Mentoring Mismatch Kendall Powell

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Mentoring Mismatch Kendall Powell

  1. 1. POSTDOCS & STUDENTS NATURE|Vol 440|13 April 2006 Mentoring mismatch JORGE CHAM aul’s* graduate supervisor stood beside his a secondary adviser or P Is your adviser not bench yelling at him about a failed experiment. an external mentor can play a key role. the role model or Sadly, this was nothing new. But Paul knew Although advisers can’t be all things to their mentor of your that they had reached breaking point when he trainees, yours may well give you career advice — but chased his supervisor into the hallway to continue the you’ll need to ask, says Sunita Jones, a former postdoc dreams? Then take shouting match. and peer counsellor at Stanford University in Palo charge of the “Once you go that far, there’s no mentoring going Alto, California. She says postdocs should not feel situation and find on and no good way back,” says Paul, now an assistant like they are under their adviser’s control. professor at a California research institute. Paul took “You already have your degree, no one can take it the right people. an extreme option — the only sensible one in his case away. This training is for your future and you are in Kendall Powell — and switched labs in the middle of his graduate control,” says Jones, now a research administrator at career. He found a mentor who was a valuable source St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester, UK. If something is plays matchmaker. of guidance as Paul made the transition from not working for you, tell your adviser, who, she says, postgraduate to investigator. should also be a colleague by this point. Fortunately, such drastic measures are not the most common solution for bad mentoring matches. A Aim for comfort milligram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure Equally important is starting off on the right foot with when it comes to communicating your goals and a mentor at the earliest stages, says Keith Micoli, expectations (see Nature 422, 784–785; 2003). chairman of the National Postdoctoral Association Most trainees need several different mentors to (NPA) board and research associate at the University serve as role models and to advise them on scientific of Alabama, Birmingham. and career questions. To help meet this need, a “You should talk to an investigator before you even growing number of universities are introducing accept a lab position,” says Micoli. And you should policies that match trainees with mentors in addition make your career aspirations clear, he adds. “If you to their advisers. don’t feel comfortable during the interview to bring it For example, several UK universities have put up, it’s not going to get more comfortable later.” You ‘backstop’ policies in place for doctoral students in can also research the NPA’s postdoc policy database to which a secondary adviser acts as a sounding board for find the postdoctoral infrastructure available at more the student’s concerns. As there is no possible conflict than 100 institutions. of interest in their publication record or advancement, Once you have accepted a position, set out scientific and career goals and reasonable mentoring Keith Micoli: if you feel uncomfortable bringing up career expectations with your supervisor as soon as possible. aspirations during an interview, it won’t get easier later. Doing so will show you the areas your adviser can 964 ©2006 Nature Publishing Group
  2. 2. NATURE|Vol 440|13 April 2006 POSTDOCS & STUDENTS handle and where you’ll need a backup. A good place colleagues, you may want to find someone outside to start is with an individual development plan (IDP), your institution for discussing sensitive subjects or to a written framework for regular discussions with an fill a specific mentoring role. MentorNet is a service adviser on your scientific and career development. that connects college, graduate, postdoc and new “If you don’t map a course, then you don’t know faculty protégés with mentors through a one-to-one whether you are making progress or running in e-mail system. Last year, about 700 graduate students circles,” says Micoli. He notes that IDPs can help and 70 postdocs connected with mentors through the introduce difficult topics, such as how much of a non-profit programme. research project a postdoc can expect to take with “An adviser’s advice is invaluable, but not always them to their next academic position. IDP-type exhaustive,” notes Carol Muller, founder and chief programmes are being implemented by universities executive of MentorNet in San Jose, California. “These including Stanford and Vanderbilt to improve are people who can give perspectives and information postdoctoral mentoring. Vanderbilt School of about alternative career paths or the experiences of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, has proposed that Sunita Jones: find someone women and minorities in science.” They can address postdocs write an IDP upon arrival, update it at six outside to bounce ideas off. future plans, doubts and fears you might not want months, and then redraft it with an adviser each year at known at your home institution — the timing of re-appointment. Students can also benefit from these having children, dealing with dual-career families, regular career-development discussions. when to publish and move on. Alexandra could have used just such a system “This unbiased individual is not grading you or when her graduate supervisor, Tom, went missing sitting on a dissertation or tenure committee. It is for weeks at a time to deal with personal problems. completely appropriate to reach out and seek a variety “I was literally doing everything myself,” she says. of sources of advice at this stage — these people are the “But when it came to writing up my thesis, I felt beginnings of a professional network,” says Muller. totally unprepared.” Luckily, she found a mentor in a former lab Perfect match supervisor. “He really saved me,” she says, of the man MentorNet can also match you up with a role model — who helped her revise her thesis and set a defence date. as in the case of one young engineer who had never Yet she notes that Tom was a good scientific mentor, met another female, African-American, engineering pushing her to do rigorous controls and repeat professor. The programme matches people on the basis experiments. Her former lab adviser, on the other of ranked preferences such as gender, ethnicity, hand, was not a good match on scientific aspects. institution, location and discipline. Networkers could also contact interesting seminar Hunting down help speakers by e-mail and join groups such as Women Like Alexandra, trainees should recognize their Entrepreneurs in Science and Technology (WEST). adviser’s mentoring strengths and weaknesses, and Kapeller, a WEST board member, says the best way seek out others who can fill the gaps. International to make lasting connections is to volunteer for students would do well to find someone to teach committees with regular small-group meetings. them the ropes of a new science system, says Rosana For exploring alternative career paths that your Kapeller, who left Brazil for the United States to do adviser may not be familiar with, call human-resources a PhD. Young investigators may not have the time or departments and ask what they are looking for or skills to do this, so look to your peers or someone search out friends of friends already working in a more established. sector for an informational interview. Alexandra took Kapeller, now vice-president for research at a ‘self-help’ route, reading books on handling work Renegade Therapeutics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, stress and communication problems, talking to an found help from her department chair. “He helped me occupational therapist, and hiring a career coach. navigate the difficult obstacles as a young scientist,” she Jones, Kapeller and others say that good mentoring says. Students need to recognize that they may not get relationships last a lifetime, get you through big life everything from their own adviser, says Kapeller. transitions and prepare you to become a mentor for Jones suggests finding someone more neutral than others. Kapeller says she enjoys shedding light to help an adviser as you ponder different careers. “Go across people find their own path. “It’s about forging the hall and find a mentor who’s going to listen — relationships and that’s always a two-way street.” somebody to bounce Even with excellent outside advice, remember that things off, someone who your adviser will continue to be an adviser — won’t judge,” she says. sometimes an even better one — when you leave the During her own job lab. Paul’s second graduate adviser became a valuable search, she created a confidant once he became a postdoc. And it’s likely you postdoc transition group will find yourself in your adviser’s shoes someday. to relieve the pressure and “If you look at things from the investigator’s stress. The group met perspective and see how you expect them to behave, every month over lunch WEB LINKS it’s completely different,” says Paul. “I never thought to share stories and FASEB’s IDP I’d be one of those investigators who asks for data contacts. When members ➧ opa.faseb.org/pdf/idp.pdf when travelling, but the other day I told my landed positions — as MentorNet technician to send me a text message as soon as ➧ www.mentornet.net they all eventually did — my plane landed!” ■ NPA’s postdoctoral policy they told each other what database Kendall Powell is a freelance science writer in had worked for them. Carol Muller: a network can ➧ www.nationalpostdoc.org/ Broomfield, Colorado. Beyond department grow from several advisers. policy/institutional *Some names have been changed to protect privacy. 965 ©2006 Nature Publishing Group

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