The power of mentorship that focuses on the whole person
When Michelle Doose won a competitive National Institutes of Health (NIH) postdoctoral fellowship, she credited Quynh Do, PhD, MPH. The two were paired in 2017 through the Health Policy Research Scholars (HPRS) coaching program, when Michelle was beginning to explore what she would do once she completed her PhD in epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health.
Michelle and Quynh met regularly to chat about Michelle’s goals, and Quynh gave Michelle valuable advice about different career paths based on her own experience in research settings and government roles.
As Michelle prepared to defend her dissertation, “Quynh’s coaching was invaluable,” Michelle says. And when Michelle made the decision to apply for an NIH fellowship, Quynh provided her with sample interview questions and helped Michelle shape her personal statement, a core element of the application.
But what Michelle feels most grateful about is the time Quynh took to get to know her personally.
“She cares about me as a researcher and a person. With Quynh, I felt comfortable working through personal questions, like how to balance being a full-time doctoral student with having a disability, including how much I should disclose to get the accommodations I need without being denied opportunities,” Michelle said.
The two worked and re-worked Michelle’s personal statement to balance sharing both the unique perspective surviving cancer gave her, and the rigor of her research and achievements to date. “She helped me find my voice,” Michelle said.
This relationship is special, but Michelle’s experience is not unique within HPRS. The program connects each scholar with a dedicated mentor who can help shape their research and career paths, and navigate the personal challenges that come with completing doctoral programs, especially for students from underrepresented populations and/or disadvantaged backgrounds, who often face other challenges, including not having peers or models they can relate to.
Quynh recently presented to other HPRS mentors about what makes an effective mentor relationship:
(1) Establishing mutual trust and respect by getting to know the whole person, so they feel comfortable sharing all aspects of their lives that affect their personal and professional success.
(2) Maintaining confidentiality at all times to reinforce the trust that has been built.
(3) Actively listening to what is being said and how it is being said, and asking questions to help uncover challenges not readily shared.
(4) Helping mentees solve their own challenges by asking questions and giving them support in building the skills necessary to find a solution.
(5) Helping mentees build skills that reinforce the goals they have established.
“I’ve gained so much as a mentor. It’s pushed my ability to communicate and advocate effectively across new subject areas,” said Quynh. “I believe mentor/mentee relationships are transformative in helping us all in being more effective in creating the change we seek.”