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NIDCD Hosts Online Mentoring Resource

Current grantees and intramural scientists at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders are volunteering at a rapid rate to be listed in an online Directory of Mentors committed to encourage people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing as they develop research careers. To date, more than 100 mentors have registered on the directory.

"More than 30 of our seasoned scientists signed on in the first week to offer scientific mentorship," said Dr. James F. Battey, Jr., NIDCD director. "We are optimistic that this unique program will encourage, on a person-to-person basis, contributions to human communication research by individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. The entire staff of NIDCD is excited about this new effort."

The new mentorship directory grew out of a working group on biomedical and behavioral research careers for deaf individuals held a little over a year ago. The group had identified the obstacles and opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who pursue research careers and developed recommendations for NIDCD about how to address disparities and take advantage of new opportunities. The full report is available at

"This directory enables the interests of prospective deaf and hard-of-hearing researchers to be matched with research labs investigating specific questions of how hearing happens and why people become deaf," said Dr. Peter Steyger, assistant professor at the Oregon Hearing Research Center, Oregon Health Science University. "Auditory research labs that recruit deaf and hard-of-hearing researchers benefit as they become more aware of the enormous impact of deafness on oral communication, beyond their own research question. This is important because deaf and hard-of-hearing researchers have a unique perspective on hearing and deafness that fosters new research questions. This information exchange leads to enhanced understanding of auditory processes and dysfunction, and new technologies for preventing, rehabilitating or living with hearing loss."

The mentor program is open to individuals interested in all 7 program areas at NIDCD — hearing, balance, smell, taste, voice, speech or language.

The interface is easy to use for both the mentor and mentee. Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals at the undergraduate, graduate student, postdoctoral fellow and new investigator stages of training interested in pursuing mentorship in research on human communication consult the directory to locate a prospective mentor. Mentees will search based on their desired research area, career stage, logistical constraints, and any communication capabilities special to a particular laboratory. The individual contacts the prospective mentor to discuss forging a relationship.

The directory functions like a scientific matchmaking service. Any mentoring relationship is arranged between the mentor and mentee. This is truly a professional commitment and service on the part of the mentor because a successful match does not carry any automatic funding for the mentee.

If support is not available within the sponsoring laboratory and institution, the mentee is encouraged to submit an individual fellowship award application or a research supplement application to the mentor's NIDCD research grant to the NIH.

NIDCD sees this as the kind of focused outreach that will yield real opportunities for individuals who want to pursue research careers, but have not had the networking opportunities they have needed, often because of communication challenges that occur for deaf or hard-of hearing individuals within more traditional mentorship settings. The web site also provides immediate feedback to the institute.

"We are looking forward to the mentors directory adding new capacity to our research training programs," noted Dr. Daniel Sklare, who directs NIDCD's extramural research training programs.

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