Northern California Regional Chapter Launches Its First Toxicology Mentoring Program—and It Is Virtual!

By Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez posted 12-03-2020 16:10


This blog was authored by Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez and Bianca Yaghoobi.

The SARS-CoV2 pandemic has changed the way we connect and communicate with each other, influencing not only our science and experiments but also our teaching and mentoring. As trainees ourselves, we felt the need to identify innovative ways to stay engaged with our community, and as representatives of our local SOT chapter, we wanted to serve our trainee members to continue to grow professionally. With our mission to continue building relationships and encourage the next generation of toxicologists, while also keeping up with the times, we developed the Northern California (NorCal) SOT Mentoring Program (NCMP).

The NorCal Regional Chapter launched NCMP as its first mentoring program this past September. NCMP is a biannual mentoring program through which we match mentors (professionals in toxicology) with trainees (undergraduates, graduates, and postdocs) to develop professional relationships and promote toxicology as a potential professional career. Past mentoring activities organized by our Regional Chapter during the year have included speed mentoring and career panels, which are very effective for trainees to get a better idea of future job prospects, as these activities are intended to be exploratory events to obtain answers to general and broad questions. However, we wanted to create a program where effective networking and long-lasting professional relationships are prioritized. In addition to building a stronger network, with NCMP we aim to establish a comfortable setting for both mentors and mentees to exchange more nuanced and detailed information while also fostering a stronger sense of community at our chapter.

NCMP has three main goals: (1) to build community at NorCal SOT and connect trainees with academic, government, or industry professionals; (2) to increase exposure to careers in toxicology and support students on their career development journey; and (3) to increase diversity efforts that target underrepresented communities by providing them with professional development tools for success, while also promoting toxicology as a potential professional career sector.

NCMP is inspired by existing mentor matching programs, including the ones held during SOT annual meetings, but it is based entirely on a virtual format and connects a mentor-mentee dyad to foster a professional relationship over several months. Mentors and mentees are recruited through our social media and email platforms and individually matched by us based on their indicated interests and career goals. The program kicks off with an introductory webinar, where we share the program’s goals, structure, expectations, and guides for both mentors and mentees. We make sure to provide the mentor-mentee dyad with enough information and resources, as they will be setting up their own meeting schedule. The program has only two main requirements: (1) commit to meet once a month, equating to approximately four one-hour meetings during the entirety of the program—although we encourage additional meetings based on need; and (2) and take pre-, mid-, and post-program surveys that we design and send out to evaluate participant satisfaction and program success.

Our first cohort is composed of 14 toxicology professionals (one consultant, one academic, five government, and seven industry professionals) and 14 trainees from various disciplines and majors (six undergraduate students, seven graduate students, and one postdoctoral researcher). Our first cohort completed their mid-program survey last month, and the results show that all participants have met with their mentors on at least one occasion and shared a high level of satisfaction with the program, with feedback including:

  • “I think it’s been tremendously helpful to have someone who has traversed the same path (specifically in toxicology) [to] give you support and advice along your career journey.”
  • “I appreciate how this is a mentee-oriented program, and because of this, it’s pretty flexible and easy to talk to my mentor.”
  • “The interaction with my mentee has been great. I feel like we are both benefiting from the relationship.”
  • “NCMP is great so far!”

We believe the success of NCMP is in large part thanks to the participants, and we would like to thank all of them for their commitment.

If you are interested in serving or participating in NCMP, please look out for the next cohort’s announcement in the first week of December. If you are interested in establishing a mentoring program like this, we would love to share our resources with you, as we have already done with other Regional Chapters.

For more information about NCMP, please contact the NorCal SOT Postdoc Representative Alexandra Colón-Rodríguez or Graduate Student Representative Bianca Yaghoobi.