Introducing #EEBMentorMatch: linking students from minority serving institutions with application mentors

Research has demonstrated that science benefits from diversity, but graduate programs still suffer from a lack of diversity, including in terms of race/ethnicity and the type of undergraduate institutions of applicants. Meanwhile, minority-serving institutions are full of students who are talented and passionate about science. Faculty members at these institutions are dedicated to their students and work to connect them with opportunities. But, at the same time, those faculty members are often overextended (unfortunately, minority serving institutions tend to be underresourced) and simply do not have the time to mentor all of their promising students through the process of applying to graduate schools and fellowship programs, including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. Moreover, most of these institutions primarily serve undergraduates and there is little access to graduate students and postdocs who can serve as mentors and role models.

In other words: graduate programs are looking to recruit more minority scholars, fellowship programs are looking for bright applicants, and minority serving institutions are full of students who are ready to excel in graduate school and research. But, right now, many of those students from minority-serving institutions don’t apply to graduate programs or for graduate research fellowships.

Therefore, we* have created EEB Mentor Match, with the goal of matching undergraduate students from minority-serving institutions (MSIs) who are interested in ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) with mentors who can provide feedback on graduate school and fellowship applications. We are looking for:

  1. undergraduate students who are considering applying to graduate schools in ecology and evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology, natural resources, etc.) and/or to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and/or to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship;
  2. masters students who are planning to apply to PhD programs in ecology and evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology, natural resources, etc.) and/or to the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and/or to the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship;
  3. graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and others with experience with the graduate school application process and/or NSF’s GRFP and/or Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowships who are interested in working an undergraduate student from a minority serving institution as they craft their application materials; and
  4. mentors of students at MSIs who can nominate students who are considering applying to graduate school in EEB and/or for fellowships. We will then contact these students to see if they are interested in being mentored and, if so, pair them with a mentor.

Note that this is focused on students who are interested in ecology & evolutionary biology (defined broadly, including programs in conservation biology and natural resources). Our hope is that, by keeping this more focused, we will be able to do a better job of matching mentors and mentees. (Also, there are only so many hours in the day, unfortunately.) We encourage people in other research areas to develop similar resources for their fields!

For potential applicants and their mentors

  • If you are a current undergraduate student at a minority serving institution or a graduate of a MSI (either currently in a masters program or not currently in school) who is interested in ecology and evolutionary biology and who is planning on applying to graduate school this year, this is for you! Please fill out this form.
  • If you are a faculty member at a minority serving institution (or are in some other capacity the mentor of a student at a MSI who is considering applying to graduate school or for fellowships), please fill out the form to suggest a student! There is a field where you can indicate that you are filling it out form on behalf of someone else. For all the fields after the first two, imagine it says “Your student” any place it says “you” or “your”. We will contact the student to let them know that someone thinks they would be great for this program, and to see if they are interested in participating.
  • If you aren’t sure whether your school is a minority serving institution, but you suspect it is, go ahead and fill out the form There’s a place to enter your school’s name; we’ll figure it out.
  • If you are a student who is not at a minority serving institution but who is from an underrepresented group and who plans on applying to grad schools and/or for fellowships, go ahead and fill out the form and we’ll do our best to find you a mentor, too.

More for the students/applicants

  • Meghan wrote a blog post on applying to graduate programs. The later parts focus on things you can do at the application stage to improve your chances of being invited for an interview.
  • If you think you aren’t good enough to apply to graduate programs or for fellowships: read up on imposter syndrome! It’s a real thing and it’s really common. A lot of people use the “fake it until you make it” approach. (Even people who seem really confident to you might be feeling like an imposter, too. Your professors who seem super confident? Lots of them feel like imposters, too.)
  • The National Science Foundation recently changed the rules for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program. It used to be that students could apply as undergraduates, as first year graduate students, and as second year graduate students. Now, they can apply as undergraduates and then either in their first or second year of graduate school. In other words: it’s more important now to apply before starting grad school, as you only get one chance after that! The reason they made this change is because they want to increase the diversity of fellowship recipients, and they’re hoping that you will apply! An important thing to know is that you do not need to know where you will go to graduate school to submit a fellowship application. They are mainly looking to see how you think and what research ideas you have – you are NOT committing to a particular lab or project when you apply.

For people who are interested in serving as mentors

  • We are looking for people who have experience with applying to graduate schools and/or with experience applying for fellowships (this includes you, current graduate students!)
  • You do not need to have experience serving on a graduate admissions committee or a fellowship review committee, but if you have this experience, please indicate it in your application!
  • An important thing for mentors to keep in mind as they work with mentees is that National Science Foundation funds basic scientific research. This means that NSF is not interested in a project that has, say, curing cancer as its primary aim. (Broader impacts that relate to potential human impacts are great. But the central idea proposed has to be basic research.)
  • Please keep in mind that imposter syndrome is real and that your mentee may be really unsure about whether they are “good enough” to go to graduate school or to be considered for a prestigious fellowship. Make sure you give your mentee plenty of encouragement, and make sure all criticism is worded constructively.
  • If you’re interested in being a mentor, this is the form you should fill out!

Timing

  • The deadline for applying for the NSF GRFP is October 23, 2017 (for those in the Life Sciences).
  • The deadline for applying for the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship is December 14, 2017.
  • Grad school application deadlines tend to be in December and January.
  • Because of that timeline, we strongly encourage mentees and mentors to sign up by September 15th, to leave time for matching (hopefully by October 1st) and to work on applications. If it’s after September 15th and you’re interested, go ahead and sign up and we’ll try to make a match.

Important disclaimers

  • We are not affiliated with the National Science Foundation. We just think it would be great if more students from MSIs applied to graduate schools and to NSF’s GRFP. We’ve complained about this in the past, and we’re putting our money (or, more accurately, time) where our mouths are.
  • We hope to get lots of volunteers who are willing to serve as mentors, but this will likely mean that we won’t personally know all the mentors who are involved. Students: if you are not comfortable with the interactions you are having with your mentor, please let us know right away. Our email addresses: Meghan Duffy (duffymeg@umich.edu) and Terry McGlynn (terry.mcglynn@gmail.com)
  • Keep in mind that the mentors are volunteering their time.

Related post

Terry has also written a post on this, giving more of the motivation behind EEB Mentor Match! His gives his perspective as a MSI faculty member on why this program is needed.

Acknowledgments

The idea for EEB Mentor Match came out of conversations during the AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute training, and especially from a conversation with Emily Cloyd, Sylvie Garneau-Tsodikova, and Luis Martinez.

 

*Who is “we”? It’s Meghan Duffy (duffymeg@umich.edu) and Terry McGlynn (terry.mcglynn@gmail.com).

 

Updates: This post was updated on Thursday, August 24th to make it clear that people who are not currently students and people who are currently masters students are welcome to apply, too!

18 thoughts on “Introducing #EEBMentorMatch: linking students from minority serving institutions with application mentors

  1. Pingback: EEB Mentor Match to help underrepresented students get graduate fellowships | Small Pond Science

  2. This is really fantastic initiative. Thanks for doing this! I wonder if you would consider extending the scope to Canadian students applying to grad school and/or NSERC graduate fellowships? I’m not sure how analogous Canadian primarily undergraduate institutions are to MSUs, but I know there are at least some students who are in very similar situations to those you describe here, without labmates or professors who have the experience/resources to advise them on applying to NSERC or grad school (I’ve recently informally mentored two Canadian students in this situation). I would certainly like to volunteer as a mentor here, if useful! I wouldn’t be much use with NSF applications, but NSERC I could do.

    • I’m nervous about extending it this year until we see how this pilot version goes! I think we would want to have a separate pool of mentors & mentees if there was a Canadian version, because there are surely different norms that are important to know (which is part of why this mentoring is useful, I guess!) Personally, I would be hesitant to mentor a student on an NSERC application, for example, since I have no experience with the system! So, I wonder if it makes the most sense to see how this year goes with this version, and then see if it would make sense to do a Canadian version next year? (Of course, someone else is welcome to try this out for Canada this year!)

      • Right, it would be good to have a pool of mentors who can help with the Canadian system, and many of them will be different with those who have experience with NSF. I am sure there are folks who are familiar with both, though. And certainly there will be US students applying to go to schools in Canada and vice versa. Waiting until you see how this pilot goes sounds reasonable. I suspect it wouldn’t be a huge deal to add NSERC though; it could be another field for which mentors indicate their familiarity.

  3. There’s a typo in the answer options for this question. 🙂
    “Do you have experience with the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship? (select all that apply)”

  4. This is a wonderful idea; excited to participate!!

    Would it make sense to have a document (or Google folder?) to share resources? Filtering to keep the really good tips/links by the end could make for great reference material.

    • I had this question as well! And will mentors or mentees be provided with any sort of general guidelines on mentorship and expectations?

    • Ooh, I like the idea of a folder where we could share useful links/tips. I don’t have a great idea at the moment of how to set that up, but will think more about it. (Suggestions welcome!)

  5. Excellent pioneering work…Sri Lankan graduates needs more supports to excell their hidden talents. As you all know, a new drug for HIV was invented by Sri Lankan young boy who collected the awards recently from the Queen Elizabeth.

  6. Filling out the form reminded me of something I’ve long been wondering about:
    How does mentoring undergraduates from under-represented groups differ from other students? I suspect some of it has to do with being more attentive to particular challenges they face, but not sure what the most common challenges are in a mentoring context (as opposed to teaching/coursework, for example). Do similar issues come up for first-generation college students?

    I suspect there’s already some good articles on this; would appreciate a link!
    (And sorry if asking this now appears ignorant given that this seems to be an oft-discussed topic.)

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