked from our own experiences as mentees, rejected what we did not like, and then “just did it.” Many of us used to take a similar approach to teaching. However, now we have learned that there are a variety of best practices, techniques for focusing on the learners, evaluation procedures, etc. in the classroom. It is now time to take a similar and more systematic approach to mentoring research apprentices.

Our goal is for every astronomy department and astronomy research organization in the country to consider research mentoring as a skill to be developed and applied mindfully much like teaching in its best incarnations.  Research supervisors would routinely consider items like expectations, communication, how to assess whether a mentee really understands material, how to motivate effectively, etc. Institutions would consider the role of research mentoring in attracting and retaining a more diverse population of new and developing astronomers.

The AAS is already committed to fostering a positive mentoring experience for its members.  Indeed, item 4 in the five-element AAS mission and vision statement ( declares that “the Society, through its members, trains, mentors and supports the next generation of astronomers.”  Sessions, mostly sponsored by the Committees on the Status of Minorities / Women in Astronomy (CSMA and CSWA), on mentoring awareness, research mentor training, mentoring and networking have occurred at some of the bi-annual society meetings.  We call upon the AAS to build on this commitment and these efforts to promote effective research mentoring more widely and deeply across the discipline. 

The unique position of a professional society transcends institutions.

Individual departments and research groups may not have the time or resources to adequately investigate and implement mentor training opportunities and materials. Like it has for classroom instruction, the AAS can provide encouragement, guidance, recommendations, and an overview of available resources to improve the mentor and mentee experience.

We have the opportunity to work together with our sister organization the American Physical Society (APS) to promulgate better awareness of mentoring responsibilities and opportunities, disseminate training and self education materials, and foster a more inclusive, responsive, and effective developmental experience for the next generation of scientists across both disciplines.

The APS also recognizes the importance of mentoring as a key component in the success of physicists, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds in physics. Through collaboration with UW-Madison and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning in 2011, the APS produced the Physics Research Mentor Training Seminar, a facilitation guide to train those in mentorship roles in physics research, building on the evidence-based practices from the Entering Mentoring curriculum created by Dr. Jo Handelsman, Dr. Christine Pfund, and colleagues. Staff at the APS participated in an extensive train-the-trainer workshop to build capacity within the organization to offer mentor and mentee training sessions at scientific meetings and educational conferences, including the annual conference of the APS National Mentoring Community (NMC). The NMC was created in 2015 to support undergraduate students from underrepresented racial/ethnic minorities in physics in their pursuit of bachelor’s degrees in physics. Pairing local faculty and students, the NMC aids the development of mentoring relationships by providing resources throughout the year as well as during the annual conference. Participants gather to share experiences, discuss best practices, and build stronger connections within the physics community. The APS has made a substantial commitment of resources to establishing this mentoring community through staff time, student travel funding, and oversight by the APS Committee on Minorities. Future actions of the NMC involve establishing national mentoring awards and scholarships for students.

Focus on the apprentice relationship, not just the classroom.

Though improving teaching and learning in the classroom is important for increasing and broadening access to careers in astronomy, providing engaging research experiences for future astronomers is equally foundational. The pathway we have followed to improve teaching and learning in the classroom can serve as a model for efforts to improve mentored research experiences. Advances in teaching and learning have resulted from the use of evidence-based practices. Likewise, there are evidence-based practices for developing and nurturing effective mentor – trainee relationships, such as aligning expectations, communicating effectively and frequently, and creating opportunity for increased trainee independence over time. Like the implementation of effective teaching and learning practices, approaches to nurture an effective and rewarding mentor – trainee relationship  should be customized for individual mentors and trainees, depending on their styles and needs. Process-based curricula, such as Entering Mentoring and Entering Research, are grounded in evidence-based practices, yet are flexible enough to be customized. The AAS can buttress research trainee programs across institutions and at all levels, from undergraduate to post-doc, by supporting the incorporation of these, or other similar curricula, into our astronomy research training programs across the country.

Increase the diversity of the astronomy workforce.

Research from across disciplines indicates that mentoring has a positive impact on career success, satisfaction, and commitment. For undergraduates, mentored research experiences have been linked to gains in research skills and productivity as well as retention in science. The frequency and quality of mentee-mentor interactions has been associated with students’ persistence in STEM degrees. Graduate students who are mentored effectively are more likely to persevere in academic pursuits; positive mentoring is cited as a critical factor. For students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, mentorship has been shown to enhance recruitment into graduate school and research-related career pathways. The AAS recognizes some of the important mentoring roles for diversifying the field in its strategic plan (, but the plan omits mention of perhaps the most critical aspect of mentoring, that of the mentor and trainee in the conduct of research.  Because of the vital role mentoring plays in trainee persistence, especially among traditionally underrepresented groups, it offers a target for interventions aimed at diversifying the astronomy workforce.

Action items for the AAS.

  • Provide leadership within the discipline for research mentor and mentee training.
  • Provide frequent in-house training sessions, such as research mentor/mentee workshops, at Society meetings.
  • Reinforce the integration of research mentoring considerations into diversity efforts.
  • Foster a research mentoring network.
  • Build capacity within the profession, for example by training trainers. This could be done at both national and regional levels.
  • Provide links to research mentoring resources.
  • Establish a Society award for research mentoring.
  • Partner with the American Physical Society to improve the mentor and mentee experiences for researchers in both disciplines.

Thank you for your consideration.

With best regards,

Dr. Eric Hooper (, UW-Madison Astronomy and Physics

Dr. Robert Mathieu (, Director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, UW- Madison Professor of Astronomy

Dr. Christine Pfund (, UW-Madison, Director of the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research

Dr. Janet Branchaw (, UW-Madison, Director of the Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement, Assistant Professor of Kinesiology

Dr. Kathryne Sparks Woodle (, American Physical Society


Wisconsin Center for Education Research

University of Wisconsin-Madison

1025 West Johnson Street, Suite 557

Madison, Wisconsin 53706



Statement of support from the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research

The Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER) at UW-Madison supports the submission of this white paper to the American Astronomical Society.

CIMER works to improve the research mentoring relationships for mentees and mentors at all career stages through the development, implementation, and study of evidence-based and culturally-responsive interventions.

CIMER Advisory Committee Members:

Dr. Christine Pfund, Director of the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research

Dr. Chris Brace, Radiology and Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Janet Branchaw, Kinesiology, Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement

Dr. Angela Byars-Winston, School of Medicine, Center for Women’s Health Research

Dr. Andrew Greenberg, Chemical and Biological Engineering, Institute for Chemical Education

Dr. Eric Hooper, Astronomy and Physics

Dr. Robert Mathieu, Astronomy, Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Dr. Stephanie Robert,  Social Work

Dr. Chris Sorkness, Pharmacy, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research

Dr. Amber Smith, Faculty Associate for Research Mentor/Mentee Programs, Wisconsin Institute for Science Education and Community Engagement