A note from Thomas Seacrist, MBE, director of Training and Biomechanics Project Manager at CIRP: Irish playwright Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” As researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, we continually strive to change the lives of children through new scientific knowledge, innovative technologies, improved clinical care, and new public policies. Improving education and training programs for the next generation of pediatric scientists is no exception to that mission. As Director of CIRP’s Injury Science Training Program, my team and I continually work to improve how we provide research training for the next generation of injury scientists. Part of that improvement involves feedback from our trainees. Recently, Ethan Douglas, BS, a former REU trainee who is now pursuing his MS in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania and working with our Engineering Core on various projects, came to us with a suggestion to formally incorporate peer-mentorship into our REU program and is now leading that effort. It is my pleasure to welcome this guest post from him.
During the summer before entering my senior year of college at the University of Arkansas, I had the opportunity to participate in the Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Under the mentorship of Thomas Seacrist and Dr. Kristy Arbogast, I assisted with a variety of injury science research projects and had an excellent experience. I sharpened my problem-solving skills, gleaned new ways to approach research questions, and gained invaluable career advice.
I enjoyed my experience so much that I decided to come back the next summer to begin my master’s degree. As a former REU student now working side by side with the interns as a graduate student, I was able to view the program from a different angle. This gave me valuable insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the program. What I felt it needed was a peer mentorship component.
A formalized peer mentorship addition could boost the experiences of the interns greatly. CIRP is home to many graduate students and recent graduates, all of whom have just been through the process of applying to graduate school, choosing a career track, and completing research—all goals that REU students hope to accomplish. Further, these graduate students have relationships with their PIs and can help interns navigate the tricky waters of conducting independent research for the first time.
Peer mentoring in action at CIRP: Ethan Douglas (right) mentors REU student Umar Saaba.
There Are No “Silly Questions”
Faculty members with impressive resumes can be intimidating to approach for a first research project. Having a peer mentor on a similar career level gives the interns more confidence in asking “silly” questions. When I brought this idea to Tom Seacrist, one of my mentors and CIRP’s director of training, he loved it. We then worked together to develop the peer mentorship program for this year’s class of REU students, who will be ending their 10-week time with us on August 10. The program included:
- assistance with technical work
- guidance with asking their mentors difficult questions
- advice on preparing their graduate school applications
Through this peer mentorship program we believe we have enhanced the training experience for this year's REU class, but we have also benefited greatly. Getting an opportunity to mentor students at such an early stage in our careers has been a helpful, challenging, and fun experience. We’ve learned a lot about mentorship, augmented our personal networks, and made some great friends. I look forward to continuing to hone my mentorship skills in the next stage of my career.
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