The Next Generation is a Clinical & Research News (CRN) column penned by residents, fellows and postdocs. In this month’s column, Center for Neurologic Diseases postdoc Chantal Kuhn, PhD, describes her introduction to life at BWH and how she became part of the Mentoring Circles Program. Kuhn was born in Germany, spent some time in England and received her PhD in Immunology in France before coming to the United States.
My first weeks at BWH featured a flurry of activity and change, including living in a new country (and on a new continent), meeting new colleagues, attending orientation and trainings, finding my way (and getting lost) along the Pike, beginning to develop my own project, applying for grants and lots of exciting work. I was so focused on life in the lab that I hardly thought about anything else.
Amid all the excitement of joining BWH, I saw a posting for the first Mentoring Circles Program, promising support for new postdocs at BWH. I hoped that the program would help me learn more about navigating my scientific career.
Part of the BWH Postdoc Association, the peer-to-peer mentoring program was established in the fall of 2013 with the support of the national Association for Women in Science and the Center for Faculty Development & Diversity to help postdocs to get the most out of their training at BWH. The inaugural class consisted of 18 postdocs. We were divided into three circles, each with four to five mentees (junior postdoc fellows within the first two years at BWH) and two mentors (senior postdoc fellows with at least three years of post-doctorate experience). All participants committed to meeting at least once a month and to keep the meetings confidential; what happens in the mentoring circle stays in the mentoring circle.
It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only postdoc who struggled with making career decisions. In a first session, we worked on our resumes. That helped us get to know each other and take the time to make our resumes current, updating information and adding achievements that we actually hadn’t considered relevant before. We also gave each other feedback.
Over the next couple of months, we dedicated a lot of time to creating a personal development plan with the help of an online resource (myidp.sciencecareers.org). We evaluated our strengths and weaknesses, interests and values and matched these to possible scientific careers. I hadn’t been aware that there were so many career options inside and outside of academia, and I realized that my perfect fit was different from what I had believed thus far. I figured out where I wanted to go, and I developed a strategic plan on how to acquire the skills that I needed to get there.
For the other members of my circle, the experience was pretty similar. By the end of the program, everyone had a better idea about their career goals and what steps they needed to take to achieve them. Our new insights and skills made us more self-confident and optimistic about our futures. We created a lasting network of support and continue to meet from time to time.
Since I had gained a lot from the Mentoring Circle Program and wanted to continue being a part of it, I became a mentor for the second class (2014-2015). The program more than doubled in its second year; 47 postdocs formed seven mentoring circles.
Thanks to the prior year’s experience as a mentee, I had a good idea about how to start our meetings: getting to know each other, evaluating our skills, interests and needs, and creating short- and long-term goals. However, it became evident that every group has its own dynamic. I had to learn how to engage people, how to become a better communicator and listener, and how to empower my mentees to find their own solutions instead of trying to find solutions for them. In the end, we all learned from each other, and I am grateful for the experience.
I am honored to co-direct the next Mentoring Circles Program class with my colleague Zafira Castaño Corsino, who is co-directing for the second year. I’m grateful to all of the present and past co-directors, mentors, mentees and others who helped make the Mentoring Circles Program possible, and look forward to welcoming the new class this fall.
Applications for the 2015-2016 academic year are open until August 15. If you are interested in joining as a mentor or mentee, you can apply at: http://pda.bwh.harvard.edu/