April 20, 2015 | Mentoring may come with the job for research faculty, but formal, evidence-based mentor training has been scarce. The Translational Research Institute (TRI) is working to change that.

TRI recently sponsored UAMS’ first evidence-based research mentor training seminar, an eight-hour training that was conducted over two days in March. The seminar was led by training facilitators from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the lead site for the mentor training core of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored National Research Mentoring Network.

Mary Aitken, M.D., M.P.H., who leads TRI’s KL2 Mentored Career Development Program with Pedro Delgado, M.D., was instrumental in bringing the seminar to UAMS and was among the 11 UAMS faculty who participated in the seminar.

Quality research mentorship is critical to the development of successful clinical and translational researchers, Aitken said, and it is a priority for TRI and the NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which supports the work of TRI.

“We have to make sure we are engaging people who are interested in science as early as possible in their training and help them develop critical skills throughout their careers,” she said. “Having mentors that can establish clear communication and provide them what they need to thrive is the best investment we can make in the future of research here.”

A survey of the seminar participants afterward found that 90 percent feel it was a valuable use of their time, would recommend the seminar to a colleague, and will make changes in their mentoring as a result. Participants particularly valued the group interaction and delving into mentor-mentee cases, based on their written comments.

Aitken said the UW-Madison trainers, Pamela Asquith, Ph.D., and Robert Tillman, Ph.D., did a great job of helping the participants understand how to be better mentors and understand the level of support mentees need to succeed. Asquith co-authored two papers that reported the findings of the UW Madison-led multi-site randomized controlled trial to test the effectiveness of mentor training.

Aitken and other attendees also said the seminar was strengthened by the diversity of the other attendees, including their varied disciplines and range of mentoring experience.

“That really enriched the conversation,” Aitken said of the group, which represented the colleges of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health. “I think we all benefited from the diversity of perspectives for what it takes to be a better mentor and for the team approach that is really needed in today’s research climate.”

“It’s great to re-emphasize best practices and to hear it from different perspectives,” said Steven Post, Ph.D. “I think we are all gaining a greater appreciation of the different mentoring needs for different groups.”

Pamela Asquith, Ph.D., Robert Tillman, Ph.D., with Mary Aitken, M.D., M.P.H.Pamela Asquith, Ph.D., Robert Tillman, Ph.D., with Mary Aitken, M.D., M.P.H.
Guillermo Escobar, M.D., said the group discussions will help him be a more effective mentor. “It gave me the opportunity to brainstorm with other mentors so as to improve my skills in engaging students and residents in research.”

Aitken and Beatrice Boateng, Ph.D., another seminar attendee and director of TRI’s Evaluation Program, will receive additional training to become the first UAMS faculty to lead the NIH-sanctioned seminar at UAMS within the next year.

“We’re excited for this opportunity because there’s a strong evidence base for the program,” Aitken said. “As we continue the training here, we will contribute to the ongoing evaluation, so our experiences will enrich the national program.”