While an undergraduate psychology major at UCLA, Andrea Acevedo, PhD, discovered the value of a mentoring relationship. During her time at UCLA, she connected with a Latino professor in the psychology department. This was especially relevant to Andrea, a Latina who was born and lived in Chile, and then Venezuela, before moving to Southern California at age 10. That professor became Andrea’s mentor when she participated in a research program for students from historically underrepresented groups.
The Benefits of Mentoring
Andrea benefited from working with a mentor, and appreciated the opportunity to connect with like-minded peers who were interested in similar topics and ideas during the program. The overall experience inspired Andrea to receive a Master’s degree in public health. She later enrolled in the doctoral program in Social Policy at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, where she was a fellow in a federally-sponsored doctoral training program in alcohol services research within the Institute for Behavioral Health.
Andrea found the interdisciplinary nature of the doctoral program appealing, as it allowed her to be exposed to topics related to youth development, economics, political science, health policy, substance abuse, and mental health services. She considered the environment at Heller very supportive, and she delved into work focused on inequality, which motivated her. However, at the time, no professors were conducting similar research on U.S. disparities in health services, and there were very few underrepresented faculty members. Because of the mentoring and peer network she experienced as an undergraduate, Andrea knew that it was important to have professors and colleagues from similar backgrounds serve as sources of support, in addition to the extensive mentorship she received as a student at Heller.
While at Heller, a colleague made Andrea aware of the New Connections program – in particular, its supportive atmosphere and professional development services targeted to underrepresented scholars. Intrigued, Andrea promised that she would explore the program as soon as she completed her PhD.
The Power of Connection
After receiving her PhD, and joining the faculty/research staff at the Institute for Behavioral Health, Andrea attended her first New Connections event – the Annual Symposium. At the Symposium, she encountered a strong sense of community, spending several days with other diverse early and mid-career researchers, with whom she shared many similarities. She described the experience as “amazing” and “incredible,” and left the Symposium energized.
Andrea next attended the annual Research & Coaching Clinic. While the Symposium offered an overview of different professional development topics (e.g., methodological sessions, navigating academia, networking, etc.), the Clinic focused more in-depth on areas such as grant writing and publications. Andrea felt “so empowered” to have her research proposal selected to receive feedback in a mock review session. In addition to the feedback from colleagues at Heller, she credits that feedback with helping her successfully obtain a grant from the National Institutes of Health, which focuses on understanding racial/ethnic disparities in the quality of treatment services for substance use disorders. Andrea continues to participate in New Connections professional development opportunities, whether it is a workshop, webinar, or publications support.
Andrea knows that connecting with peers and senior scholars is a critical part of networking, and is necessary for success in the academic world. Andrea has remained in contact with another scholar she met at a New Connections training event who lives near her in the Boston region, and has a similar research agenda. She felt confident enough to ask this person to provide support, ranging from just staying in touch to serving as a mentor on a K-award (NIH’s career development funding program) application.
Having opportunities to connect with mentors and colleagues, strengthen skills, and receive technical assistance and feedback are just some of the rewarding aspects of the New Connections network. No matter which New Connections event Andrea attended, she appreciated the support she received from other researchers and program staff, who conveyed through their words and actions that, “you can do it.” For Andrea, New Connections is a program that she is willing to give back to at any time, because, “it has been so great to me, and has done so much for me.”