Thursday, June 8, 2017

eAlliances : An Invitation to Join a Mutual Mentoring Network

This post was submitted as a guest post in preparation for the Women in Astronomy IV Meeting.

Have you ever felt isolated at a department meeting and thought “Maybe it’s just me, but…”? Perhaps you are the only woman faculty member in your department, or the only faculty woman of color at your institution or maybe the only astronomer within a neutron star radius (10 km).  Perhaps you have heard that networking and mentoring can help combat the isolation you feel, but how can you grow your own mentoring network? An NSF ADVANCE grant entitled “Mutual Mentoring to Combat Isolation in Physics” might help you do just that.

The first NSF-funded mutual mentoring group (2007-10). The five members were all full professors at liberal arts colleges. From left, Amy Graves of Swarthmore College, Barbara Whitten of Colorado College, Anne Cox of Eckerd College, Cindy Blaha of Carleton College, and Linda Fritz of Franklin & Marshall College.

If you are a woman faculty member in astronomy or physics, you are invited to become a participant in a mutual mentoring eAlliance sponsored by the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) with support from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE-PLAN D program .  This project seeks to address the underrepresentation of women and minorities by creating ten eAlliances to provide mutual support and professional development. Project leaders are PI, Dr. Beth Cunningham, Executive Officer of AAPT with co-PIs Drs. Cindy Blaha (Carleton College), Anne J. Cox (Eckerd College), Idalia Ramos (University of Puerto Rico at Humacao), and Barbara Whitten (Colorado College), all Professors of Physics who have been engaged in previous NSF-ADVANCE projects.  They will provide support to the eAlliances, each of which will form with a cohort of five participants and begin with an initial in-person meeting.  The eAlliances will hold regular electronic meetings and shape the focus of their discussions based on member interests.  In addition, sponsored eAlliances will receive travel support to meet together annually at a national professional meeting of their choosing.

What’s the catch?  In exchange for this support, eAlliance members will be asked to fill out several electronic surveys, submit two short electronic journal questions each year, and participate in project Summit Meetings of all eAlliance cohorts.  These activities will identify the benefits of mutual mentoring networks and their impact on career development.  So you can benefit from the support and encouragement of your eAlliance colleagues while contributing to the research that will help the next generation of women faculty in STEM fields.  While the project is sponsored by AAPT, you do not need to be a member to participate.  All women faculty in astronomy and physics are welcome!

Does mutual mentoring really work?  There’s a body of literature that shows mentoring networks to be very beneficial to the career development and professional satisfaction of women faculty (Multiple sources are available on our site’s Resource Room).  Three of the project leaders have been members of a mutual mentoring cohort of five women physics professors at liberal arts colleges that initially received NSF-ADVANCE support from 2007-2010.  Details of our first mentoring cohort have been described in a Scientific American blog post by Anne Cox and our current project is highlighted in a Physics Today article by Toni Feder “Combatting professional isolation through mutual mentoring”. We have experienced such great personal and professional benefits from our mutual mentoring discussions that we continue to meet regularly long after NSF funding ran out and we are eager to extend the opportunity to other groups of women faculty through this project.  As the only astronomer in my cohort of physicists, I found our cross-disciplinary discussions enormously beneficial.  As new physics discoveries made the news, I could freely ask questions and gain insights about topics I hadn’t thought about since my undergraduate days.  When astro news made a media impact, I could share my knowledge with my colleagues who had never taken astronomy.  We came to more fully appreciate the complementarity of our sub-disciplines.  And though we were all senior women in our cohort, the eAlliance project seeks to engage women faculty at all stages of their careers and from all of our fields’ disciplines.

How can you become part of this mutual mentoring project?  To join an eAlliance the first step will be to complete an online questionnaire with profile information that will be used to match you with other participants with common interests (type of institution, faculty rank, research area, family situation, ethnicity and others). All the information will be confidential and your name or other data will not be revealed unless you decide to share it.   And although only women faculty can become part of the sponsored eAlliances, we hope that all isolated physicists and astronomers will use the on-line mentor-matching algorithm more broadly to form their own mentoring networks.

We hope you will consider joining this project as a participant. More details on the eAlliance project can be found in a poster at the Women in Astronomy IV Conference.  If you are interested, please go to our eAlliance site to find out more information and to register. You can also watch a video introduction to the eAlliance project.  If you have further questions, please contact us at

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