Beginning a mentoring relationship with a meeting to establish and clarify expectations is essential to success. Though mentoring has become a common term in academic vernacular, it takes many forms in its actual application. Mentoring can be as varied as the persons involved. The technical skills you have to offer, along with your interpersonal strengths and accumulated wisdom will create a unique contribution to your trainee. Each trainee will bring with them a different set of skills and interpersonal abilities such that what worked with one trainee, may not work with the next.
Establish an environment that fosters open communication.
- Discuss timing of communication
- Are you comfortable with an open door policy that gives the trainee unlimited access? Do regular office hours fit your style better? Set the parameters that work for you.
- Establish who is responsible to initiate contact.
- Generally initiating contact will be the trainee's responsibility.
- Some mentors prefer to set a regular time to meet.
- Take an interest in the trainee personally
- This can be as simple as greeting a trainee in the halls and taking a moment to learn something about life beyond the lab.
- Take advantage of opportunities to walk together to meetings or events
- Some mentors will invite trainees home for dinner or will meet for after hours socializing.
Develop a common foundation.
- What is his educational experience and background?
- Did he have a previous mentor? What worked in that relationship? What does he wish had been different?
- What are her goals for her career and research?
- How does he learn best? (Hands on? Verbal Instruction? Visual models? Etc.)
- What does he expect from this relationship?
- How much independence does he desire?
- How often does he desire input from you?
- Does he have other mentors? What does he expect from each?
- At what level does he desire input? (Daily hands on working together? Occasional advice or critique?)
- What are you willing to provide?
- What are your strengths? How can your trainee gain the most from your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses? What should your trainee do if your weakness becomes a problem to him or her?
The Office of Research Integrity's “Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research” http://ori.hhs.gov/documents/rcrintro.pdf offers the following considerations on page 106:
How much time they will be expected to spend on their mentor's research;
The criteria that will be used for judging performance and form the basis of letters of recommendation;
How responsibilities are shared and divided in the research setting;
Standard operating procedures, such as the way data are recorded and interpreted, and most importantly,
How credit is assigned, that is, how authorship and ownership are established.
Promote best practices.
- Provide training in responsible research procedures and university policies
- Provide training in scientific investigation
- Provide training in communicating and publishing findings
- Provide training in personal interaction with other researchers and staff
- Include tips on networking and accessing resources
- Provide career planning
You may not provide training in these areas directly but as a mentor you can assure that your trainee has access to training. The Office of Research Integrity provides many training materials on the responsible conduct of research. They also have an extensive bibliography of resources. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation provide training in proper scientific investigation. Most universities have training materials available through their research offices.
- If funding were not an issue, what research projects would they pursue?
- Have them explain to you their understanding of your agreement
- Have them email you a summary of your meeting
- Discuss what should be done if either of you perceives that this relationship is not “working”
Thoughts for the Trainee When the Relationship Is Not Working Out
From: Making the Right Moves: A Practical Guide to Scientific Management for Postdocs and New Faculty
What you view as a problem may simply be a matter of personal style or a different understanding of the mentor's role. Have a conversation with your mentor about getting what you need. If that does not help solve the problem, you may need to think about finding other mentors. Consider finding another mentor if yours is clearly and consistently uninterested in you, undervalues your abilities, or displays any other signs of undermining the relationship. Consider finding another mentor if yours behaves inappropriately by violating workplace rules or fails to fulfill essential responsibilities to you—for example, by not sending letters of reference or by not reviewing your work. You may need to appeal to whatever conflict-resolution mechanism exists at your university. Start with the human resources office for guidance on how to proceed. Adding new mentors may be helpful. However, be very careful about severing a mentoring relationship. Even if the relationship is not going well, you do not want to offend someone unnecessarily. If the relationship is official, ending it will require explicit action and most probably generate bad feelings. If the relationship is informal, and you can just allow it to peter out, do so. If your mentor wants to terminate the relationship, accept the decision with good grace. It will be better for both of you
© 2006 by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Burroughs Wellcome Fund
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