Researcher Engagement

How Mentorship Programs Benefit Research Societies: Innovative Approaches to Mentoring

Research societies support their members in many ways, including by providing them opportunities to make connections, share their research, and become more involved in policy discussions in their discipline. However, memberships in academic societies have declined recently, in part due to a perceived lack of value by researchers.

See also: How Academic Societies Are Reinventing Membership Experiences

In response to this declining membership and other revenue pressures, societies have been offering more customized benefits and innovative programs to members. One area in which academic societies are increasing their focus is mentorship programs.

Mentoring can be an extremely beneficial partnership for both parties. Mentors gain skills in a leadership role, and mentees have a connection with an experienced researcher who can offer support and career advice. Mentorships also play an important part in the formation of a scientific identity in researchers.

Benefits of mentorship programs for societies

In addition to being beneficial for researchers, mentorship programs can also be very advantageous to the academic societies that offer them to their members.

  • Improve member experience – Societies can attract more members and improve member satisfaction through a quality and successful mentorship program.
  • Increase intra-society collaboration – Connecting experienced researchers with those in the early stages of their careers can increase collaboration between members of different demographics, thus increasing collegiality and a sense of community in the society.
  • Increase diversity and outreach – Successful and innovative mentoring programs will attract more diverse members. Strong mentorship in STEM disciplines has been shown to enhance the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups.
  • Strengthen the discipline – Quality mentoring leads to increased productivity and career satisfaction for early career researchers, increasing retention and research quality.
  • Enhanced brand image – As successful mentorship programs become more well-known, they will attract more participants and enhance the brand image of the offering society.

See also: Five Ways Research Societies Can Boost International Membership

Examples of innovative approaches to mentorship programs

Many research societies have started offering innovative approaches to mentorship programs. Let’s take a look at some examples of these innovations.

Varying durations

The American Society of Pediatric Nephrology (ASPN) offers two mentorship programs, a short-term program that provides mentees with feedback on grant proposals and a more traditional program that establishes mentor-mentee relationships.

The traditional ASPN mentorship program is aimed at pairing early career researchers with experienced mentors at a different institution to not only support the junior researcher in career development and academic pursuits but also to provide training to the mentors.

The more innovative ASPN grant review program takes the form of an in-person grant review workshop held during a large national meeting. These workshops consist of 3–4 mentors serving as grant reviewers for 2–3 mentees who orally present their proposals. The mentees submit drafts of their applications prior to the workshop, and mentors provide written reviews using a standard review template. All workshop proceedings remain confidential.

According to the ASPN website, the “mentorship program experience demonstrates participant satisfaction, mentor-mentee stability, programmatic improvement over time, and notably a high yield of NIH grants during the project implementation period.”

Travel support for mentees

The Sleep Research Society(SRSF)offers financial support for mentees to travel to their mentor’s lab. The aim of the SRSF mentoring program award is to give early career researchers an opportunity to learn state-of-the-art research techniques which may not be available at their home institutions. SRSF grants four awards at up to $3,500 each for travel-related expenses. The program is designed to last for one year, including a minimum of one week spent at the mentor’s site, and a traditional mentor-mentee relationship is expected to continue for the remainder of the year through monthly phone or video contact.

Socialization during the society conference

The American Society of Biomechanics(ABS)mentorship program includes a private meal together during the annual conference. In this program, mentees are matched with mentors according to the mentee’s educational and professional goals. Opportunities are then created for them to interact face-to-face while attending the annual ASB conference. In this way, the mentorship program is intended to optimize the mentee’s educational and professional experiences at the conference. In addition to a private meal together to discuss educational or career goals, the mentor is expected to introduce the mentee to colleagues so as to help the mentee establish a professional network, and the mentor may attend and review a presentation given by the mentee.


Through the above and other innovative mentorship programs, research societies can help recruit, engage, and provide critical support to early career researchers. By offering meaningful and strong mentorships to their members, these societies will reap the benefits of increasing membership and enhanced brand image.

Early career researchers are an important part of any research society. Find out more about how to engage and retain such members in this whitepaper.

Jennifer Ulz

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