December 24, 2015

Dr. G’s #AGU15 Spotlight – Mentoring at the Fall Meeting

Posted by Laura Guertin

This is my 100th post since I started blogging for AGU at GeoEd Trek since May 2014. I’m excited to have this post focus on a topic very important to me and our entire scientific community – mentoring.

I had the privilege and honor of participating in two new AGU Fall Meeting Mentoring Programs for 2015. I have blogged about mentoring in the past on GeoEd Trek (see posts listed below), and was especially impressed with the impact one of my former students had on a current student when I paired them up as an informal mentor/mentee at AGU 2014 (see post Students Mentoring Students). At AGU 2015, I was thrilled to be working with such wonderful and passionate students in different stages of their careers, each on their own journey and unique pathway.


AGU Fall Meeting Undergraduate Mentoring Program

The inaugural AGU Fall Meeting Undergraduate Mentoring Program was open to 20 undergraduate students from two- or four-year colleges who applied for the opportunity on a first come, first served basis. The selected mentees then went online to choose a mentor from the professionals that applied (the requirement for mentors was to have attended at least one prior Fall Meeting, share the students’ research/scientific interests, and have knowledge and experience that will be useful to the student). As I was not bringing any undergraduate students from my institution to AGU this year, I was very happy to apply to the program and hope that I could help another undergraduate student navigate AGU and help answer any career questions. It turns out I was selected by a student – Kimberly Gottschalk from Portland State University!

Kimberly and I exchanged a few emails before AGU, where I recommended certain sessions for her to put on her schedule, and other random conference advice for this first-time attendee. We met Sunday evening at the required reception and were reminded of the range of topics we could discuss together during the week, including: advice for applying to graduate school, suggestions of programs and/or advisers to look into, discussion of careers outside academia if applicable, discussion of content from scientific sessions, and introductions to people who may be able to help the students’ career (networking). We were also required to schedule to meet at least for a half hour a day for conversation, attending a session or networking event together, etc.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Kimberly at AGU. We discussed so many topics – from graduate school to speaking with scientists at their posters to my time on the NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson last fall (Kimberly wants to be a physical oceanographer). We attended the X-Prize announcement and Ignite@AGU together, and our conversations were always filled with laughter and overall fun. As I was blogging for AGU and for my students back at Penn State Brandywine, Kimberly was creating video blogs for students back at Portland State – check out her playlist on YouTube. I know I’ll see and hear from Kimberly in the future – hopefully, she’ll be presenting at her first AGU conference in 2016! I feel as this AGU program was incredibly effective for both the mentee and the mentor (although, I feel as thought I scraped just the tip of the mentoring iceberg – there is so much more to share with students than what can be covered in one week at AGU!).


AGU Fall Meeting Undergraduate Mentoring Program

AGU Fall Meeting Undergraduate Mentoring Program
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AGU Fall Meeting Sharing Science Mentoring Program

Sharing-Science-logo_embed_webThe second new mentoring initiative I participated in at the Fall Meeting focused around AGU’s Sharing Science program. The Sharing Science program seeks to “help scientists effectively share their work with broader audiences to promote the widespread awareness of Earth and space science and its value.” To help achieve this mission, AGU utilized the Fall Meeting for graduate students to connect and meet face-to-face with a pre-assigned scientist that is passionate about and engaged in sharing their science with public audiences. One of the long-term goals of the program is to build a network of support and collaboration for those in the scientific community doing both science and outreach.

We had one required meeting of all science communication mentors and mentees, and after exchanging a brief email hello before the Fall Meeting, I was excited to meet my mentee, Esther Posner. Esther is in her final year of her PhD at a university in Germany, which is an exciting time for any student completing his/her dissertation – but now, she is faced with the “what’s next” decision. Esther is passionate about science, but also has an incredible passion (and talent!) for music and performance (maybe you have seen her at the AGU Open Mic Night with her pink ukulele?). So we discussed the various audiences and messages that can be sent communicating science through various mediums, including art, music, poetry, etc. I see an incredible future for Esther in science communication – her creativity will not only benefit her but all of us that are trying to “share science” with a bigger audience. I look forward to keeping in touch with Esther, and I would encourage others to keep an “ear” out for her work!

Esther performing with her pink ukulele!

Esther performing with her pink ukulele!
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I ended my Students Mentoring Students post last year with this challenge:

“…a challenge to all mentors of undergraduate researchers to think about having experienced conference attendees (another undergraduate student that has previously been to AGU, or a former student/now graduate student from your own institution) be another “point person” for our rookie student attendees.  We (faculty) typically allow this to happen organically between and among students, but it is those little actions, like connecting students to attend the Student Breakfast together, or to discuss what happens during OSPA judging, can make for an effective, exciting, and rewarding conference experience for both students.”

AGU has now established a formal program to facilitate these mentoring experiences at the Fall Meeting, but even those faculty/post-docs/researchers/students outside of the program can do their part during the meeting and year-round to help students as they progress through school and become the next generation of scientists that continue to make the amazing discoveries and technological advances in STEM.

Additional sources for exploration

Houser, Chris, K. Lemmons, & A. Cahill. (2013). Role of the Faculty Mentor in an Undergraduate Research Experience. Journal of Geoscience Education, 61(3): 297-305. (an article on the REU mentor/mentee relationship, open access)

National Mentoring Month Campaign – and

Thank You Mentor Day / National Mentoring Day, January 21 –

Previous GeoEd Trek blog posts that highlight mentoring: