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Building Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships in the Hybrid Work Era

1 March 2024 277 views No Comment
Michael Dumelle and Therri Usher
    The Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Outreach Group Corner is a regular component of Amstat News in which statisticians write about and educate our community about JEDI-related matters. If you have an idea or article for the column, email the JEDI Corner manager.

    Michael Dumelle

    Therri Usher


    Brittney Bailey

    Eric Daza

    Jeffrey Gonzalez

    Megan McCabe

    Kendra Plourde

    Machell Town

    Dorcas Washington

    It is no secret that many institutions are embracing remote and hybrid working environments. This change has far-reaching implications, including for how statisticians and data scientists initiate and build their careers. It begs the following questions: How can those in our field support statisticians and data scientists in this new work era? How can we continue to embrace JEDI principles in our support?

    To begin exploring this topic, the JEDI Outreach Group held a webinar on October 16, 2023, titled “Building Successful Mentor/Mentee Relationships in the Hybrid Work Era.” Michael Dumelle from the US Environmental Protection Agency and Therri Usher from the US Food and Drug Administration moderated the webinar featuring the following panelists:

    • Brittney Bailey, Amherst College
    • Eric Daza, Stats-of-1/Evidation
    • Jeffrey Gonzalez, Bureau of Labor Statistics
    • Megan McCabe, University of Iowa
    • Kendra Plourde, Yale University
    • Machell Town, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    • Dorcas Washington, University of Cincinnati

    Panelists shared their ideas and perspectives through questions posed by the moderators and audience. They agreed mentorship in a hybrid environment should emulate in-person, informal meetings with mentees, even when there is a remote connection. Strategies to do so included setting aside time for informal and virtual lunch meetings, communicating needs and timelines clearly, and getting creative with modern communication platforms. The panelists noted Slack and Microsoft Teams as useful tools for informal communication and quick check-ins. Mentors can also establish blocks of time on their schedule when they are available.

    While having a remote connection can require special consideration, some of the same approaches for fostering inclusion in an in-person space translate to the hybrid/virtual space. Panelists emphasized the importance of building trust, recognizing and reflecting on differences in organizational power between mentor and mentee, and looking for ways to make others feel valued and respected. For example, both parties looking into the camera during the entirety of a web meeting can help build trust and respect.

    Panelists also discussed how important it is for mentors to understand the varying needs of mentees and learn how to navigate them. Mentees should also understand the benefits of having different mentors for different roles, as they may want one mentor who provides general career advice and another who helps with technical skills. Moreover, it is important to identify ways in which mentor and mentee roles can evolve through time.

    Traditional mentorship questions were brought to the table, as well. For instance, how do you build a mentor/mentee relationship with people who are of a different race or have a different gender identity or education? The panelists agreed the first step is to practice open communication. Building trust is important and takes time but is essential for fruitful mentor/mentee relationships. Also, mentors can advocate for their mentees by considering what types of knowledge their mentees lack exposure to and trying to provide that knowledge.

    Panelists were also asked how to approach difficult conversations. One recommendation was to have these conversations in person or on a phone or video call so audio and visual cues can aid understanding. In general, having trust between both parties makes tough conversations easier. Additionally, having a plan for the structure of the conversation can be helpful.

    Panelists touched upon the importance of identifying and responding to different feedback and communication styles, as well. Panelists pointed out that some people might appreciate being involved in every step of problem-solving, while others appreciate a more hands-off approach. It is helpful to recognize and understand how others prefer to receive feedback.

    Finally, panelists shared one piece of general advice about mentorship. Those takeaways are the following:

    • Set expectations early on. In the first meeting, clarify mentor and mentee expectations so both start off on the same page.
    • Be committed and follow through on what you say you are going to do.
    • You want a broad set of mentors, not just one.
    • Be specific and timely with the questions you have for your mentors.
    • There are no questions too small. If something is unclear, ask questions of your mentors.
    • When you start the relationship, set some goals. Have an idea of what your end goals are with the relationship.
    • Be open-minded. Your mentor may suggest great new opportunities you had not previously considered.

    Join JEDI

    The JEDI Outreach Group is committed to fostering JEDI principles and mentorship in statistics and data science. Interested in joining the JEDI Outreach Group? Fill out the form to become a member.

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