Characteristics of a Unique Mentoring Program for the BMENA Region

From March 3rd to 8th 2014, the AAAS Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy (CSTSP) hosted five early-career scientists from the broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) region in a new AAAS BMENA Mentoring Program, funded by the Department of State and held at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.

This project is a follow-up activity to previous CSTSP bio-engagement programs involving the BMENA region, Europe and the United States. The Mentoring Program was a pilot project where five early-career scientists - from Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen - discussed and defined what mentoring means, how to become a better mentor, and what mentoring frameworks exist. The program offered one-on-one meetings with active scientists and panel discussions with U.S. students, peers and senior scientists about mentoring. They also conducted a literature review of articles to define evidence-based mentoring in responsible science.

The AAAS BMENA Mentoring Program is distinct from other mentoring programs for two primary reasons:

1. Regional Characteristics of Middle East and North Africa

Despite positive regional trends in the conduct of biotechnological research, BMENA countries generally lack the key infrastructure and critical resources necessary to promote international concepts in responsible science; many BMENA scientists are isolated from international scientific networks, which plays a key role in promoting responsible science. One way to improve this current situation is to offer capacity building programs such as mentoring for continuous career development of BMENA early career scientist, especially because many BMENA countries do not offer Ph.D. or postdoc programs. As such, the Mentoring Program was designed to encourage local capacity building through mentorship and, in so doing, ultimately and as a consequence of the new acquired skills an enhanced research environment and increased international research collaboration opportunities. 

Throughout the duration of the program the visiting scientists and guest speakers highlighted key cultural factors critical to the design, development, and implementation of a successful mentoring program in the BMENA region, such as collectivism versus individualism and the prevalence of institutional hierarchical structure (or not). Granting the five early-career scientists the opportunity to meet with peers, senior scientists and mentors allowed them to broaden their understanding of mentoring. As active participants, they were able to examine what programs exist in the U.S. and integrate the lessons learned into their efforts of building similar programs in their own laboratory or institution.

2. Creating Guidelines for Mentoring from Lessons Learned

Before participating in the program, the BMENA scientists conducted an evidence-based mentoring literature review and subsequently, developed a Table of Evidence (TOE) of what constitutes a successful mentor/mentee relationship, which to our knowledge has never been done for the BMENA region. The articles selected for the review were all related to mentoring and/or responsible science, including articles from the BMENA region (when available). Consequently, the early career scientists were able to learn about the following questions from the existing literature:

- What are the necessary qualities of a good mentor?
- How to improve mentor-mentee relationships?
- What are the available methods for assessing a mentorship program?
- How good mentoring can contribute to better understanding of responsible science?

The AAAS BMENA Mentoring Program is a unique opportunity for early-career scientists from the BMENA region to initiate a discussion about mentoring in general and specifically on responsible science. The program also provided a forum for the participants to share professional and private mentoring experiences with U.S. students, peers and senior scientists. It also allowed them to critically reflect upon existing mentoring programs to start developing and creating guidelines for mentoring in the BMENA region. This pilot program promoted safe, secure, ethical research and cooperation in the biological sciences through good mentoring.