KITE launches mentorship program for early career researchers

More publications, faster academic promotions, and greater overall career satisfaction are associated with peer mentorship.

KITE affiliate scientist, Dr. Charlene Chu is in the middle of one of the most nerve-racking times for any early career researcher — her third-year interim review.

On top of completing the review, Chu is navigating other challenges early career-researchers face, such as creating a fundable and viable research program, teaching obligations, and more.

Without proper guidance Chu and others in her shoes could easily be overwhelmed by the taxing demands. It’s precisely for this reason that The KITE Research Institute, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI) Academic Advisory Committee, led by KITE Associate Director-Academic, Dr. Jenny Campos, created the KITE Early Career Peer Mentorship Program (KINSHIP).

KINSHIP is a mentorship program led by KITE scientists Drs. Tracey Colella and Sarah Munce that pairs early-career researchers at KITE with senior scientists in order to support their career development.

“We want to ensure that our early career researchers are really well supported in all aspects,” said Dr. Colella, who is also an associate professor in the Faculty of Nursing and Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto (UofT).

“We want early career researchers to have the informational and emotional support for the various challenges they will inevitably face at the beginning of their career, as well as practical support. This can include information about funding applications, networks and programs, as well as receiving feedback on their progress and future plans.”

KINSHIP launched at the end of May with a workshop outlining the structure of the program and the benefits of peer mentorship.  Mentors and mentees are expected to meet at least four times throughout the one-year program.

“We know there’s all sorts of good outcomes associated with peer mentorship — more publications, faster academic promotions, greater overall career satisfaction — so we really wanted to institute this program at KITE,” Dr. Munce, who is also an assistant professor at UofT in the Department of Occupational Science & Occupational Therapy, said.

Dr. Chu is already reaping the benefits of the program. Her anxiety over her review was alleviated thanks to sage advice and a vote of confidence from her mentor Dr. Nancy Salbach, a senior scientist at KITE and a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy at UofT.

“The prospect of having regular access to wisdom from someone who is very successful and who can provide an unbiased and honest perspective of where I am in my research and career trajectory is very beneficial,” Dr. Chu, who is an assistant professor at the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at UofT said.

This initiative has been in the works since 2018 after a survey by the TRI Academic Advisory Committee identified the need for a mentorship program. Drs. Colella and Munce were chosen to lead KINSHIP as peer mentorship is one of their research areas.

There are seven pairs of mentors and mentees in KINSHIP’s inaugural cohort from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, engineering, health services research, nursing, and epidemiology.

“One of the things we’re especially proud of is that we were able to match mentors and mentees from different fields,” Dr. Munce said. “It creates new opportunities both within and outside of participants’ current networks, as well as reinforces one of KITE’s guiding principles — interdisciplinary collaboration."   

Drs. Colella and Munce will be formally evaluating the program and hope to expand the program to include postdoctoral fellows in the future.