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Vol. LXVI, No. 25
December 5, 2014
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Inspiring People
Panel Discusses Importance of Mentor Relationships

On the front page...

NIH alum Dr. Ernest Marquez speaks on mentorship.
NIH alum Dr. Ernest Marquez speaks on mentorship.
“Where are the others like me?” they’d wondered, as young, aspiring scientists who were members of the Hispanic or Native American communities. This sentiment motivated a group of scientists 40 years ago to found SACNAS—Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science. With 155 chapters across the country, SACNAS helps connect these ethnic communities to resources, opportunities and mentors.

Good mentoring relationships can shape careers and have a lifelong impact. But what makes a good mentor? How do you get a mentor or become one? How can mentors be effective across cultures? At a recent seminar sponsored by NIH’s SACNAS chapter, panelists offered personal perspectives and advice, underscoring cultural diversity as integral to a robust scientific workforce.

Continued...

“I was a beneficiary of good mentorship,” said Dr. Hannah Valantine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity. She recounted her cardiology training in England at a time when there were only two other female cardiologists in the country. Her mentor went above and beyond with advice and training, she said, encouraging her, helping her get that next position and advance in her field.

Treava Hopkins-Laboy faced a different challenge. As an introvert, she found it difficult to network. Now deputy director of the NIH Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, she said she was lucky to have aggressive mentors “who threw me into things and pulled me out of that shell and helped me navigate through my career.” Now, as a mentor, she said, “I find myself seeking out people who appear to be like me and pulling them in.”

Dr. Hannah Valantine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, recalls the value of mentors to her career. Serving as moderator was Dr. Mary L. Garcia-Cazarin, scientific advisor for the Office of Disease Prevention’s Tobacco Regulatory Science Program and member, NIH SACNAS chapter. “I don’t recall a time when mentoring was more important than now,” says Dr. Jose “JV” Vergara Martinez, a chemical physicist and a founding member of SACNAS.

Dr. Hannah Valantine, NIH chief officer for scientific workforce diversity, recalls the value of mentors to her career.

 

Serving as moderator was Dr. Mary L. Garcia-Cazarin, scientific advisor for the Office of Disease Prevention’s Tobacco Regulatory Science Program and member, NIH SACNAS chapter. “I don’t recall a time when mentoring was more important than now,” says Dr. Jose “JV” Vergara Martinez, a chemical physicist and a founding member of SACNAS.

For Dr. Sharon Milgram, director, Office of Intramural Training and Education, a one-time encounter with someone she met at her first scientific meeting yielded advice she remembers to this day. Even a single meeting can be life-changing, she said. She recommended seeking mentors who can advise on multiple levels to enhance personal, scientific and career goals. “We all need mentors in all realms of our lives,” she said.

Dr. Sharon Milgram, director, Office of Intramural Training and Education, advises finding mentors in multiple areas to get the scientific, career and personal support you need.

Dr. Sharon Milgram, director, Office of Intramural Training and Education, advises finding mentors in multiple areas to get the scientific, career and personal support you need.

Photos: Ernie Branson

Dr. Ernest Marquez, a biochemist who worked at NIH for 20 years and is a founding member of SACNAS, has had a multifaceted career that included stints in the military, industry and academia, though all were rooted in biology and mentors helped him achieve his goals at each turn. “Plans may change, but have a plan,” he said. “Develop a sound foundation in the sciences that underpins your career choice.”

When opportunities arise, taking initiative can go a long way. Back when he was a medical student in Argentina, Dr. Juan Lertora, director of the Clinical Center’s Clinical Pharmacology Program, had volunteered to interpret for a visiting professor who wound up becoming one of his most trusted mentors later in his career.

“Often mentors don’t even realize they’re being mentors,” said Rick Haverkate, a public health advisor for American Indians. “It can be a fleeting moment—someone offers you a handshake, a ‘good luck’ or sits you down and helps you map out your career goals.” He recommended creating career objectives and remaining receptive to new relationships and advice.

It can be intimidating to approach a potential mentor. “Don’t be bashful,” said Lertora. “Just step forward, request a meeting and hopefully the interaction will develop in the right direction.”

Mentors can help bring more minority students into the sciences and infuse more diversity into the workforce. “I emphasize giving back to the community, because Native Americans are so underrepresented as scientists,” said Dr. David Wilson, director of American Indian Affairs & Science Policy at SACNAS and a member of the Navajo Nation.

Antonio Rodriguez (l), director of NIH’s Office of Quality Management, says mentors helped guide his career path as an engineer coming from Puerto Rico. Also shown are panelists Dr. Juan Lertora (c), director, Clinical Center Clinical Pharmacology Program, and Rick Haverkate, public health advisor and policy lead for American Indians.

Antonio Rodriguez (l), director of NIH’s Office of Quality Management, says mentors helped guide his career path as an engineer coming from Puerto Rico. Also shown are panelists Dr. Juan Lertora (c), director, Clinical Center Clinical Pharmacology Program, and Rick Haverkate, public health advisor and policy lead for American Indians.

“The issue of underrepresentation is not a Hispanic or Native American or even African-American issue; it’s a national issue,” said Antonio Rodriguez, an engineer from Puerto Rico who serves as director, Office of Quality Management, Office of Research Services. “Minorities are growing and growing and we will not have enough scientists and doctors and engineers to take care of not only our demographic, but all demographics.”

There’s no set structure in the ongoing and evolving mentoring relationship, said Dr. Ofelia Olivero, associate director for scientific diversity, National Cancer Institute, and author of Interdisciplinary Mentoring in Science.

“The mentor does not tell you what to do,” Olivero said. “A mentor shows you possibilities, based on the knowledge the person has and on your potential, and reaches to you really deeply, knows what you are able to do and suggests or shows you the path. Then you choose what path you take.”


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