Mentoring program proves success

Dana Vuzman, PhD

Dana Vuzman, PhD

When life’s obstacles force immediate change in one’s routine, adapting to such change can bring about great challenges. For Dana Vuzman, PhD, associate director, BWH Personalized Genomics Consultation Service, coming from her native country of Israel put her out of her element. Hoping for guidance, Vuzman joined BWH in 2012 as a postdoctoral fellow and participated in the Postdoc Mentoring Circles Program (MCP), a group formed at BWH to bring together junior and senior postdoctoral fellows to provide support during their training as postdocs.

Mentors and mentees gain professional development within the MCP, but also establish essential networks with colleagues whom they can turn to for advice at any time during their career. Vuzman found with her mentor, Nikos Patsopoulos, MD, PhD, BWH Department of Neurology, a strong connection filled with trust and security, which was needed when she first arrived at BWH. The two knew one another before the mentor program, but fate seemed to be in their favor as they were eventually matched as mentor and mentee within the MCP.

“He was a mentor from the moment I met him,” said Vuzman. “He was the first person to show me my potential career options.”

Forming the Circle

Nikos Patsopoulos, MD, PhD

Nikos Patsopoulos, MD, PhD

Patsopoulos, while in the BWH Postdoc Leadership Council (PLC), initiated the PLC mentoring sub-committee that created the MCP mentoring program. The MCP, piloted in the 2013-2014 academic year with co-directors, Benjamin Currall, PhD, and Marina Kvaskoff, PhD, provides an open and supportive environment for junior postdoctoral fellows to accelerate their professional development through the mentoring of senior postdoctoral fellows. Junior postdocs have the opportunity to not only set significant development goals, but they also attend monthly meetings scheduled from October to May to learn how to build competence to reach these goals.

“Through the MCP, postdocs have a formal way to be mentored by people who are committed to volunteering their time,” said Caroline Rotondi, administrative director, Office for Research Careers in the BWH Center for Faculty Development and Diversity (CFDD). “The senior postdocs were once in the junior postdocs’ shoes, and they are committed to making the process easier and more welcoming for those who come to BWH after themselves.”

“Everyone sincerely wants to help each other, and we go out of our ways to do so.”                – Nikos Patsopoulos, MD, PhD

The CFDD’s Office for Research Careers aids the MCP with the logistics of planning the program and fosters a culture of mentoring at BWH; the MCP is managed and led by the postdocs on the PLC.  Most participants, such as Vuzman, feel the program fundamentally changed their postdoc experience for the better said Rotondi.

“This is an excellent program where each member is responsible for its success,” said Vuzman. “To maximize your gain, you have to see it as an environment to better yourself in multiple areas not just the one you have in mind.”

Patsopoulous and Vuzman were paired as mentor-mentee in the Postdoc Circles Mentor Program at BWH.

Patsopoulous and Vuzman were paired as mentor-mentee in the Postdoc Mentor Circles Program at BWH.

Helping Each Other

The high level of confidentiality between Vuzman and Patsopoulos allows them to have the security that a mentor and mentee need as they provide each other with honest feedback and suggestions to enhance their work-related projects, but also their personal lives. Vuzman explained that with an open mind, she was able to identify the weaknesses she had in terms of her work strategy, and with help from Patsopoulos, she improved her interviewing skills and received multiple job offers as a result.

“Everyone sincerely wants to help each other, and we go out of our ways to do so,” said Patsopoulos. “There is no sense of competition, and it’s a nice way to be exposed to people who are willing to help. There were even times when I gained more than the mentees, specifically when trying to guide and advise a group of exceptional scientists with different personalities is a learning experience on its own.”

Vuzman is considering becoming a mentor herself in hopes of creating the same connection, such as the one she shares with Patsopoulos, with a future junior postdoc.

While the application process for the upcoming MCP is currently closed, prospective applicants are encouraged to complete an application during summer 2015 to be considered for the 2015-2016 academic year.