Wright Center hosts Mentorship Academy aimed at creating a culture of mentorship at VCU

By Anne Dreyfuss
VCU C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research

Dr. Nana-Sinkam points behind him to a screen with an infographic describing training opportunities
Wright Center KL2 program co-director Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D., presented on training and mentorship opportunities at the Wright Center during the 2019 Mentorship Academy. Photo by Allen Jones, VCU University Relations

At the Wright Center Mentorship Academy on May 3, nearly 50 faculty researchers from eight schools and colleges across the Virginia Commonwealth University MCV and Monroe Park Campuses gathered to discuss mentorship best practices.

“We set out to identify leadership from across the university to attend the Mentorship Academy, with the ultimate goal of using this as a starting point from which to foster a culture of mentorship at VCU,” said Wright Center KL2 program co-director Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D. The VCU School of Medicine professor and division chair organized the daylong conference at which attendees discussed ways to create and nurture a culture of mentorship within their schools, colleges and departments.

The workshop was facilitated by the Center for Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research, which is a nationally recognized leader in providing mentoring and training resources. The evidence-based program was developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help mentors develop skills for engaging in productive, culturally responsive research mentoring relationships that optimize the success of mentors and mentees. “We are here to help VCU faculty promote their own mentoring initiatives by thinking strategically about their mentoring practices and leveraging the experiences of their colleagues to learn from one another,” said program facilitator Kelly Diggs-Andrews, Ph.D.

Throughout the day, VCU faculty members learned skills and developed tools to help them build, increase and improve departmental mentorship infrastructure. “The culture of mentoring is complex,” said Gregory Triplett, Ph.D. The associate dean for graduate studies and research at the VCU College of Engineering attended hoping to learn mentoring strategies that he could bring back to his colleagues. “Workshops such as this provide important details for frameworks that we can further expand upon at our individual units,” he said.

While previous Mentorship Academies hosted by the Wright Center have included mostly trainees and junior faculty members, the 2019 event was targeted toward senior-level faculty members to try to increase institutional support for building a culture of mentorship at VCU. Attendees included 25 professors from VCU Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and Pharmacy, as well as the VCU Colleges of Engineering, Humanities and Sciences, and Health Professions, and VCU Life Sciences. Also in attendance were three School of Medicine department chairs, three members of the VCU Vice President for Research and Innovation’s Research Development Advisory Council, the School of Medicine’s associate chair for faculty development and the VCU senior vice provost for faculty affairs.

“In order to achieve our goal of fostering a culture of mentorship throughout VCU and VCU Health, we need buy in from senior leadership,” Nana-Sinkam said. “We want to help create a sustainable pool of senior faculty mentors and incentivize those mentors to create a community.”

A pyramid-shaped infographic describing mentorship and training opportunities available at the Wright Center
Wright Center training opportunities include mock study sections, grant writing seminars and biostatistics assistance.

The day included presentations and facilitated discussions on topics including maintaining effective communication, aligning expectations between mentors and mentees, addressing equity and inclusion, and promoting professional development and work-life integration.

In the afternoon, Nana-Sinkam and Wright Center Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., presented on training opportunities within the Wright Center, including grant writing seminars, mock study sections, and assistance with bioinformatics and biostatistics. They highlighted the Wright Center’s newest program, Faculty Mentor Office Hours, where early career faculty can sign-up to meet with senior faculty mentors and discuss topics ranging from promotion and tenure to professional development and grant applications. They also discussed several research training programs administered by the Wright Center, including the Emerging Scholars program, Translational Science Scholars program and KL2 Program, which provide early career researchers with the opportunity to participate in mentored research and career development activities. They ended the presentation with a review of the research supplements that are provided by the Wright Center through the National Institutes of Health to promote diversity and re-entry into biomedical and health-related research professions.

“There is a huge need for leadership in the biomedical research space,” said Moeller, adding that the Wright Center programs he presented on are intended to address that shortage. “We need mentors who are equipped to train the next generation of researchers because without mentorship, junior faculty are not going to succeed.”

The program was made possible through the $21.5 million Clinical and Translational Science Award that the Wright Center received from the NIH in 2018. The largest NIH grant in VCU’s history allows the Wright Center to facilitate collaboration among diverse expertise within the university.

“The Wright Center’s mission is to translate basic science to having an impact on the health of the community and we need translational researchers in the pipeline to carry that mission forward,” Moeller said. “By training a new generation of interdisciplinary clinical and translational scholars, we can work toward ensuring our vision is sustained.”

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