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Mentoring Manual

Responsibility for the mentoring environment

As the faculty mentor, you are responsible for the mentoring environment. Delegating some of the mentoring to graduate students in your research group can be effective. However, you are responsible for how well that goes. Your responsibility includes your whole team: the undergraduates, the graduate students and the postdocs. It is critical that you carefully review your commitments during the placements you host to ensure that you can fulfill the responsibilities of being a mentor and a mentor of new mentors!
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Referring students elsewhere

It’s important to keep in mind that mentoring need not come from the designated advisor but that all faculty can contribute to students’ development. So even if a student comes from another department and requests a meeting with a professor, s/he should agree to an appointment to listen to what the student has to say before steering them away. For example, students may be taking minors or considering changing majors and want to hear faculty perspectives about a particular field.

Faculty should be aware of how they present their recommendations (e.g., personal awareness of tone and affect). For example, a prospective student may approach a faculty member to join their lab or enroll at their institution, and after their initial conversation, the faculty member may ascertain that the lab or college isn’t appropriate for the student’s proposed objectives. Rather than abruptly turn the student away, s/he must make clear the reasons for the suggestions so as not to make the student feel “unwelcome”. This may include suggestions to help point the student to a program or professor who would be a better fit. When appropriate offer to help students make those connections.

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Mentoring Ph.D. students and postdocs

Graduate students, particularly Ph.D. students, and postdocs should be mentored with the recognition that they are junior colleagues, not students. Thus, there is a considerable difference between their mentoring needs and those of undergraduate and younger students. MS students, particularly those in programs requiring a thesis, have mentoring needs closer to Ph.D. students and Postdocs than to undergraduates.

NSF recognizes 3 types of mentoring responsibilities for Postdocs (and most of these same responsibilities also apply to Ph.D. students): adviser responsibilities, departmental responsibilities and institutional responsibilities.

Adviser Responsibilities Include:

  • Encourage, and then assist with, publication of results including advice on appropriate journals; structure, length and content of articles including appropriate analyses and graphics; and assist with publication costs. It is particularly important to assist students and postdocs in responding to reviewers. For example, one’s first unfavorable review can be quite devastating.
  • Encourage participation in scientific meetings and assist with writing and submitting abstracts, choice of sessions and travel costs. Encourage, and assist with meeting networking.
  • When colleagues visit, introduce students and postdocs and “talk them up” when they deserve it.
  • Offer advice to students on postdoc opportunities and job advice to both students and postdocs. Encourage both students and postdocs to think broadly about their career, and try not to overly influence their choice (e.g. don’t explicitly or implicitly push the student/postdoc towards an academic research career).
  • Try to meet regularly with postdocs and students. Keep in mind that young scientists often lack confidence in their own abilities and need encouragement.
  • When appropriate, encourage proposal writing, particularly for postdocs. Offer to be co-investigator if you believe that offers an advantage and also make it clear the conditions under which a grant can be moved by the postdoc to a new institution.
  • Keep students and postdocs informed on the status of their funding and make sure they know when shortfalls are anticipated or are possible.

Departmental Responsibilities Include:

  • Departments should ensure that there is a postdoc mentoring committee that meets with each postdoc and graduate student regularly – at least once per year. This committee generally does not include the adviser, although does solicit input from the adviser along with other input. The purpose of the committee is to provide an evaluation of progress and to discuss any issues that may have arisen.
  • Department Chair, or designee, is a go-to person for postdocs and graduate students who need advice or assistance on important professional issues such as resolving conflicts or “issues” with their advisers or others in the department. A designee should not be a departmental administrative assistant but should be another senior faculty member in the department or an Assistant/Deputy Chair.
  • Postdocs and senior Ph.D. students should be invited to give a departmental seminar at least once while in residence.
  • Encourage occasional social gatherings to which postdocs and graduate students are invited.

Institutional Responsibilities (as represented by a College Dean, College Graduate Program Director, or their designee) Include:

  • Arrange opportunities for seminars, panel discussions or other formats with representatives (e.g. alumni) who can discuss different career possibilities, including in different types of academic institutions (e.g. liberal arts colleges, research universities); federal laboratories, including FFRDCs (federally funded research and development centers); private industry and non-profits, including start-ups particularly those of college alumni; program management and other possibilities.
  • Arrange training in ethical conduct in research, including the topics now required by NIH and soon by NSF.
  • Arrange training in proposal and manuscript writing.
  • Arrange workshops on key topics of interest to young scientists, such as how to negotiate for a job.
  • Encourage occasional social gatherings to which postdocs and graduate students are invited.

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