Announcing the WiML-T Mentorship Program (guest post)

[Guest post by Claire Vernade, Jessica Sorrell, Kamalika Chaudhuri, Lee Cohen, Mary Anne Smart, Michal Moshkovitz, and Ruth Urner.

I am very happy about this initiative – mentoring and community is so important for success in science, and as I’ve written before, there is much work to do so women will have the same access to these as men. –Boaz]

TL;DR: we are organizing a new mentorship program for women in machine learning. Please consider applying as a mentor, mentee, or both at https://www.wiml-t.org/mentoring-program

What is WIML-T?

Women in machine learning (or WiML for short) was established more than ten years ago, and its main goals are to 1. Increase the number of women in machine learning 2. Help women in machine learning succeed professionally 3. Increase the impact of women in machine learning in the community. Towards this goal, they create different opportunities for women to showcase their work. Chief among them is the annual Women in Machine Learning (WiML) Workshop, typically co-located with NeurIPS, which presents women’s cutting-edge research. 

Women in machine learning theory (or WiML-T for short) shares the same goals as WiML but focuses on the smaller learning theory community. The vision of WiML-T is to give visibility and legitimacy to under-represented groups in learning theory, to create stronger bonds within the community and beyond, and to provide support and advice. As part of this vision, we have decided to facilitate a mentoring program that will connect women and non-binary researchers who are newer to learning theory with more experienced mentors.  

Why mentorship?

Mentoring programs have been shown to greatly help underrepresented communities develop [1]. More resources on mentoring can be found on the website of Stanford’s Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab and on our website. Mentoring creates strong bonds of trust within the community, it helps mentees find career advice and connections, and it helps mentors grow their leadership skills while keeping in touch with the newcomers of the community.  We hope that creating a world-wide program will also help reduce inequality between less privileged areas and the most famous institutions. Indeed, it is a well-known fact that the more competitive a career path, the less diverse it is, due in part to network effects from which under-represented groups are excluded. We believe that uniting individuals from these groups (i.e. women, non-binary people, persons of color and other minorities) will help reduce these effects and contribute to finding solutions to the community’s problems. 

Why be a mentor?  

Remember the beginning of your research journey, with all the difficulties, uncertainties, and unanswered questions? This is your chance to give all the advice you wish you got, and make an impact on a future colleague. As a mentor you will be a role model and help the young generation of researchers in learning theory. You will help them develop and enhance their careers by giving them the support they need. Need more reasons to mentor? It will grow your leadership skills, self-confidence, communication skills, and you will feel happier after you help others. 

Who can be a mentor? 

Nearly everyone who has some experience in academia or industry can be a mentor. It can be interesting for an undergrad student to receive advice from senior PhD students or postdocs who have recently had to reflect about career decisions and can share knowledge about their work environment. We indeed expect the most senior researchers to apply as mentors, but we would also like to encourage PhDs and postdocs to consider mentoring (while possibly having a mentor as well!).    

Can men mentor? 

We thank everyone who wants to help the community!  

We will prioritize women mentors as they can give their unique perspective, BUT, we acknowledge that there might be a limited number of mentors. To mitigate this issue, we will be happy to pair male mentors provided the mentee agrees.

Why be a mentee?   

Having a mentor is one of the best ways to get external career advice, to get some feedback from someone with a possibly similar background. Managing to find one’s way into academia or science is not easy. It can be even harder for under-represented groups who may lack role models within their institution, or who may not connect with common advice that implicitly assumes or relies on some class privilege. Having a mentor can help you navigate professional and personal issues that men may not always have. It is also a way to get connected to other members of the community, or have second opinions on research strategies.   

Timeline

  • The program launched on October 29 2020 and will run on a continuous basis.
  • We will start with pairings of mentors and mentees in December 2020. This process can take a few months.  
  • Frequency of the meetings: totally depends on the mentor and mentee. It can be either weekly meetings or once every two months or anything in between. 
  • Duration of the mentorship: totally depends on the mentor and mentee. It can be a few months, a year, or even more. 

Have questions? You can mail us at: contact@wiml-t.org

[1] Ginther, D. K., Currie, J., Blau, F. D., & Croson, R. (2020). Can Mentoring Help Female Assistant Professors in Economics? An Evaluation by Randomized Trial. NBER Working Paper No. 26864. https://doi.org/10.3386/w26864