MTP Cases: Understanding Diversity among Mentees

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Diversity Support by Mentors

The following case scenarios are to assist you in thinking how challenging conflicts or situations could be handled best when aspects of diversity are concerned in mentoring.

Diversity Support by Mentors

Whether and how to encourage using ethnicity as a strength to research

My Latino mentee, who just recently was appointed to Assistant Adjunct Faculty, submitted a K01 training grant that was unscored. The main reason given was that it was unclear how the training would be different from what he has been doing as a postdoctoral researcher on my own research projects (Note: this case was submitted by a white, male mentor). He has responded to all critiques. The research he is involved in affects minorities disproportionately and it is his stated desire to serve the underrepresented in his research effort. However, he does not want to "play the race card" in his grant application and explicitly state that he is a Latino. I believe that that is a mistake in today's funding situation. While I understand his pride ("I don't want special treatment"), I also want him to succeed as the unique person he is at UCSF and in his type of research. How can I best encourage him to use his ethnicity not as a trump card to get favorite treatment, but as a strength to his research? And should I in fact try to do so or not?

Comment 1: As a minority physician scientist, I have always been discouraged from applying for minority based awards. The reason being is that colleagues often frown on these awards as being "second class." There is an unexpected cost associated with these awards. Personally, I have advised other mentees to compete like everyone else.

Comment 2: The ethnicity breakdown for UCSF faculty indicates fewer than 2000 faculty members self identify as Hispanic. Just as it for the US census, it is important, from an institutional standpoint for faculty members to adequately self identify so that gains in diversity support can be adequately documented. Race/ethnicity is only a data point that reviewers might consider when scoring grants. Ultimately, the score reflects the scientific merit of the application.

Comment 3: I understand the Latino mentee does not feel comfortable to “play the race card.” Instead, he can talk about how his ethnicity can benefit the study since he well understands the culture and situation of minorities in the study. His ethnicity can help him to conduct the study successfully. This will be very reasonable and understandable and will not be thought as "playing the race card."

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The role of culture in difficult communication

I have had to give feedback to Research Assistant or junior faculty about punctuality, not meeting deadlines, not following through on responsibilities such as data analyses, writing assignments, etc. Feedback is always difficult to give—and to take. Sometimes, though, it seems more difficult, especially when the person does not seem to respond at all. I have had wise folks say that sometimes a certain culture does not know how to apologize. For me it is not an apology that I want but a visible, verbal, and then action oriented taking of responsibility. I would like to discuss how culture may play into difficult communication when giving and receiving feedback.

Comment 1: Not sure if it is helpful to expect an apology or signs of remorse, nor is it helpful for the mentee to feel the need to justify actions by listing excuses. Might the mentee be going through some difficult circumstances? Are there personal issues that fall within the domain of topics that the two of you are safe to discuss? One possible opening might focus on a specific data analysis or writing assignment to identify what might be the sticking points and direct efforts to remove those barriers. Once you have developed safe topics, as a next step, the mentor might look for insight why he/she feels this might be a cultural issue, and potentially using this as an opening to discuss the topic.

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How to approach issues of mood, time management, and diversity

You are a senior faculty member on the department promotions committee. One of the only Hispanic faculty members has applied for acceleration with little or no publications in the in-residence track, stating that his/her work is in the international arena and by that nature, it takes her longer to publish. She has always seemed to be rushing around, often is late to meetings, and has a "chip" on her shoulder. You have been designated to mentor her in a new direction where she might be more successful, perhaps on the clinical track or the clinical X track. Your division chief will inform her that her request for acceleration has been turned down, but you are going to be her new mentor. How would you structure your first meeting with her, and approach the issues of mood, time management, and diversity?

In structuring the first meeting with this faculty member, it is essential to first build a trusting relationship before giving feedback and guidance. There are a number of reasons she has to distrust you. First, rather than being selected by her, you were assigned by the department that turned her down for accelerated promotion. Second, her past mentoring experience and/or outcome was not so good. Given that she applied for accelerated promotion in the in residence track with only few publications, the mentoring she received appears to have been absent, misinformed, or not accepted by her. People of color often encounter racial assumptions and stigma from other ethnic groups and sometimes from their own group. She has good reason to suspect you will underestimate or avoid being direct with her, and that race and gender stereotypes may unconsciously corrupt your feedback and guidance to her.

With this in mind, I would want to read her CV and some of her recent writing before the first meeting, so that I could ask more informed questions. At the first meeting, I would ask her to describe her research, teaching, and clinical work, what she is most passionate about in each area. I would ask her how supported she feels by the department in reaching her goals, acknowledging any discrepancies between her goals and those of her department and series. Next, I would discuss with her how she could complete more publications as required to advance in the in residence series. For example, does she have more committee or clinical duties than others, could she address some of her research interests in smaller, quicker studies, what has her research mentoring been like? If her teaching or clinical interests are stronger than her research interests, I would explore with her if there are other series that might be a better vehicle for her to reach her goals. After this initial discussion, I would encourage her to draft an Individual Development Plan to delineate goals, challenges, and possible solutions for discussion at subsequent meetings.

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How to handle discrimination of sexual orientation: exclusion from events

You are the mentor of a lesbian faculty member who reports to you that the events that the Chair has at his house do not include her partner when all of the other partners are invited of the heterosexual faculty members. She has been in this long-term relationship for 20 years. She suspects it is because the Chair's wife belongs to a church which discriminates against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons. She asks your advice for what to do.

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How to deal with discrimination of sexual orientation: inappropriate commenting

Your mentee is a young gay man recently brought on as a junior attending. He is "out" in his private life and has spoken to you about his uncertainty about coming out to the people in his department and is feeling ill at ease as a result. He wants to be more open with his colleagues yet he relates the following story: "on rounds last week, my intern was presenting the case of a gay man who was admitted with a fever of unknown origin and a rash......the senior attending...a man very well respected in the department.....said dismissively, 'well, so you're thinking AIDS right? Do these people get anything else?' and then laughed'. There was a moment of silence and then the rest of the team laughed too.

Comment 1: I would encourage the mentee to consider how important it is for him to speak up when someone says something discriminatory, especially someone in power. I think that it is important to identify “allies” at work who are accepting and supportive. The mentee could check out the UCSF “Out List” online and identify out LGBT faculty members who could share their experiences of being out in the department. Ultimately, the mentee will have to follow his own values about whether he wants to be out and/or directly challenge discriminatory remarks. I would at least suggest that if he decides to discuss the matter with his attending that he make it a private conversation. No one responds well to being openly challenged in front of others and it’s difficult to do successfully if one is in a subordinate position.

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Career mentoring for members of underrepresented groups

A Latina fellow was working with a well respected white female researcher. After working for two years with this research mentor, the fellow concluded that it was impossible to have an academic and clinical career, as well as a family. She came to these conclusions because her mentor did not do clinical work and often said it was impossible to do both well and that she intentionally waited until after her promotion to start her family. The mentee schedules a meeting with you, her new career mentor to discuss her thoughts about leaving UCSF.

Comment 1: It sounds as though you need to explore with the mentee her own life, family and career goals independent of those of the research mentor. Then you might suggest that your mentee broaden her mentor team to include those with similar goals and experiences so that she can interact with others who are doing things that reflect her aspirations. It is important for her to know that she does not have to look like her research mentor (in any sense of the word "look") in order to succeed here.

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Asking personal information about experiences based gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation

I have a mentee who is an African American man and medical resident whom I have known since he was a student. We have terrific mentoring relationship and open communication. I have realized however that I have made some assumptions about his future career interests based on his gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation that may not be correct. In addition, I have wondered about how much I can probe about how his identify has shaped his experiences at UCSF and in medicine—I think it would help me to be a better mentor for him but at the same time don't want to be overly intrusive into his private life.

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Career mentoring: the mentee feels humiliated

An underrepresented minority (URM) junior faculty is questioning his/her future at UCSF and is meeting with you for advice and assistance. He tells you that he often feels humiliated by his mentor and that the mentor treats him as if he lacks basic knowledge. You have heard from the mentor that he has tried to engage the mentee but has been unsuccessful and wonders if the mentee is cut out for an academic career.

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Forced disclosure of sexual orientation to collaborators

An openly gay mentee approaches you for advice about a research opportunity. He has been offered collaboration on a project in Uganda. The opportunity is fantastic professionally but causes high distress personally. There are strict laws in Uganda that make homosexuality punishable by prison time. It has been suggested to him that he not disclose to his Ugandan collaborators his sexual orientation or details of his long-term relationship with his male partner. He is distraught over having to decide between this rich professional opportunity and as he says "being true to himself."

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Use of languages other than English

One day at an institution before I came to UCSF, a Chinese student came to my office and said that he got a warning from the Director of Graduate Studies at his department because he spoke Chinese to some Chinese students in lab. He was told that his fellowship could be taken away. I understand that students might not feel comfortable when others talk in another language they do not understand. Since there are so many different ethnic groups on campus, I would like to know if there is any general rule or penalty on use of non-English language on campus.

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Are introverts disadvantaged in academia?

I started mentoring a fellow who was OK, but not a "superstar." She rarely asked questions and even when asked, did not have much in the way of substantive comments. Over the course of her first year, she was very productive. However, I continued to view her as above average but not super.

We had a visiting professor who talked about her 30 year career in clinical research and her difficulties as an introvert in academia. In a small group lunch, the fellow thanked the visiting professor for raising this topic and revealed that she (the fellow) was very introverted and felt that it handicapped her because the dominant culture was extroverted. I was taken aback, since I realized that I was a part of the dominant culture that had underestimated her because she was quiet.

I realized that I had underestimated the fellow because she didn't conform to the dominant stereotype of the successful academic. I read "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain and was struck by the observation that historically, academia has been a friendly career for introverts because reflection and deep (often solitary) study was valued. However, modern academia encourages self-promotion and teamwork/interpersonal skills which may more naturally play to extroverted personalities. The book makes a compelling case that introverts have a lot to offer organizations (listening skills, greater aptitude for sustained focus).

Before this episode, I tried to be self-aware about my potential biases regarding gender, race and ethnicity. Given this episode, I'm much more self-aware about my potential biases for/against introverts/extroverts.

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