Low lights. Ambient conversation. Cocktail tables topped with a lacy cloth and a long-stemmed rose.
The matchmaking scene set the stage for New Connections grantees to seek career advice from senior scientists attending the Second Annual New Connections Symposium. Nearly 60 junior scholars participated in this novel event to connect with more than 20 mentors steeped in academia and research.
Resembling musical chairs, junior scholars moved from one mentor to the next in 15-minute intervals and came away enriched with sound strategies to guide their careers. "Talking with folks who have the same intellectual interests and offer special expertise really helped me to refine and focus my interests areas," says Pamela Xaverius, Ph.D., M.A., junior investigator, Public Health, Department of Community and Family Medicine, St. Louis University.
The New Connections initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has drawn on the speed dating phenomenon to forge relationships in a field that depends heavily on mentorship as an avenue to success. Studies show minority scholars lag in completing doctoral programs or breaking into well-resourced research fields largely due to limited institutional support and professional mentoring.
"Mentoring is possibly the most important thing we do as academics, as people who lead the field by producing the next generation of researchers," says William A. Vega, Ph.D., professor, University of California, Los Angeles.
Created in 2005, New Connections contributes a broader perspective in RWJF program planning and design.