Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine

Distance Mentoring to Develop a Program of Research

Claudio R. Nigg, PhD, Multiple Health Behavior Change Special Interest Group (MHBC SIG) Co-Chair; Xiaomeng (Mona) Xu; Jayson J. Spas, PhD, MS, MHBC SIG Chair


Early career scientists face numerous challenges to establishing themselves within their respective fields. These difficulties include establishing a programmatic line of research, securing extramural funding, conducting quality studies, presenting and publishing data, networking, and work-life balance. To mitigate and perhaps help prevent these difficulties, early career scientists should foster academic connections and encourage the formation and maintenance of high quality mentoring relationships. This does not have to be at the same institution. We present an example of a successful model of a distance mentor-protégé relationship that has led to the development of a mutually beneficial research program.

Developing the Relationship

Potential mentors with similar research interests were identified by the protégé via Vivo. The mentor (University of Hawai’i) and protégé (Idaho State University) had an initial phone call to discuss and come to a consensus on both short-term and long-term goals of the mentoring relationship, expectations for both sides, and frequency of contact. Following this arrangement, the mentor and protégé had monthly phone meetings (with more meetings, when necessary) in addition to email exchanges on an as-needed basis. With the mentor’s input, the protégé kept track of monthly meetings including issues that were discussed, goals that were set, progress reports, and the agreed upon tasks to be completed before the next meeting. The mentor and protégé also collaboratively created a schedule of deadlines for the protégé’s goals, which included conference presentations, manuscripts, and National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant proposals. The mentor offered advice on the protégé’s research program, strategies for making submissions more competitive, and assisted as an editor and was often co-author on submissions. In-person meetings also occurred: once when the mentor visited the protégé’s institution to assist with the first grant proposal (funded by a pilot grant the protégé received from the Mountain West Clinical Translational Research – Infrastructure Network (MW CTR-IN) and NIGMS), and several times thereafter during relevant conferences (including the Society of Behavioral Medicine (SBM) and MW CTR-IN). Figure 1 summarizes the key components of the mentoring relationship.


The utilization of this mentoring process created a productive and ongoing collaborative relationship that led to the establishment of a productive research program. This includes poster and symposium presentations (at SBM Annual Meetings), two other conference presentations (at the CTR-IN Conference), several manuscripts (1 accepted and several currently under review or in preparation), as well as additional collaborations with other researchers and the protégé facilitated by the mentor, two grant NIH proposals (R21 and R15), and plans for future collaborations. The overarching goal is to develop a fundable sustained program of research contributing to the knowledgebase in our fields. Conclusion: Mentor-protégé relationships are important and can provide vital support that enhances the career trajectory of the protégé while also being rewarding for the mentor. These relationships do not have to be location specific. Regular check-ins and open communication of progress, goals, expectations, along with a big picture understanding are necessary for establishing a productive research program that is mutually beneficial for both the protégé and the mentor.

Figure 1: A Mentoring Process Model