Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Mentoring the next generation of chemical and materials scientists

During the past couple of days, I acted as one of the facilitators (as mentor and speaker) at a Future Faculty Workshop hosted at Georgia Tech. The workshop focuses on training senior students and postdocs in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Polymer Science, Materials Science and related departments. They sit through a series of informational seminars covering the entire process of getting a job in academia. Equally importantly, they get a lot of one-on-one time with the faculty during frequent breaks and unstructured meals. This is the 7th staging in a series of these workshops founded by Tim Swager (from MIT). Sadly, he still hasn't set-up a full website archiving the materials that have been presented and the many amazing individuals who have contributed as mentors and co-organizers. A vignette of the 2011 Workshop, held at MIT, is available here. The site provides a list of the mentors specifically involved that year, but many of them have been involved multiple years. It's also notable that the 2012 Workshop was held at UCSB. This year's workshop involved approximately 40 participants and 15-20 professors (a few of whom are department chairs, deans, and upper administrators.) Prof. Rosario Gerhardt did a great job of organizing it.

Our community has evidently gotten the memo that mentoring is important! The workshop provides straight talk about what you need to do to make the jump into a position as an Assistant Professor, and what you'll need to do once you're there. Meanwhile, the selection of participants and mentors is weighted toward the broader demographics we find in our students at the present moment, but much more diverse than what we find in our applicant pools. Thus this event, following Isiah Warner's advise that "diversity is a planned event," is truly working to broaden the next generation of faculty members in the chemical sciences. Kudos to Tim for starting and maintaining these workshops!

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