Successfully Mentoring Trainees Through Crisis
- Adjust and clearly explain expectations. Working from home, likely for the first time, is stressful and challenging for all of us. While it is important that all of our trainees continue to make progress on their projects, this progress will likely look very different than it did before. Work with each trainee individually to create a reasonable plan that will allow them to make and document progress while also taking care of their responsibilities at home.
- Check in frequently and hold regular group meetings. Ask each group member how they would like to communicate – some may prefer email, others live chats. Now would be a good time to encourage trainees to complete/update their Individual Development Plans (IDPs), which could provide good opportunities for discussion. In addition to regular communication with each individual, schedule regular group meetings with a clear agenda to maintain a sense of normalcy.
- Ensure that everyone receives regular communication through official channels. The department or college should be sending regular updates to all members including trainees. Topics to be covered could include: information about essential vs non-essential employees, information about continuous trainee pay while they work from home, lab shutdown requests and procedures, updates on deep cleaning of buildings, links to resources including the Employee Assistance Program, etc.
- Be sure that everyone is aware of the resources available to them. The Graduate School (see https://gradschool.utah.edu/covid-19/) and the Vice President for Research (see https://research.utah.edu/coronavirus/index.php) have compiled valuable information about resources ranging from lab shutdown checklists to guidance on grading and graduation as well as information about maintaining wellness. If members of your group are sick, University Health (see https://healthcare.utah.edu/coronavirus/) also has information about how to identify the symptoms of Covid-19, when to seek testing, how to protect yourself and others, and how to care for someone with Covid-19.
- Model asking for help when needed. In order to encourage trainees to ask for help early, provide examples of how you have asked for and received assistance during this difficult time. Perhaps your department chair helped you with resources for shutting down the lab, perhaps you’ve appreciated guidance from the national funding agencies about how to pay trainees while they work from home, perhaps you have taken advantage of counseling from the Employee Assistance Program or the Resiliency Center to help with a challenge in your life. These examples can help trainees understand that they don’t have to navigate their challenges alone.
- Be patient and kind with yourself and others. The challenges of this worldwide crisis affect everyone differently and stress can build up and express itself in many different ways. We appreciate everything you do to mentor your trainees under normal circumstances and acknowledge the heroic efforts that mentors across campus are making to ensure that their trainees are well, feel supported, and continue to progress.
The Center for Mentoring Excellence’s “Monday Mentoring Minutes” address important issues and provide practical guidance for mentoring through crisis and uncertainty every Monday in April: https://www.facebook.com/CenterForMentoringExcellence/
The Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research has data on mentoring best practices and many other resources: https://cimerproject.org/