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Mentoring in crisis does not need to put mentorship in crisis: Realigning expectations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 July 2020

Kenzie A. Cameron*
Affiliation:
Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Department of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA
Lauren A. Daniels
Affiliation:
Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA
Emily Traw
Affiliation:
Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA
Richard McGee
Affiliation:
Northwestern University Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA Faculty Affairs, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA
*
Address for correspondence: K. A. Cameron, PhD, MPH, FACH, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 10th Floor, Division of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL60611, USA. Email: k-cameron@northwestern.edu
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Abstract

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Creative Common License - CCCreative Common License - BY
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
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© The Association for Clinical and Translational Science 2020

Mentoring is a critical component in academia, described as both a responsibility of faculty and a catalyst for career success for junior faculty. Reference Sambunjak, Straus and Marusic1 Healy and Welchert’s definition of mentoring highlights reciprocity between mentor and protégé. Reference Healy and Welchert2 The need for intentional reciprocity dramatically expands as we fight the COVID-19 pandemic and are forced to confront our country’s sustained mistreatment of minoritized populations, underscored by the inescapable truths of multiple recent deaths of Black and Brown citizens. Sustaining mentoring relationships during these times requires reciprocal recognition, validation, and acknowledgement of our experiences and realignment of our expectations.

Recognize the World in Crisis

We face a world in crisis and confront uncertainty daily; to avoid discussion of crises is to ignore the lived experiences of others and ourselves. We must identify how these crises affect our own perspectives, productivity, priorities, mental states, and working conditions. Tuning in to our perspectives allows us to identify our own personal and professional needs. By recognizing changes in our own working environments, we will be more open to understanding changes that others face, providing us the opportunity to jointly identify and overcome these unexpected challenges.

Validate Shifting Professional and Personal Roles and Responsibilities

Academic roles have shifted. Many with clinical expertise were called in for extra shifts, served on newly created ethics committees, and worked with health systems to rapidly launch telemedicine to care for patients. Researchers without clinical expertise faced huge challenges with lost and disrupted studies. For all of us, day-to-day experiences changed and we had to reprioritize how we spend our time.

Some faculty received messaging suggesting this unexpected time at home provided an opportunity for increased writing productivity. Reference Flaherty3 As others have noted, increased productivity is not feasible for all; Reference Ahmad4 not all have the luxury of converting time previously spent in the lab or running experiments into uninterrupted writing time. Quite the opposite scenario played out for many, particularly caregivers, and specifically women. Reference Flaherty3,Reference Flaherty5,Reference Minello6 Parents of babies and toddlers wished for extra hands to hold their children; parents of school-aged children expanded their roles of parent, teacher, and professional. Those caring for spouses, siblings, and parents may have done so alone, unable to access community programs, adult day care, or in-home care. Almost everyone experienced increased email and virtual meetings for contingency planning, readjusting recruitment strategies, and identifying next steps for research currently on-hold. It is not hard to understand how many may simply be attempting to maintain productivity, not needing the additional stress of an expectation to increase productivity.

Acknowledge Grief and Practice Compassion

Mentorship in a time of crises necessitates acknowledging grief. Reference Berinato7 Grief may arise from a death or non-death loss, that is, a “living loss.” Reference Kelly8 As a result, people feel powerful mental, emotional, and physical reactions. Reference Kelly8,Reference Gitterman and Knight9 The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in death and a multitude of non-death losses: loss of in-person connections, routine, economic security, freedom, a sense of certainty, and normalcy. The losses felt by individuals, groups, and society as a whole due to the ongoing violence against Black and Brown people, exemplified by the killing of George Floyd, are immense. Yet, it is hard to know, and often harder to understand, the depth of grief others feel.

At times like these, compassion for ourselves and others can facilitate interactions. Compassion for oneself could include accepting your video conferences may involve unplanned guest appearances by children, pets, and family; avoiding admonishing yourself for not completing your to-do list; acknowledging feelings of grief and loss; and remembering to stand up and stretch. Compassion in mentoring may include reaffirming common mentor and mentee responsibilities: listening carefully to each other’s goals and expectations, identifying areas of strength and growth and discussing how they may have changed, and confirming flexibility and willingness to alter expectations and change plans. Reference Pfund, Branchaw and Handelsman10

Realign Mentorship Expectations

As we begin a slow return to re-engaging in person in our workspaces, in a world undeniably different from when we left, remember that alignment of expectations in a mentorship relationship was never meant to be a one-time, static event, but rather an iterative, living process. Reference Handelsman11Reference Pfund13 Mentors and mentees share this responsibility; yet we believe that mentors, due to their leadership role, need to set the tone and take the first steps:

  • Acknowledge the importance of and need for reassessing goals. Mentors need to be receptive to the reality that timelines will be altered and mentees’ goals may change.

  • Make time and space to engage in conversations with your mentees. Even as our institutions move toward “opening,” work hours are being staggered. Many mentors and mentees will remain working from home for an undetermined time. We have lost both the informality and frequency of quick check-ins in the hall, the elevator, or before a meeting. Mentors should carefully consider how and when you will and can mentor your mentees. Through this process, mentors need to acknowledge their own limitations, whether they relate to privacy, family commitments, or their own mental and physical health.

  • Start the conversation with your mentee, then listen carefully. Minimize your mentee’s fear of raising difficult, perhaps even controversial, topics by raising them yourself. The stresses of the time may require engagement in new conversations that delve into identifying how personal and professional differences influence the expectations either of you hold. Reference Pfund13

  • Be open and honest with your mentee. Share your own challenges, to reinforce that the crises we face affect all of us. You may not fully understand the extent of a mentee’s grief, or their trauma, but accept the difficulties they face and be honest that you want to listen and learn.

  • Be aware of the cultural differences and similarities between yourself and your mentees. Identify and learn how your own culturally shaped beliefs, perceptions, and judgments inform your mentoring practices and relationships. Reference Byars-Winston14

Conclusion

As our world has changed, so too may our mentoring relationships. Interactions may change in frequency or duration, the channels by which we communicate, the products we complete, and the expectations we hold. Recommitment to a continual process of realigning expectations avoids placing mentorship itself in crisis.

Acknowledgements

This publication was supported, in part, by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, Grant Number UL1TR001422 (KAC, LAD, ET). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

Disclosures

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.

References

Sambunjak, D, Straus, SE, Marusic, A. Mentoring in academic medicine: a systematic review. JAMA. 2006; 296(9): 11031115.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Healy, CC, Welchert, AJ. Mentoring relationships: a definition to advance research and practice. Educational Researcher 1999; 19(9): 1721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Flaherty, C. Faculty home work. Inside Higher Ed [Internet], 2020 [cited June 23, 2020]. (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/03/24/working-home-during-covid-19-proves-challenging-faculty-members)Google Scholar
Ahmad, AS. Why you should ignore all that coronavirus-inspired productivity pressure. The Chronicle of Higher Education [Internet], 2020 [cited June 23, 2020]. (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Why-You-Should-Ignore-All-That/248366)Google Scholar
Flaherty, C. No room of one’s own. Inside Higher Ed [Internet], 2020 [cited June 23, 2020]. (https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/04/21/early-journal-submission-data-suggest-covid-19-tanking-womens-research-productivity)Google Scholar
Minello, A. The pandemic and the female academic. Nature 2020 [epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1038/d41586-020-01135-9 CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Berinato, S. That discomfort you’re feeling is grief. Harvard Business Review [Internet], 2020 [cited June 23, 2020]. (https://hbr.org/2020/03/that-discomfort-youre-feeling-is-grief)Google Scholar
Kelly, A. Living loss: an exploration of the internal space of liminality. Mortality 2008; 13:335350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gitterman, A, Knight, C. Non-death loss: grieving for the loss of familiar place and for precious time and associated opportunities. Clinical Social Work Journal 2019; 47:147155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pfund, C, Branchaw, J, Handelsman, J. Entering Mentoring. 2nd ed. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Co.; 2015.Google Scholar
Handelsman, J, et al. Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.Google Scholar
Pfund, C, Handelsman, J, eds. Mentor Training for Clinical and Translational Researchers. New York, NY: W.H. Freeman & Co., 2012. Entering Mentoring Series.Google ScholarPubMed
Pfund, C, et al. A research mentor training curriculum for clinical and translational researchers. Clinical and Translational Science 2013; 6(1): 2633.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Byars-Winston, A, et al. 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): 8694.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
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