WiMIR Mentoring Program Report 2017: the many faces of diversity

WiMIR_poster_final

Poster design: Julia Wilkins

Blog post by Anja Volk (Utrecht University), Co-Founder of the WiMIR Mentoring Program

We started the mentoring program in 2016, after many years of regular meetings of the Women in MIR group, which is dedicated to promoting the role of, and increasing opportunities for, women in the MIR field. The mentoring program was founded to connect women students, postdocs, early-stage researchers, industry employees, and faculty to more senior women and men in MIR. The program encourages and supports women in pursuing a career in MIR, raises an awareness on issues often faced by women in our field, and establishes networks between different generations, genders, and disciplines within MIR in academia and industry.

In this second round of the program in 2017, the number of participants has more than doubled. We have asked participants for anonymous feedback on their experience with the program after the closing in June 2017, in order to help the Mentoring Program Committee (Emilia Gómez, Blair Kaneshiro, and Anja Volk) to gain insights into what has worked well or less well for participants. With this blog post we share the outcomes of the mentoring round in 2017 as reflected by participants. We hope to provide a general overview on the benefits of this community effort to increase diversity in MIR, and to give an idea of the gains for individual participants.  

Participants

Around 50 mentees signed up for the program, residing in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. They ranged from high school student to associate professor, coming from a diverse field of interests and backgrounds, such as digital signal processing, computer music, computer science, music theory, computational musicology, music psychology, music performance, music and mathematics, music perception and cognition, computational ethnomusicology, composition, computational neuroscience, digital media, information science and human computer interaction. Mentors came from equally diverse backgrounds and different stages of career, residing in North America, Europe, Asia, and New Zealand, with roughly 1/3 working in industry and 2/3 in academia. Compared to the first round in 2016, we have seen a strong increase in the number of mentors from industry. As in 2016, an equal number of male and female mentors participated.

Matching procedure

We considered a number of different aspects when establishing the matches, such as general research interest and background, language, time zone, level of seniority, and specific requests from mentees on certain research or career topics. While it was often impossible to find a perfect match on all points, we strived to find the best possible overlap in commonalities. Participants were in general happy with their matches according to the feedback (on a scale between 0 and 5, 87% mentees rated the fitness of their match with a 4 or 5, so did 67% of the mentors). We do feel ready for the next MIREX challenge for helping us to solve this big puzzle: what would be the best algorithm for automatically matching the participants? One big challenge was the difference in time zones, as it is not always possible to find mentor and mentee within the same time zone, or even same continent.  Participants commented that both the commonalities in the matches were helpful, but also the differences for gaining new perspectives, such as discovering how research is organized in different countries.

Mentoring sessions

Participants had signed up for maximal 4 remote meetings in total between January and June 2017, while 42 % of mentees reported 4 and more meetings, others reported fewer meetings.

The following topics have been discussed in the mentoring sessions according to the feedback, with decreasing order of importance:

  • Career paths in academia
  • Career paths in industry
  • Work/life balance
  • Graduate school
  • Dealing with sexism
  • Balancing career with family/children

What did mentees gain

Overall, the mentees were very positive about the mentoring sessions – check out the gratitude wall – and have fun! Mentees reported very different aspects as important gains, from getting a general overview on research in music and technology, to getting a clearer picture on different career options, but also in receiving very concrete help in writing a paper or grant proposal. Here we report some examples on what they have taken home from the program:

  • Cooperation on a conference article
  • Feedback on research
  • Sharing questions and concerns
  • Getting a bigger perspective
  • Better understanding of priority of funders
  • Useful advice about internship
  • Gain a different perspective than those of my immediate colleagues
  • Getting to know a very wide field of research in music and technology fields
  • Better confidence in my abilities and professional options
  • Better understanding of different career paths in industry and academia

Examples of what mentees say about the program:

I saw possibilities and perspectives of people who ‘know better’ about that world in which I’m moving towards to but not quite there.

The gender disproportionality somehow to me brings fear of not choosing a secure career option. The mentorship program has been a confidence booster to me.

The WiMIR mentoring program clearly helps to create a better network among the members of the field, because it introduces people that otherwise would probably have never met.

For more detailed descriptions of benefits for mentees, please check out the blog posts by Stefanie Acevedo, Magdalena Fuentes and Iris Yuping Ren.

What did mentors gain

Many of the mentors indicated that they have taken valuable insights from the conversations, here are some examples:

  • Evaluating their own career path and reflecting on their own priorities
  • Gaining perspectives on struggles and concerns of junior staff in industry
  • Learning about differences in academic systems between North America and Europe
  • Mentees brought new ideas, mentors learnt something new about themselves
  • Good experience that their background and skills are useful for someone else
  • Being inspired by young researchers in the field
  • Gaining a friend

Examples of what mentors say about the program:

There are few things during my academic work day that take less time and have such immediate and longer-term impacts.

It was exciting to me to see my mentee being eager to proudly tell me about new accomplishments and insights and me being proud on these accomplishments as well. I got the feeling that I may have had a positive impact on the mentee and that both sides actually likewise benefited from the mentoring program.

I got to know brilliant people whom I wouldn’t have a chance to know otherwise.

For more: check out the gratitude wall from the mentors, and Ryan Groves’ blog post on the perspective of a mentor!

General feedback on the program

Both mentors and mentees reported a positive overall experience of the mentoring program: 88% of mentees gave it a 4 or 5 (on a scale between 0 and 5); 73% of mentors gave it a 4 or 5. The majority considered the time span between January and June appropriate, though 46% of the mentees and 32% of the mentors would have preferred a longer time span. Some participants reported difficulties in scheduling meetings, sometimes due to time zone differences.

Importance of the program for increasing diversity in MIR

Participants considered the extra support and push for women in our gender-imbalanced area as an important point of the program for increasing diversity, along with the factor of helping to make women in the field more visible, as well as attracting people from other fields who might learn more about MIR through this program. Participants also commented on the potential of the program to provide (male) mentors with a better understanding on how to make their institutions and themselves more accessible and inclusive.

New ideas by participants :

Participants mentioned a number of new ideas in the feedback form, such as

  • Make peer mentoring accessible for mutual support of mentors, such as on discussing papers or proposals
  • Connect mentees with each other through mailing list or chat platforms for exchanging ideas with others in a similar situation
  • Create profiles of women who have participated in the program on website for visibility
  • Get together at conferences, organize local networking
  • Establish contacts to high schools for early information on MIR

Conclusions by mentoring program committee for next round

We are in the process of discussing how to implement the new ideas mentioned by participants. Here are some ideas:

  • Mentors can indicate in sign up form whether they are interested in peer mentoring and what they would be interested in discussing with a peer. We will establish email contact between all mentors who are interested in peer mentoring, including information what they want to discuss, and then mentors can contact each other. Mentors can also indicate whether they would be interested in participating in a forum with other mentors.
  • Mentees can indicate in signup form whether they want to be part of email group or group chat with other mentees on exchanging ideas with peers. We establish the contact between all mentees who are interested, and then leave the mentee group to organize themselves.
  • We need volunteers for creating profiles of women for the website.
  • For anyone being in contact with high schools in their local area, we can provide a Power Point presentation about the mentoring program.
  • If anyone would like to organize a local networking event, please let us know for helping to spread the word about it. 

Note: If anybody has a comment or different suggestion, and wants to get involved in organizing, please contact us at wimir-mentoring@ismir.net.

A note from the program committee

We would like to thank all participants for making this round of the mentoring program happen! The doubts and concerns that are often mentioned by mentees when they sign up for this program — on whether or not there might be a career for them in this field — have been openly discussed in the mentoring sessions. We are happy that this community pays an invaluable contribution of encouragement to meet these concerns. Moreover, participants help to introduce MIR with its different disciplinary facets to people who have sometimes hardly heard about this field before, or to those with a different disciplinary background. Both mentees and mentors appreciated a new perspective on a different discipline, generation, gender, career path, country or continent – as a testament to the fact that “Mentoring is a two-way street” (Steve Washington) which considers many different facets of diversity. Or, as Amy V Beeston has put it in her blog post, we find courage through encouraging others, such that mentoring is a mutual gain. And in our case, we extend the gain to the third dimension of the mentoring program committee: by organizing this program, we provide a frame to be filled in by the participants, as it is up to the mentors and mentees to conceptualize whatever support is helpful in their individual sessions. Learning about the diverse outcomes, new emerging connections and ideas resulting from these individual cases means for us to see our efforts creatively multiplied into all kinds of directions – a moment of great joy, which we would like to share with all participants.

Anja Volk (Utrecht University), holds master degrees in both mathematics and musicology, and a PhD in the field of computational musicology. The results of her research have substantially contributed to areas such as music information retrieval, computational musicology, digital cultural heritage, music cognition, and mathematical music theory.  In 2010 she has been invited to join AcademiaNet: The Portal to Excellent Women Academics. She is founding board member of the International Society for Mathematics and Computation in Music (SMCM).  Between 2013 and 2015 she served as a board member of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval. In 2016 she launched together with Amélie Anglade, Emilia Gómez and Blair Kaneshiro the Women in MIR (WIMIR) Mentoring Program.  She co-organized the launch of the Transactions of the International Society for Music Information Retrieval, the open access journal of the ISMIR society, and is serving as Co-Editor-in-Chief for the journal’s first term.

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