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Women In Biomedical Careers

Best Practices

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt University provides a range of opportunities and resources for women on its campus and beyond. The Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center, which is part of the Office of the Dean, has several programs supporting its mission of promoting “the creation of an equitable environment to enhance the personal and professional development of students, faculty, and staff.” These include an extensive library dedicated to women, gender, and feminism, and the Gender Matters program, which provides programming aimed at increasing awareness of the influence that gender has in our lives.

Each year, the Women’s Center awards three prizes to recognize achievements by and in support of women at Vanderbilt University. The Mulibrity Prize honors a student who has demonstrated leadership in activities that contribute to the achievements, interests, and goals of women or that promote gender equity. The Mary Jane Werthan Award honors an individual who has contributed to the advancement of women at Vanderbilt on a systemic level. The Mentoring Award honors a member of the Vanderbilt community who has worked to foster the professional and intellectual development of women on campus. The Office of the Dean makes an additional annual award to a woman scientist of national reputation who has a stellar record of research accomplishments and is known for her mentorship of women in science. The winner of the Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science receives a cash award, delivers a seminar at Vanderbilt, and is given an opportunity to help a member of the next scientific generation. The awardee is paired with a promising woman MD/PhD student at Vanderbilt who is mentored by the award winner, and receives a scholarship from the Office of the Dean. Past awardees include Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Further demonstrations of Vanderbilt’s commitment to mentoring include the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training’s (BRET) Graduate and Postdoctoral Scholar Mentoring Program and the various resources provided by the Center for Teaching (CFT). The BRET mentoring program was initiated in response to published reports on the importance of mentoring and surveys of Vanderbilt postdoctoral fellows which indicated that many were not happy with the level of mentoring they were receiving. To address these concerns a Mentoring Committee composed of faculty, students, and postdocs was established by the Dean in 2005 and resulted in six main recommendations which have since been implemented. These include making the Mentoring Committee permanent, updating the guidelines for the Individual Development plans that are initiated by every postdoctoral fellow and his or her mentor, and requiring each graduate student to be assigned an Advisory Committee to provide additional mentoring immediately following enrollment in the department. In addition, every faculty member is required to meet with their department chair annually to review their mentoring record for the year and develop a faculty mentoring dossier which is then used as a resource for the annual report of the chair to the Dean of the Medical School.

Resources and training for mentors are provided in the CFT’s curriculum for mentoring graduate students, which provides a links to texts and mentoring programs at other universities, the definition of mentoring, the types and stages of mentoring, and a FAQ for addressing issues that come up while mentoring. In addition, the CFT provides information on Professional Development for Future Faculty , Teaching Statements, and Teaching Portfolios to aid students who wish to pursue a career in academia. Additional resources for postdoctoral fellows are provided by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.

Although many of the programs at Vanderbilt are not aimed specifically at women in biomedical careers, the notion that “rising water lifts all boats” applies. Efforts to encourage, recognize, and improve mentoring by faculty for all students and postdoctoral fellows will result in more successful women scientists who share in Vanderbilt’s commitment to mentoring the next generation.


This page last updated: December 18, 2014

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