Students in Stanford Earth summer undergraduate research programs on a 2017 field trip to the coast.
Mentoring Across Difference
Every year, Stanford Earth's research ranks swell with undergraduates from across the sciences thinking about graduate school and a career in the Earth sciences. Programs such as Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research (SESUR) and Stanford Undergraduate Research in Geoscience and Engineering (SURGE) create valuable opportunities to develop skills and test drive the lifestyle of a geoscientist.
Although they are advised by faculty, the day-to-day work of undergraduate researchers is often supervised by advanced graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. Good mentorship is so important—one of the best predictors of graduate student success, in fact—that Stanford Earth requires would-be mentors to enroll in the spring workshop, How to be a Great Mentor.
This year, the workshop included a new module: Mentoring Across Difference.
"More and more mentors are advising students who don’t look like them," says Lupe Carrillo, Director of Stanford Earth's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), who facilitated the module. "There can be many different backgrounds, perspectives, and world views within one research group. Instructors and advisors need to learn how to mentor in that context."
The module added two new scenarios to the curriculum, providing mentors an opportunity to practice responding to uncomfortable situations that may arise. The first was an equity scenario about seeing into other people’s living spaces, according to Jenny Saltzman, Stanford Earth Director of Outreach Programs and SESUR. "What does it mean to open your home in a Zoom call? Equity issues can be exacerbated when students are not living on campus and have variable internet access, for example."
The other new scenario introduced this year was about recognizing racial disparities in environmental and health outcomes. "This spring, research showed that brown and black people were contracting COVID at disproportionately high rates," says Saltzman. "We walked through how a mentor would handle it if someone dismissed that data in front of them and their student. How would they respond?"
The Mentoring Across Difference module is just one example of the way DEI is being integrated as a practice throughout the school as a reflection of our community values, says Carrillo. "Mentorship is a value. So is seeing and engaging with different points of views and life experiences. It’s my goal that practicing research and inclusive mentorship go hand-in-hand.”