Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Peer Mentoring

I first encountered this term "Horizontal Mentoring" in the article "Horizontal Mentoring Alliances: Resonant Phenomena" that appeared last fall in the Gazette, published by the American Physical Society's CSWP. But the concept is not strange to me. In fact, I wrote about it a couple of years ago, when I referred to it as "Peer Mentoring."

In fact, I have been a part of a peer mentoring group myself for almost two years now. The four of us come from various fields of science and all of us have children, and when we started meeting, we were all postdocs. Although the Gazette article cited above talks about peer mentoring at the senior faculty level, I would argue that horizontal mentoring is valuable at any level. Since the time we started meeting, two of us have given birth with a third on the way, and 3 of the 4 of us have landed permanent positions. Simply based on those statistics, I'd say our group has been a huge success!

So how do you go about setting up a peer mentoring group? We loosely based ours on Every Other Thursday by Ellen Daniell, with a number of modifications that we either agreed to in advance or evolved naturally as we went along. From there, it's a matter of recruiting people who are willing to commit to regular meetings, maintain confidentiality, and contribute to group problem solving.

I was re-reading my earlier blog post and was particularly struck by my prescience:
While I think the idea of support groups for women in science is great, it only works if you live in a region with high PhD density. Daniell worked at Berkeley, where there are more universities per square foot than perhaps anywhere else in the country. What if you live in a big rectangular state and work in a department with only one woman?
Good question! Because that's exactly where I'll be this fall! However, I have to revise my earlier pessimism about maintaining a useful peer mentoring group at a distance, because of the success of the group highlighted in the Gazette article. I've also already made some connections with some terrific women in other science departments at my institution-to-be, so maybe we could even set up our own network.

My peer mentoring group recently threw a Women in Science Party, getting together as many women scientists we could think of in the area so we could network with each other and talk about forming more peer mentoring groups, because this is really too good an idea to keep to ourselves. I hope to replicate the event at my new digs this fall and see if I can continue to spread the idea. After all, women scientists need mentoring even in big rectangular states.