Dr. Bonnie Moradi
UF Department of Psychology
2012-2013 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
Mentoring: From Recruitment to Success Experiences
“I feel like I really belong.” This statement had a profound impact on me. One of my undergraduate students, an ethnic minority woman, made this statement during her thesis defense, referring to her sense of commitment to a research career. Her sense of belonging in science stays with me, fuels my commitment to mentoring, and makes mentoring one of the most meaningful aspects of my work. In my experience, most students enter research labs with a great deal of enthusiasm but with some uncertainty and anxiety about their capabilities. This is understandable given that students are pursuing training precisely to learn and to increase their abilities. However, without sufficient support and success, students’ initial anxiety can persist. And, unfortunately, sometimes this anxiety can be translated into a lack of interest in scientific endeavors. The future of our field and the pursuit of knowledge more broadly depend on fostering students’ initial enthusiasm, helping them build the competence and confidence that can translate into lasting commitments to science, and broadening the diversity of the pool of students who make such enduring commitments. These goals are the compass for my mentoring efforts. My mentoring approach follows an incremental process informed by Vygotsky’s (1978) theory: I work to engage students as emerging scientists in the research process (i.e., guided participation), I incrementally increase their level of responsibility toward greater independence (i.e., scaffolding), and I attempt to provide the support and encouragement they need to create tangible success experiences in the form of publications, presentations, honors, grants, and ultimately, the pursuit of successful careers in science.
Recruitment. A critical first step to mentoring students, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, is recruitment. The focus of my research program on minority stressors and their intersections has been an effective recruitment tool for students from diverse backgrounds. Indeed, this research captures processes that many of my students are managing themselves as individuals who hold one or more minority statuses, and this connection enhances their dedication to our research. I also pursue formal and informal opportunities to connect with students and encourage their interest in research. For example, my graduate students and I integrate theory and research on diversity issues throughout our courses. The introduction to this literature engages many students who then become interested in pursuing their own research in these areas. This has produced a steady pipeline of students who pursue training in our research lab (and that of other faculty). I have also participated in several formal programs designed to encourage promising students’ pursuit of careers in science; these include the University Scholars program, the Science for Life program, and the McNair Scholars program which specifically targets the promotion of students from underrepresented backgrounds into doctoral programs. I also routinely place my incoming students in the Florida Board of Education Summer Fellowship and the Atlantic Coast Social, Behavioral, & Economic Sciences Alliance program, funded by NSF and designed to support the undergraduate-to-graduate program transition of students from underrepresented backgrounds.
Guided participation. Once they begin their work with me, I support students through a process of guided participation, typically through a first project (e.g., master’s thesis). Through close collaboration, we identify an area that they feel drawn to and which interfaces with my areas of expertise, they read the literature and we work to translate their interest into scientifically valuable hypotheses, we consider methods for testing those hypotheses, and they present their work to solicit feedback from our research team. Given our topics of study (e.g., racism), we also routinely consult with population members and external experts in order to promote sensitivity, respect, and mitigation of potential biases in the research process. These expert and community connections often translate into future support and mentoring for my students (e.g., provide networking and advice regarding graduate school and the job market, assist in networking for participant recruitment). At the data management and analysis stage, I expose students to a variety of options, encouraging them to think critically about these options. As with the previous steps, the goal is to guide them in making informed decisions about how to approach their data, recognize multiple possibilities, and articulate a rationale for the selected approach. The writing process is another time intensive step. My students know that the standards of the top journals in our field are our target, and we prepare to go through multiple drafts. In writing, we have to be cognizant of the sociopolitical nature of our work. Because our work addresses sensitive topics, it has the potential to be sensationalized, misinterpreted, and misused in ways that harm the populations of study. Thus, the process of writing involves careful effort to anticipate and preempt these dangers and present our findings with scientific integrity and sociopolitical responsibility. These steps demand substantial time and energy from my students, and I am clear that if I expect this from them, I have to be there with them through the process.
Scaffolding. Scaffolding is the process through which students take on incrementally greater levels of responsibility. My students engage in multiple projects throughout their training, balancing their involvement in collaborative team research with development of individual research programs. Thus, each student is simultaneously involved in a project that s/he is leading, and in one or more projects as a collaborator. In these collaborations, students enact the steps they learned through guided participation (described above) with increasing independence. This developmental trajectory often culminates into students serving as mentors for other students; for example, mentoring undergraduate students on their senior theses, serving as the principle investigator on studies with other graduate and undergraduate students, and/or developing sole authored publications and presentations. With each project, students increase their responsibility, leadership, and independence.
Success experiences. Students’ first success experiences – whether it is a publication, national award, or research grant – often marks a critical shift in their sense of confidence and commitment to science. These success experiences help students believe that they have something important to contribute to the field. In my experience, creating and reinforcing success experiences has been key to students’ sense of belonging in science. These success experiences are particularly powerful for students who may not see themselves well represented among the field of scientists (e.g., racial/ethnic minority students). Thus, a major aspect of my mentoring is to help students obtain success experiences. This means working with them to develop high-quality products (e.g., manuscripts, grant proposals), being well-informed of opportunities that fit their work, and nominating them for such opportunities. For example, I have garnered NIH funding to train underrepresented students and worked with my students to obtain support through the American Psychological Association (APA) Science Directorate, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Kinsey Institute, and other sources. The time and energy for this work it is well worth it. Through these success experiences, students develop self-efficacy and also make valuable contributions to the field.
Evidence of Effectiveness
I have had the good fortune to work with an inspiring group of UF students from diverse backgrounds. These students have been remarkably productive. Each of my students graduates with multiple top-tier publications. Indeed, well over half of my 67 publications and about 90% of my 92 presentations are coauthored with students. My students also have accumulated over 70 awards and honors. These include top honors from APA Divisions 17 (e.g., Barbara Kirk Award for outstanding student research), 44 (e.g., Award for Distinguished Student Contribution), and 51 (e.g., Scholar of the Year Award; Student of the Year Award), as well as seven different national publication awards from APA Divisions, including The Counseling PsychologistOutstanding Major Contribution Award. My students have also garnered numerous competitive research grants including the Bisexual Foundation Scholarship Award, Malyon- Smith Scholarship Award, Kinsey Institute Student Research Grant, and Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellowship. My students obtain competitive positions upon graduation, including teaching, clinical, and tenure-track academic positions. My students also serve our field in leadership positions. For instance, several have been elected to leadership roles in the APA Graduate Student organization, and one was selected for the APA Division 17 Leadership Academy, a program that grooms the future leaders of our field. I have been honored to receive awards such as the Florence Denmark Distinguished Mentoring Award and the HHMIDistinguished Mentor Award. Most importantly, I am privileged to work with such talented students, whose success is the best part of my job!