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Dean's Blog: Mentorship: Seek one. Be one.

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Mentorship is a critical component of success in academia; for students at all stages, for staff looking to advance in responsibility and influence, as a junior faculty member, throughout one’s journey to tenured faculty, while performing research, and also to hone leadership skills. Our Mason Science community offers countless mentorship opportunities for all who seek to grow.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, “Academic Mentorship is a secret weapon in achieving career success. Mentors can provide you with advice regarding research ideas, graduate school advice, professional guidance, and much more. Engaging in a mentorship relationship can lead to a host of positive outcomes such as academic success, career development, and psychological well-being."  

Our Dean’s Fellow Faculty Leadership Development Program advances institutional excellence by fostering a climate of inclusive and diverse leadership. The year-long program is designed to enhance the career development of Fellows by providing a leadership assignment and development experience to promote the next generation of diverse faculty leaders.

I am excited to announce the four faculty I have selected for this mentorship opportunity: Tina Bell, assistant professor, Biology and Mason STEM Accelerator faculty; Tim Leslie, associate professor, Geography and Geoinformation Science and former College of Science faculty chair; Peter Plavchan, associate professor, Physics and Astronomy, director of Mason’s Observatories; and Chaowei Yang, professor, Geography and Geoinformation Science and Director of the NSF Spatiotemporal Innovation Center.

The assignment and work plan for each Dean’s Fellow will be individually tailored to the specific needs of the College’s leadership as well as the selected Fellow. This allows the Fellow to gain knowledge of the College’s operations in specific areas and to advance their leadership skills towards program development, as well as more broadly, across the higher education sector. Through mentorship and shadowing, the Fellow will gain perspective, guidance, and vision in relation to the administrative area that s/he wishes to serve, in with the ultimate goal of promoting inclusive leadership. Dean’s Fellows also will apply their new understanding of leadership principles to their current positions through work on specific projects. Please join me in congratulating these leaders in our Mason Science community.

Mentoring experiences can be transformative for the people involved in either the mentor or mentee capacity. We’ve got some amazing mentors within our organization. For example, I personally know how difficult it is to receive an NSF Career Award (I applied a few times but wasn’t selected). Yet, thanks in part to the cross-disciplinary mentorship of Joel Schnur, we’ve had three Mason scientists receive NSF Career Awards (thank you Joel!).

Our staff also have opportunities to learn and grow. Are you leading your department’s enrollment or digital communications efforts? Perhaps you serve as the first point of contact when students have questions about what classes to take or careers to pursue. As we bring new employees into the Mason Science community, do you take the time to welcome them and offer suggestions and guidance to navigate our university and college? Mentoring opportunities are everywhere.

Numerous mentorship roles exist on the student side. How about our STEM Accelerator Learning Assistant program, where 100+ mentors dedicate tens of thousands of hours each year to help our science community. There are department level opportunities too, including the STARS peer mentorship program for Computational Data Science students or the SPECTRUM program within the Physics and Astronomy Department.

There are two sides to the proverbial mentorship coin. I encourage us all to also think about the mentee point of view. Look for and share suggestions to maximize mentorship opportunities, even specific strategies for mentee success. Do you have a supervisor or mentor who deserves a shout out? Please let us know.

As Mason’s primary pre-med pathway, I’d be remiss in not noting the importance of mentorship in the field of medicine. The National Center for Biotechnology Information adds an M to create a STEMM acronym for Science Technology, Engineering, Math, and Medicine when explaining the value of effective mentorship which NCBI notes can occur gradually over time as “STEMM professionals develop STEMM knowledge, skills, attitudes, identities, and networks.”

Truly transformative mentorship is a gift which can change your trajectory. Seek one, be one, and encourage others.