Conference Explores Cutting-Edge Mentorship Strategies for Researchers

a panel of the three speakers talk in front of a crowded room
The conference attracted 86 attendees, including researchers from 28 Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) hubs. Visit the photo gallery to see additional images from the conference.

Creating and supporting a more diverse research workforce is a science of its own. On April 12-13, experts on mentorship’s roles in biomedical workforce development gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the Advancing the Science of Effective Mentorship Conference. Speakers and attendees shared strategies for optimizing career guidance for clinical and translational researchers.

The meeting featured speakers involved in mentorship across the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) consortium, a national network of medical research hubs. UW-Madison’s CTSA hub, the Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR), co-sponsored the conference, which attracted attendees from 28 CTSA sites.

“Over the past 20 years, UW-Madison has become a national leader in the science and practice of research mentorship,” said Dr. Christine Pfund, who is director of the National Research Mentoring Network Coordination Center housed in ICTR and a member of the conference organizing committee. “ICTR advances mentorship locally on our campus, but also nationally by engaging with other CTSA sites. Our colleagues across the consortium have wanted to share what folks at different sites are doing in the mentorship sphere, so we decided to organize this conference to bring people together.”

Presentations covered topics such as inclusive mentorship as well as training approaches that enhance mentoring relationships and decrease workforce burnout.

Participants attended workshops on improving mentor-mentee relationships and facilitating mentorship education. On the first day, some sessions explored best practices for developing mentorship training curricula, while others covered facilitation strategies for training faculty to become effective mentors. The second-day workshops focused on tools that support and assess mentor-mentee relationships.

The conference also featured a presentation on the Culturally Aware Mentorship program, which is currently in randomized trials through the National Research Mentoring Network. The program is studying strategies to improve the mentored training experience of mentees from underrepresented groups and educate mentors on sources and impacts of bias and how to be more culturally aware.

Pfund noted that the conference focused on workforce diversification from the earliest planning stages.

two people having a conversation
Dr. Christine Pfund and NCATS clinical innovation director Dr. Michael Kurilla

“We looked at demographic diversity among the organizing committee, speakers and attendees. We were also looking for diverse types of institution and diversity in the work folks had done, ranging from being a mentor, to developing curricula, to having worked on mentorship advancement at an institutional level,” said Pfund, who was recently named a Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at UW-Madison for her national impact in transforming mentorship in the sciences.

Thirty-six percent of conference attendees identified as belonging to a minority racial or ethnic group. Participants ranged from junior faculty to distinguished professors and institutional leaders. Attendees with CTSA leadership roles included directors of TL1 and KL2 early-career scholar, graduate and mentorship programs from across the United States.

Initial feedback from conference attendees has been positive. Dr. Jeremy Magruder Waisome, assistant professor of engineering education at the University of Florida, tweeted, “I had an amazing time at the Advancing the Science of Effective Mentorship Conference over the last two days. They welcomed me and my graduate student into this wonderful event focused on mentorship for clinical and translational researchers. We’re leaving Wisconsin inspired!”

The conference received funding through a National Institutes of Health R13 Scientific Conference grant.* Co-sponsors at UW-Madison included ICTR; the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER); the Center for Teaching, Learning and Mentoring (CTLM); the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education (OVCGRE); the School of Education; the School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and SMPH’s Office for Faculty Affairs and Development. The 11-member organizing committee included members from seven universities, including UW-Madison.

The conference provided an opportunity to launch a nationwide mentorship community of practice. The proposed mission is to provide access to information and research about evidence-based mentorship education, mentorship policies and practices, and assessment strategies with a commitment to inclusive excellence.

“We plan to follow up with participants to share conference materials and resources, so the conversations sparked at the conference can continue,” said organizing committee co-chair Dr. Pamela Asquith, who is the CTSA lead for ICTR mentorship initiatives. “One session focused on envisioning a mentorship community of practice. We invited attendees to share incentives to participate and barriers to engagement and how we can overcome them.”

The community of practice will launch a website and begin hosting events in fall 2023. To get on the mailing list, please fill out the Community of Practice on Mentorship Interest Survey.

*Funding for this conference was made possible by R13 TR004289 from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The views expressed in written conference materials or publications and by speakers and moderators do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does mention of trade names, commercial practices, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.