Finding a strong mentor who is dedicated to your development requires a true commitment that’s grounded in reciprocity and mutual respect.
Yet, for many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and female scholars, representation and mentorship in cancer equity research remains a challenge. Developing a nuanced chemistry and collaboration with a mentor who understands you and can relate to your experience is even more crucial for the career trajectory in scientific research.
Landing a pivotal publication in International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, UHAND researcher and first author Anastasia Rogova, Ph.D. outlines her significant findings about mentor-mentee relationships among underrepresented scholars. Rogova is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Psychological, Health, and Learning Sciences at the University of Houston.
The paper, “Promoting Cancer Health Equity: A Qualitative Study of Mentee and Mentor Perspectives of a Training Program for Underrepresented Scholars in Cancer Health Disparities” was co-authored by Anastasia Rogova, Isabel Martinez Leal, Maggie Britton, Shine Chang, Kamisha H. Escoto, Kayce D. Solari Williams, Crystal Roberson, Lorna H. McNeill and Lorraine R. Reitzel.
In this paper, the authors explored experiences of mentees and mentors who participated in the UHAND program, a multi-year collaboration between MD Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Houston funded by the National Cancer Institute within their Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity. UHAND was an education and research program to train undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows.
Dr. Lorraine R. Reitzel explains that the UHAND program’s aim was to increase the number of underrepresented students and faculty engaged in cancer disparities research.
“We did it by providing them with research training, mentoring, and service-learning experiences to prepare this group of diverse scholars to enter the workforce,” Reitzel said.
The purpose of the study reported in the published paper was to identify the most effective strategies to build strong mentoring relationships. The findings could ultimately help to increase representation of minoritized groups in a health disparities research career.
Some of the critical findings of the paper underscored that mentor-mentee relationships were effective when key elements were in place, including effective communication, sharing from a personal level, resonating with shared interests and gender representation. It was also important for mentors to help support the next generation of female scholars.
“Some findings were predictable, such as effective communication. Also, regularly scheduled meetings that held both parties accountable. The mentors knew that they had to meet with the mentee on a regular basis, and the mentees made the best use of that time,” Rogova said. “Other things were not less expected, but more interesting. For example, they talked about the importance of being able to connect on a personal level. Just having common interests.”
One of the most significant findings for female mentors was that it was meaningful for them to give back and pass along the knowledge to the next generation of female scholars.
“They really appreciated the opportunity to mentor the female scholars and help to prepare them to overcome common difficulties, particularly those women experience in an academic environment,” Rogova said. “They appreciated the opportunity to support the next generation of female scholars.”
Rogova added that since there was quantifiable evidence of effectiveness in the UHAND mentoring experience, it was crucial to take a deeper look at the factors which made the program a success.
“We already had some preliminary data. Scholars had a positive experience in this program,” Rogova said. “We wanted to look deeper into this specific part of the program, the mentored research experience. Since we already knew that they had a positive experience with that, we wanted to see what components of this work made this experience in the program positive.”
The takeaways from the research on mentor-mentee relationships were palpable for Rogova.
“For the undergraduate scholars, particularly minoritized scholars—it’s really important for them to participate in this mentored experience. This process allowed them to think about themselves as researchers. Before that, they couldn’t imagine themselves moving into this field,” Rogova said.
“This work with their mentors really increased their confidence and helped them to create this scientific identity and just helped them think about themselves as future scientists. To continue to provide such opportunities for students is so important.”
For Rogova whose expertise lies in anthropology and qualitative research, the cancer equity research initiative has given her invaluable insight about nurturing the development of future scientists and sharing the wealth of your knowledge through mentorship.
“I’m trained as a cultural anthropologist, so this field of research is a little bit new for me,” Rogova said. “I want to further improve my expertise in health disparities research, because I think it’s an important field these days. I hope that we can make things better a little bit.”
The overall goal of undertaking this research is to help close the equity gap, enhancing representation for minoritized scholars and women in cancer disparities research, according to Rogova.
“We believe that these findings can serve to provide further guidance to the implementation of mentorship programs, especially those focused on equal participation of underrepresented scholars,” Rogova said. “We believe that this might be used when designing mentorship programs.”
By Alison Medley
Interview Opportunities Anastasia Rogova, PhD
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