Piran Kidambi and graduate students in lab. (Vanderbilt University/Joe Howell)

I helped develop a paper entitled “Mentoring minority trainees: Minorities in academia face specific challenges that mentors should address to instill confidence” because I wanted to stress how important mentoring and career development is in science, especially when Persons Excluded because of their Ethnicity or Race (PEERs)1-2 and women are involved. 2-4 It has been shown that far too often, minorities and women prematurely leave academia because of distressing experiences they had in the workplace.4 It has also been repeatedly demonstrated that feelings of isolation or a lack of a sense of belonging can lead to poor academic performance among minority students.3,5  These critical findings led my colleagues and me to write a paper that outlines effective mentoring strategies which are specifically tailored towards mentoring minority students.

The paper discusses the unique challenges minorities face at each stage of their academic journey and the importance of their mentors being able to recognize these challenges. While some people may have a one-size-fits-all approach to mentorship, the paper outlines the benefits of a more customizable method. In order to develop a more authentic and productive mentoring relationship, mentors should tailor their style to meet the unique needs of each of their mentees. For example, if a mentee needs more than one mentor to acquire the skills they need, all other options should be explored, with the primary mentor’s guidance.

I also made sure the paper focused on the effectiveness of empathy in mentoring. I realized that mentors could become more productive with their minority students if they could picture themselves in their mentees’ shoes. This exercise not only allows mentors to better understand the challenges minority students face, but to also better understand them as individuals by giving insight into their goals, their worries, and the rationales behind their actions. With that in mind, taking the time to personally get to know one’s trainees is of the utmost importance. It could be as simple as taking them for coffee and chatting about life, but it can also include more structured exercises like having them take personality or emotional intelligence (EQ) tests. Once mentors get to know their mentees as individuals, they can begin building distinct mentoring programs for each of them; these programs should be specific to each trainee based on the information gained from casual conversations, personality or EQ tests, and past knowledge of their character, dependability, and skill-level.

Lastly, the article emphasizes the importance of mentors being able to recognize the challenges that minority students may face, including imposter syndrome, unconscious bias, and micro- and macroaggressions. Being familiar with these concepts allows mentors to advocate for their trainees not just as students, but as human beings. In addition, the article discusses the idea of  “cultural competence”, which is defined as the ability to communicate adequately with individuals of different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. 4-10 For individuals who want to bolster their cultural competence, one suggestion would be to spend time in non-academic settings with friends or colleagues who have different cultural and traditional values, especially if they are PEERs and women. Another suggestion would be to read books (e.g., Successful STEM Mentoring Initiatives for Underrepresented Students or Lessons from Plants) or listen to Ted-like Talks (e.g., about grit or culturally-responsive mentoring) that broach culturally diverse topics. Taking advantage of these resources can help mentors demonstrate cultural competence and foster a reciprocal relationship full of trust and respect for differences. These fundamental concepts provide trainees with an essential foundation that they will need to conquer any obstacles they may face while pursuing a career in science.


  1. Hinton, A. O., Jr, Vue, Z., Termini, C. M., Taylor, B. L., Shuler, H. D., & McReynolds, M. R. (2020). Mentoring minority trainees: Minorities in academia face specific challenges that mentors should address to instill confidence. EMBO reports, 21(10), e51269. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.15252/embr.202051269
  2. Asai, D. J. (2020). Race matters. Cell 181, 749-954.
  3. Gibbs, K. D., Jr, McGready, J., & Griffin, K. (2015). Career Development among American Biomedical Postdocs. CBE life sciences education, 14(4), ar44. https://doi.org/10.1187/cbe.15-03-0075
  4. Lambert, W. M., Wells, M. T., Cipriano, M. F., Sneva, J. N., Morris, J. A., & Golightly, L. M. (2020). Career choices of underrepresented and female postdocs in the biomedical sciences. eLife, 9, e48774. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.48774
  5. Whittaker, J. A., Montgomery, B. L., & Martinez Acosta, V. G. (2015). Retention of Underrepresented Minority Faculty: Strategic Initiatives for Institutional Value Proposition Based on Perspectives from a Range of Academic Institutions. Journal of undergraduate neuroscience education : JUNE : a publication of FUN, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, 13(3), A136–A145.
  6. Butler, M., McCreedy, E., Schwer, N., Burgess, D., Call, K., Przedworski, J., Rosser, S., Larson, S., Allen, M., Fu, S., & Kane, R. L. (2016). Improving Cultural Competence to Reduce Health Disparities. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US).
  7. Watt, K., Abbott, P., & Reath, J. (2016). Developing cultural competence in general practitioners: an integrative review of the literature. BMC family practice, 17(1), 158. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12875-016-0560-6
  8. Henderson, S., Horne, M., Hills, R., & Kendall, E. (2018). Cultural competence in healthcare in the community: A concept analysis. Health & social care in the community, 26(4), 590–603. https://doi.org/10.1111/hsc.12556
  9. Parsons L. C. (2002). Transcultural communication: the cornerstone of culturally competent care. SCI nursing : a publication of the American Association of Spinal Cord Injury Nurses, 19(4), 160–163.
  10. Chamberlain, S. P. (2005). Recognizing and responding to cultural differences in the education of culturally and linguistically diverse learners. Intervention in School & Clinic, 40(4), 195–211.
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1 Comment

Thanks for writing this very insightful article. It is an important topic to be discussed openly. Otherwise such issues at scientific workplaces will become normalised and widely accepted without a choice to resist back. It is important to treat people beyond their race, ethnicity and gender. Kindness does not know boundaries and should be practised in every aspect and levels of career development in the sciences.  

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