Being flexible and mindful: Reflections on mentoring from CSUN mentor Nelida Duran

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By Kirsten Cintigo

Nelida Duran, Ph.D. in public health, strives to not only help underrepresented communities with her research, but also through her mentoring with the undergraduate biomedical research training program BUILD PODER, an NIH-funded initiative. 

Being a mentor is something extremely important to Duran, in part because she was fortunate to have an amazing mentor during her graduate studies program at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). A mentor who, she says, she keeps in mind when it comes to helping out students.

“When I think about role models, I think about my master’s advisor from CSULA. Having him believe in me and see something in me made all the difference,” Duran said. “So when I think about what he did for me, I try and offer the same thing for my students -- just the confidence and bold outlook that may have never been introduced to them.”

Like other mentors, Duran has faced many challenges throughout the ongoing pandemic when it comes to her work and mentorship. Nonetheless, over the past year, she has worked diligently to try to overcome these challenges and provide a safe space for her mentees digitally.

 “One of the biggest challenges has been keeping in regular contact,” Duran said. “And with the pandemic, I don’t want to burden students with too many Zoom meetings. What we’ve started to do is having groups work independently and then check-in every two weeks, but I try to meet students where they’re at and communicate in a fashion that works for them.”

 One important lesson she credits to learning from her mentees throughout this time is to celebrate the small victories, which is something that she didn’t do as often pre-pandemic. 

 “One of our research projects related to genomics took two years to get approved, and when it finally did, that’s when the pandemic hit,” she explained. “Now we’re focused on evaluating our education material that we were thinking about using in that research study. We’re celebrating small wins though, because maybe we don’t have the manuscript we were going to publish, but we’re still presenting at  conferences.”

She also notes how she’s learned to listen better to her mentees and be understanding of the difficult situations they’re facing. She’s accomplished this through one-on-one, non-research related meetings with her mentees.

 “I think it’s been working well because I noticed a number of my mentees just needed space to talk,” Duran said. “I feel like students see us and think, ‘wow they must have their whole act together,’ but sometimes, it’s reminding them I was in their shoes too.”

Moreover, Duran exclaims how important it is for faculty to celebrate any small victories of their own during such unprecedented times, especially with pressure put on them from campus administrators.

“As faculty, we’re asked to be flexible and mindful of our students, but we also have been asking that of the administration,” Duran pointed out. “We didn’t create the pandemic, so we shouldn’t be penalized for it. We all have to be flexible about this and still take time to celebrate those small wins among faculty.”

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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