NRMN August Mentor of the Month: Robert Tillman

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How did you get involved with NRMN?

Back in 2010, I helped coordinate and was a one of the site facilitators for a randomized controlled trial at 16 academic health centers (June 2010 to July 2011) that used the curriculum Mentor Training for Clinical and Translational Researchers that was derived from Entering Mentoring. Based on that opportunity I became engaged with NRMN.

Which of NRMN’s program(s) have you participated in?

I am involved with the mentor training aspects of NRMN. With other master facilitators I deliver around 5 mentor training sessions a year, about half for faculty mentors and half for postdoctoral mentors. I also do an occasional train-the-trainer.

Describe your role in being a Master Facilitator and tell us a little about your experience in that role.

I really enjoy my role as a training facilitator. Everyone tends to go away with at least one way to be a more effective mentor. I particularly like the ability to deliver training at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) which is sponsored by the Gulf Coast Consortium. I will run into faculty that have been through the training around the TMC campus and hear how it has impacted their mentoring relationships (although sometimes it takes a little prying).

Have you participated in other similar programs in the past? If so, how was your experience with NRMN different or unique?

I had a role in developing mentoring programs involving great mentors during my positions in the postdoctoral program office at New York University School of Medicine and with the Science Alliance at the New York Academy of Science around a decade ago. While those experiences were great, I think NRMN’s evidenced based structure of training and tools available combined with learning from the accumulated wisdom of the participants makes for very productive and rewarding experience.

If someone called you and asked, “Why should I become involved with NRMN?” how would you respond?

To play off a line in one of my favorite development books, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott, I would tell them, mentorship is a series of opportunities to create value for ourselves and others by engaging in mutual development. Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one opportunity at a time. While no single opportunity is guaranteed to transform your future, or your life, any single opportunity can. If this is so, isn’t getting the most from each mentoring opportunity worth it?

How has your experience with NRMN changed the way you approach your career in the sciences?

Working within the education and training area with a focus on talent development and lots of opportunities to interact one-on-one with students, fellows, and faculty, NRMN has furthered my own ability to be a better mentor and colleague by learning from the faculty and postdocs I have trained and reflective practice. From a narrower training perspective, I have come to appreciate the challenge in producing evidence-based approaches to training and how larger efforts like NRMN can make a difference.

Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I don’t have just one, but would have to say that the ones that have required me to stretch the most are most rewarding. The first significant stretch was being a caregiver for my father before his death from cancer when I was sixteen-years old and the subsequent challenge of making my desire to go to a four-year university possible. The costs of cancer treatment and being from a blue collar income family meant I needed to cover my own college costs. I spent nights after high school at a community college looking through funding sources and applying for every grant or scholarship I was eligible for (this was pre-World Wide Web). In college I also had to balance my courses and research with a string of jobs. It worked out, and I gained skills and had experiences that I continue to build upon.

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The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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