By Melissa Simon
January 29, 2024
Connecting mentors and mentees is one of the main goals of the National Research Mentoring Network, an NIH-funded program that is part of the Diversity Program Consortium.
Jamboor “JK” Vishwanatha, PhD, is the principal investigator for the NRMN Resource Center, which helps increase mentoring opportunities through professional development webinars, mentorship training and an online social network platform called MyNRMN.
In the next part of the DPC series, “Sharing our legacy: Reflections from consortium leaders,” Vishwanatha shares how the NRMN has made an impact on mentors and mentees across the nation.
Vishwanatha is also a principal investigator for the NIH Specialized Center of Excellence in Health Disparities, the AIM-AHEAD Coordinating Center and the Texas CEAL Consortium, as well as a regents professor and vice president at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. He’s also the founding director of the Texas Center for Health Disparities.
Read the Q&A below to see what Vishwanatha said about his work with the DPC. Watch his full interview, ‘Making mentorship an important institutional initiative.’
This story is included in the Volume 8, Issue 3 of the DPC Newsletter — “Spotlight on Student Research Experiences"
Q: What is the program you work on for the DPC?
A: The NRMN Resource Center is a virtual platform that connects mentees and mentors from all 50 states and the US territories. We provide mentorship, a culturally responsive mentorship, we provide opportunities for networking [and] we provide a variety of webinars and professional development activities [and] we have continued to add more resources to the NRMN Resource Center to be a platform for mentorship training, mentee training and also for mentees and mentors to connect with each other.
Q: What is one of the biggest impacts of the program so far?
A: The biggest impact has been bringing mentors and the mentees together. . . . Further, we have engaged over 2,400 institutions from around the country in our network, many of them are under-resourced institutions from rural America as well as from many areas where they predominantly serve the underrepresented groups. . . . We are giving those mentees and mentors an opportunity to participate so the biggest impact has been the national reach and our ability to provide opportunities for mentees and mentors from all around the country.
Q: What is something positive that’s happened as a result of your program?
A: What this whole program is about [is] you connect with a mentor that you don't know anything about, receive mentorship from them and then . . . model your career on what your mentorship was all about. . . . The other [impact] is essentially the mentees who have experienced the mentorship through our network [that] go to these large national conferences [and] bring in their friends and their classmates to our booth and say, “You need to sign up to this network.” That actually makes us very happy that we have made an impact on mentees and mentors.
Q: What is the most meaningful lesson you learned from your program?
A: When we started the National Research Mentoring Network, a lot of information was anecdotal — that underrepresented minority scientists receive less mentorship, female mentees receive less mentorship [or] the network of a minority scientist is weak. But through the longitudinal data that we have collected through NRMN, we now have data that we can actually show the effect of mentorship on career progression, we can clearly show the strength of a mentee’s network on their career progression [or] on staying in the STEM pipeline and also whether the underrepresented mentees . . . gain from being part of a national network.
Q: What do you hope will be the legacy of your work?
A: It's hard to say what the legacy is because I think we're continuing to even collect data, continuing to expand the program. I believe, at the end of the day, we will see that this National Research Mentoring Network is a go-to place for mentees and mentors from around the country.
Q: How have you seen the DPC change over the last decade?
A: When we started the Diversity Program Consortium there was an urgent need, which was about the grant gap . . . but over the last nine years, even though we have made great accomplishments, there's still a clear need for providing mentorship, for providing opportunities for underrepresented students. . . . As far as NRMN is concerned, we have [made] a tremendous accomplishment . . . in engaging faculty through the grant writing programs that we offered or through the mentor training. We, I think, have accomplished making mentorship an important institutional initiative. . . . I think that is the important contribution that DPC has made.
Q: What advice would you give to a future researcher?
A: There is nothing better than being a researcher because this is where you dictate what you want to do, you follow your passion. Are there going to be successes every time? No. But as a researcher, you look at failure and you figure out how to solve that problem — it becomes a challenge and it becomes an opportunity.
Vishwanatha’s interview is part of the “Sharing our legacy: Reflections from consortium leaders” series that will be released through the spring of 2024.
This story is included in the Volume 9, Issue 1 of the DPC Newsletter — "Celebrating Mentorship in the DPC"
SPAD & DPC DaTA
The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.