Mutual mentoring (liveblogging from #AAPTsm17)

by Stephanie Chasteen on July 25, 2017

I’m now attending a session on Mutual Mentoring for physics faculty, presented by Anne Cox (Eckerd College).


We were part of an NSF ADVANCE grant mutual mentoring project for senior women faculty in chemistry and physics that began in 2007. We have continued our bi-monthly mentoring meetings for the past 10 years (well beyond the initial grant funding) because of the surprising value we found in having peer mentors. is talk will discuss what seems to have made our mentoring group so long-lasting as well as our initial work to spread this approach to others in the physics community through a new NSF-ADVANCE project: eAlliances- Uniting Isolated Physicists and Astronomers,

While it’s getting better, women are often isolated in their departments: 30% of PhD granting-institutions had 0-1 female faculty members (AIP statistics)… and for those with 0 women, if they increase the number of women in their department, they will likely end up with a single woman in the department.

When looking for peer mentors, then, it can be difficult for women to find peers within their department, and may need to go to peers across institutions.  These horizontal alliances can be very valuable experiences.

The focus of the NSF ADVANCE program is to advance careers of women in STEM in higher education.  Ms. Cox created an ADVANCE program to create horizontal mentoring alliances across institutions.  A set of 5 senior women (chemists and physics) in their departments created an alliance.  As senior faculty (they were all full professors) they were used to mentoring other people, and wondered whether they really needed such mentoring… but found it was very valuable.

How did it work?  They had an initial in-person meeting at a national conference, had meals together, and met every other week to discuss a book (Every Other Thursday: Stories and Strategies from Successful Women Scientists), since a book discussion was safe and the topic was germane.  As they got to know each other, they worked on a project together.  Ten  years later, they still talk every other week, and have met in person 3 times.

They find it valuable to discuss college politics, family, and time management — often encouraging each other to be careful with adding new projects to their life.  They provided accountability to each other, asking each other how a particular commitment is going.

The important parts of the peer mentoring were:

  • In person meeting
  • Frequent conference calls
  • Periodic in person meetings
  • Credibility of the national organization supporting the group
  • Their own commitment to the alliance through the relevance of the work and honest discussions.

A new e-Alliances project is helping to provide such horizontal mentoring electronically — see to sign up as a mentor or mentee.

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