Subtitle: Building an "old girls" network
I've talked before, on this blog, about my struggles with figuring out how to most effectively mentor the female/minority students here (and the overwhelming need for me to do so). I've tried a few things, but they've been small, and to be honest I haven't been very good about sustaining anything. The main reason---and I hate to use it as an excuse---is time. These past few months have kicked my butt, and I've had to make some hard choices about what I do and what I let go. But I've continued to think about what I can and should be doing, and doing some "small scale" mentoring (chatting with women students one-on-one, etc) in the interim.
I am convinced, however, that when I do get complacent, the universe sends me little karmic messages that get my attention back onto the mentoring thing. The latest came over a discussion with a junior female scientist in another department. She was talking about what made her decide to major in science in college. What sealed the deal for her was when a senior faculty member (a woman) invited her to do research with her---when this student was fairly young, a sophomore. She was so impressed that a professor---a woman professor!---thought she was good enough to work with her, and then of course she fell in love with lab work, and the rest is history.
Those of you who have read my blog for a while know that I already work with undergraduates fairly regularly in my research. But I never considered using research as a recruiting tool. (Duh!) I mean, I did, sort of, but I never really thought of tweaking the recruiting process to get a certain type of researcher. No, I did what my male colleagues told me to do: send out an email, wait for replies, pick the best student. Because, you know, that's the "fair" way to do it. And I've found some fabulous student researchers that way. But almost no women reply, ever, to these emails.
What if, instead, I go right to the female students, and ask them directly? And what if some of these students are younger, maybe not even majors yet? This strategy might not be "fair" in the conventional sense, in that I'm not giving everyone an equal opportunity to participate. But that "equal" opportunity sure wasn't yielding a diverse pool either. And perhaps one student this term will yield 2 students next term...and before you know it, a whole lab full of female undergraduates! (OK, I'm getting ahead of myself here.)
I've always thought of mentoring as primarily a social activity, not realizing the wonderful opportunity right in front of me to combine mentoring into my scholarship. So I'm going to give this a whirl. Let's see what happens!