Part 5: The Importance of Mentoring
by Amanda Rasmussen
Finding and making the most of good mentors is incredibly important (dare I say in particular for the transition from post-doc to PI?). There are blogs elsewhere about this (here) including my comments and experience so I won’t restate the same thing. Instead I’ll just point out that getting regular time with mentors (official or otherwise) is incredibly important for dealing with many of the challenges associated with the transition from Post-doc to PI.
“Identify the last person to join the department before you – they will remember being in your position, and are bound to have good advice about surviving the transition.”
“I have the hardest time walking to someone’s office and demanding their time for my questions and worries. Hence, I schedule recurring meetings with my official and unofficial mentors, and I don’t feel guilty taking their time and bringing up even the small problems. I’m lucky to be a PI in a place with inbuilt mentor system and sharing an office with a PI who’s a step ahead of me.” -Kaisa
“Rather than use formal mentoring, I think I’ve always had informal mentors. There are a few people who I will go and chat casually with about career stuff, asking about their own experiences and opinions on things. This has worked well for me so far, I always think it’s best to get a few different perspectives on things, particularly as I can be quite hot-headed and make snap decisions if I’m not careful!” – Katie
And then there’s mentoring others!
“No two students are the same. I thought that I really had the mentoring thing down after my first two students, then found that the strategies I used with the first two didn’t work with the next two (so back to the drawing board). One trick I did to handle a number of undergraduates was to put them all on slightly different parts of a similarly done project (different mutant phenotyping, or PCR genotyping). That way they could help each other out (if they were reluctant to ask those in a station above them), or all be pushed on one project with little difficulty if needed. This is particularly good as the students first show up.” – Aaron
I very much enjoy providing support and inspiration to my students (both undergrad and postgrad). There are not many things better than helping students through their wobbles only to graduate with smiley faces at the end! What I find the hardest are my bad head space days. Putting my frustrations aside and mustering all the positive energy I can find to be supportive and encouraging. It’s exhausting. I’m quite proud of the fact that I gave a lecture which received top teaching scores the day after a major grant rejection. (I then spent the next day in hibernation with my office door shut!).
“Mentoring others has always been one of the best parts of the job for me. As a postdoc, you can practice these skills by mentoring undergraduate interns and master’s students. When I started as a PI, I was added as a co-supervisor to two PhD students, so I’ve been given an opportunity to contribute my mentorship and learn on the go while I’m waiting to land a grant that allows me to recruit my own team. As Aaron mentioned, no students are the same, and only way to become a good mentor is to practice! It’s also important that your team learns mentorship too, so I’m hoping to set up a system where my team members train and mentor each other.” – Kaisa
Mentoring action points: 1) read the blog here. 2) identify mentors and book regular meetings (either with the same mentor or different mentors each time). 3) reflect on your current experience with mentoring/supporting others and the diversity in each of those individuals.