RCR Casebook: Mentor and Trainee Relationships
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Tarek is in the final months of his three-year post-doctoral fellowship. He works in a pharmacology laboratory for Dr. Schaefer where he has done research on multiple sclerosis, studying myelin oligodendrocyte glycoproteins.
Dr. Schaefer is a world-famous researcher who is often away giving lectures, and he frequently leaves Tarek to run the lab, design new methodological protocols, and generally take care of things. Fortunately, Tarek has an abundance of interpersonal skills in addition to being an outstanding young scientist. He is unfailingly pleasant and collegial, easy to work with, and highly productive. Not surprisingly, he has landed an appointment as an Assistant Professor at a nearby institution and is looking forward to an easy transition into his new role.
That is, until the new post-doc, Scott, is hired to replace him. Dr. Schaefer asks Tarek to provide mentoring to Scott as he introduces him to others in the lab, demonstrates procedures, explains ongoing studies, and informs him of lab standards.
From the beginning, Tarek feels an unaccustomed antagonism with Scott. As someone used to being thought of as a great mentor, Tarek isn’t sure where this undercurrent of hostility is coming from or what to do about it. He doesn’t like the way Scott hits on one of the female pre-doctoral students, or the way Scott is taking credit for her work. When he says something to Scott, he tells Tarek that they are dating. Tarek can’t believe anyone would regard Scott as a “catch.” Even making allowances for other people’s questionable motives and work ethic, and the inevitable adjustment period to settle into a new routine, Tarek is sure Scott is a bad apple.
The trouble is, in a couple of months, Tarek will be gone, and he can leave the problem behind. On the one hand, there seems to be little point in stirring up a hornets’ next when he has no evidence other than his own observations. On the other hand, how will Tarek look his own mentor in the eye when Dr. Schaefer gets back. He is bound to run into him and others in the lab who have close ties to the institute where Tarek is going and often hold joint colloquia. He doesn’t want this to spoil what has been a great situation for him as one of Dr. Schaefer’s stellar post-docs. He just can’t seem to see a way out of this quagmire.
What should Tarek do?
Discussion Questions for the Facilitator
- What are the institutional resources that deal with post-docs where Tarek might find help addressing his concerns about Scott?
- What fears might Tarek have about taking any action to disclose his observations and concerns about Scott?
- How does the fact that Tarek will be working nearby and remaining in touch with people in Dr. Schaefer’s lab have any implications for how Tarek might respond if things go from bad to worse in Schaefer’s lab in the future?
- What sort of documentation might Tarek want to keep about Scott and how might he use it?