Using Slack to Mentor Public Health Research Assistants
A technology application, Slack, created an interactive real-time virtual workspace for research assistants across the nation to receive the same information compiled all in one location with experienced faculty. Interactions increased two-fold while allowing one on one faculty mentorship. Lessons learned included overwhelming interactions, boundary-setting, time management.
Session Title: Using Slack to Mentor Public Health Research Assistants
Session Purpose: This session aims to discuss innovative strategies for improving virtual collaboration amongst full-time public health faculty and student research assistants.
Master of Public Health (MPH) programs train students on health promotion and disease prevention within communities. One identified gap in our program is the lack of the ability for students to conduct research projects in their area of interest. It is essential to provide students with opportunities to be involved in the research process, as this is a subset of the field of public health. Thus, we sought out an online platform to serve as a hub for student research assistants (RAs), where they could have access to information in one place and communicate with mentors and each other.
Slack is a communication platform that allows for creating a workspace with various“channels” accessible by invitees. In March of 2021, we created a workspace titled “Public Health Research Assistants”; to compile all needed information and resources for the RAs, thereby eliminating the need for email communication. The following table highlights the 14 channels and their description:
- CITI Human Subject Research-training-A step-by-step guide for students to complete CITI training through the university.
- Critical-thinking-A guide for critical thinking in research.
- Data analysis-A guide for analyzing data in public health.
- Everyone connects-A space for RAs to communicate.
- IRB-Learn about the current institution’s institutional review board process.
- Student inquiries-Each student was provided with a personal channel to ask questions, discuss, meet.
- Journals-A list of popular journals in public health.
- Random-A channel for “everything else” It’s a place for team jokes, spur-of-the-moment ideas, and funny GIFs. Go wild!
- Research questions and hypotheses-A guide for formulating research questions and hypotheses.
- Secondary data-A guide on secondary data analysis.
- Study design-A channel all about public health research methods and study designs.
- Titles for papers-A quick read on how to create a title for a paper (or any research paper).
- Webinars-events-A space for the workspace owners to share upcoming webinars/ events with students.
- Welcome-A description of the role of public health RAs.
RAs were recruited through faculty courses. Students were provided with a description of the unpaid public health RA position and encouraged to apply by sending a resume and cover letter to the faculty member. To participate, students were required to be active members of an MPH degree and self-starter who takes the initiative. The faculty was to serve as mentors, to assist students with completing a project of their choosing.
Three students were chosen as RAs and granted access to the workspace. Students were encouraged to start with CITI Certification. The faculty then met with students to discuss their interests and potential projects. The faculty also offered students the option of collaborating on existing projects or embarking on a project of their choosing. During this meeting, faculty let RAs know the student-led work, with faculty serving as mentors.
Faculty regularly posted resources in the slack channels to encourage student engagement. After completing the CITItraining, one student began working on the literature review of an existing project with faculty, and the other two chose to develop their research project with mentorship. In June, one student expressed they would be discontinuing as an RA due to other engagements. The third student stated they are progressing with their research, but communication with faculty has been limited. Furthermore, one RA was able to work on the manuscript submission and abstract submission for presentation. While the manuscript was not accepted, the student could present at this state conference with the faculty.
Through using Slack, interactions with students increased; however, there were many lessons learned. Students appeared to be overwhelmed by the provided information AND unsure of where to begin or how to utilize the information. Students struggled with time management and being able to prioritize the research. Lastly, faculty learned an essential lesson with boundary setting and student expectations.
Because no project has been completed to date, faculty are interested in research best methods for involving students in research. Through presenting at OLC, faculty wish to gain insight from other institutions regarding improving faculty and student collaboration.
Plan for Interactivity
Before the conference, a Slack workspace will be created with three session-specific topics and descriptions. Slack will be used throughout the presentation to showcase the platform and allow participants to see its functionality. To begin the session, presenters will introduce themselves, the conference Slack workspace and provide a background for the session. Throughout the session, presenters will discuss different scenarios that occurred with RAs to receive ideas and guidance from the OLC Community. The session outline, including scenarios and questions for collaboration, is listed below. At the conclusion of the session, presenters will encourage participants to continue the discussion on Slack throughout the conference. Faculty will respond on Slack throughout the conference.
Presenter Introduction (2 min)
Introduction to Slack (2 min)
Scenario 1 (4 min, presented through Slack): Students are unprepared for a RA role.
Scenario 1 Discussion Questions: What are effective strategies for preparing students for a RA role? How do you foster student and faculty collaboration?
Scenario 2 (4 min, presented through Slack): Students struggle with time management and prioritizing an unpaid role.
Scenario 2 Discussion Questions: How can students be motivated to collaborate with faculty on research?
Scenario 3 (4 min, presented through Slack): Outside of the online classroom, students struggle to maintain professional boundaries.
Scenario 3 Discussion Questions: What have you found to be the best strategies for meaningful engagement with students beyond the classroom?
Presenter Conclusion (2 min, not presented through Slack):
Through participation in this session, participants will be exposed to Slack, a tool that can increase collaboration and communication amongst students and faculty. In addition, participants will discuss the importance of collaborating with students on research and learn the best strategies used across institutions.