Early Career Mentoring

We are excited to announce that our long-range planning grant has been funded by ESA, which will allow us to run a semi-formal Early Career Mentoring Program at ESA 2016 in Ft. Lauderdale!

The Early Career Mentoring Program

Conferences provide unique opportunities for participants to interact with others in their field and expand their networks outside their primary institution. However, opportunities for mentoring early career ecologists are rarely structured to promote meaningful interactions between them and more senior scientists. We leverage the annual ESA conference and its large diverse network of ecologists to foster one-on-one mentoring experiences at both formal and informal levels for early career ecologists. Our program facilitates short-term targeted mentoring opportunities, but our goal is that these interactions foster longer-term relationships and networking among participants, as well as enhancing the visibility, participation, and impact of the Early Career Section within ESA.

How to apply:

Early Career applicants (advanced graduate students within 1 year of graduating and recent post-graduates within 3 years of obtaining their degree). If you would like to apply but are not currently a member of the Early Career Section, please join us!

Established Ecologist Mentors (in any institution or career path, who is excited about mentoring!). You can use this easy link to add your name to the Mentor Pool, or to nominate someone else (we will contact all nominees): http://tinyurl.com/EarlyCareerEcologistMentoring

Please also feel free to email earlycareer@nullesa.org with any questions, or to nominate someone to be a potential mentor!


Why early career mentoring is important

Early career ecologists are entering a job market much changed from that in previous decades. Access to supportive mentors, both within and outside of their main institution, is critical for early career ecologists to progress in their professional development (Lee et al. 2007; Thomas et al. 2007; Pain 2012; National Postdoc Association 2015). Mentoring needs change during transitional career stages, yet, access to adequate post-graduate mentoring is often insufficient, particularly among women and underrepresented minorities (Thomas et al. 2007; National Postdoc Association 2015). Importantly, the role of a mentor is not necessarily the same as an adviser – while advisers often act as mentors, a mentor specifically supports and guides the professional development and personal well-being of the mentee (Lee 2007; Pain 2012).

Luke Skywalker needed guidance and training to become a Jedi. Yoda needed patience and time to impart not only skills, but confidence and independence to his mentee.

Luke Skywalker needed guidance and training to become a Jedi. Yoda needed patience and time to impart, not only skills, but also confidence, vision, and independence to his mentee.

There is evidence that structured one-on-one mentoring has the potential to act as a formative experience in a way that informal mentoring cannot (Lee et al. 2007; Thomas et al. 2007; Pain 2012; National Postdoc Association 2015; Sections V and VI). Targeted mentor-matching allows mentees to find suitable mentors for collaboration and focused feedback (e.g. grant-writing, skill sets, personal concerns, or a desire to switch fields). Useful mentoring for career transitions often requires finding new mentors outside of the mentee’s current network, and/or mentors that will be knowledgeable, supportive, and nonjudgmental about a potential change in career path.

Other mentoring options at ESA

If you don’t fall within the requirements to apply for our mentoring program, there are other formal and informal ways to get mentoring at ESA! SEEDs provides mentoring opportunities, but primarily for undergraduates and PhD students. ESA also supports an informal mentor program by identifying members from Sections, Chapters, and ESA Leadership to agree act as mentors during the Welcome Reception, at the Tuesday morning mentor breakfast, and throughout the meeting.  In addition, there are usually several workshops, special sessions, and mixers at the ESA Annual Meeting that focus on mentoring and early career needs.

Outcomes from the 2015 Centennial Mentoring Program

Last year, we piloted a version of this program that we called the “Centennial Mentoring Program” at ESA 2015. We received applications from 29 early career ecologists (10 male, 20 female) across transitional career stages (3 MS students, 12 PhD students, 12 postdocs, 1 Lecturer, 1 Assistant Researcher). We also advertised that we were seeking established ecologists planning to attend ESA 2015 who were interested in mentoring. 30 established ecologists volunteered to be in the “Mentor Pool” (16 male, 14 female) across career paths (22 teaching and/or research academics, 4 joint academic-managment, 3 federal research, 1 private organization).

10 early career applicants were selected to participate and receive funding (2 male, 8 female). Each mentee then selected a mentor from within the mentoring pool (not in their department or academic network) to interact with during the ESA Annual Meeting. You can read more about last year’s selected mentor and early career participants from a previous blog post. At the conference, mentors and mentees were able to network with each other, discuss career and work-life challenges, and establish new connections to continue onwards after the meeting.

After the conference, we anonymously surveyed participants to see if we were successful in providing mentoring opportunities and in creating a longer-term network for participants. We also asked for feedback to improve future versions of the program, some of which we have included in this year’s plans. Responses from both mentors and mentees were overwhelmingly positive! Participants most enjoyed the networking aspects of the program, the freedom to have “honest conversations” about careers, and felt that the pairing process generally worked well. Many also said that they wished there had been more time to interact with each other, but also understood that ESA is generally a very busy time.

Suggested improvements that we will implement for the 2016 version of the Mentoring Program include: more formal guidance and mentoring resources provided prior to the meeting (online resources also to be provided to Section membership, broadly), a webinar on mentoring and to “meet” before arriving at ESA, and a scheduled breakfast during ESA for mentees to network and discuss career challenges with each other.

We’re really happy with the short and longer-term outcomes from our mentoring program! Six months post ESA, here is some of the feedback from early career participants:

“…my mentoring experience lead to a compelling working group proposal co-developed by my advisor and I. The formality and purpose that frames this program lends itself to sincere discussions and serious career dialogues. I can’t say enough great things about it.”

“The Centennial Mentoring Program was a highlight of the 2015 ESA annual meeting for me.  It was a great way to meet other early career ecologists, fantastic mentors, and really feel like an integral part of the meeting.  I was preparing to start my first tenure-track position, and my mentor gave me great tips and personal insight on how to manage time, quickly integrate into my new department, and be a productive researcher.  We have kept in touch since the meeting; it’s great to know I have another great resource for career development moving forward.”

“I really appreciate the help I got from the ECE program. I got to know some excellent early career ecologists…In addition, [my mentor] helped me getting a post-doc position at his department.”

“The mentoring I received through this program empowered me to apply to faculty positions this past year. I was not planning on doing so, and it ended up being a tremendously good push to produce application materials and experience the interview process. My mentor provided me with invaluable comments on my application materials. Further, I had the chance to meet an entire network of people in my field whom I had not met before.”

Post written by Sarah Supp, Chair of the Early Career Ecologist Section