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On Being a S c i e n t i s t Advising and Mentoring All researchers have had advisers; many are fortunate to have ac- quired mentors as well. An adviser oversees the conduct of research, offering guidance and advice on matters connected to research. A mentorâwho also may be an adviserâtakes a personal as well as a professional interest in the development of a researcher. A mentor might suggest a productive research direction, offer encouragement during a difficult period, help a beginning researcher gain credit for work accomplished, arrange a meeting that leads to a job offer, and offer continuing advice throughout a researcherâs career. Many suc- cessful researchers can point to mentors who helped them succeed. Researchers in need of mentors have many options. Fellow re- searchers and research assistants, administrators, and support staff all can serve as mentors. Indeed, it is useful to build a diverse community of mentors, because no one mentor usually has the expertise, back- ground, and time to satisfy all the needs of a mentee. Mentors themselves can benefit greatly from the mentoring that they provide. Through mentoring others, researchers can be exposed to new ideas, build a strong research program and network of collabo- rators, and gain the friendship and respect of beginning researchers. Mentoring fosters a social cohesion in science that keeps the profes- sion strong, and every researcher, at a variety of stages in his or her career, should act as a mentor to others. Advisers and mentors often have considerable influence over the lives of beginning researchers, and they must be careful not to abuse their authority. The relationship between an adviser or mentor and an advisee or mentee can be complex, and conflicts can arise over the allocation of credit, publication practices, or the proper division of responsibilities. The main role of an adviser or mentor is to help a researcher move along a productive and successful career trajectory. By maintaining and modeling high standards of conduct, advisers and mentors gain the moral authority to demand the same of others.
Advising a n d M e n t o r i n g A Change of Plans Joseph came back from a brief summer vacation convinced that he would be able to finish up his Ph.D. in one more semester. Though he had not discussed the status of his thesis with his adviser or any other member of his thesis committee since the spring, he was sure they would agree that he could finish up quickly. In fact, he had already begun drawing up a list of companies to which he planned to apply for a research position. However, when his research adviser heard about his plans, she im- mediately objected. She told him that the measurements he had made were not going to be enough to satisfy his dissertation committee. She said that he should plan to spend at least two more semesters on campus doing additional measurements and finishing his dissertation. Joseph had always had a good working relationship with his adviser, and her advice had been very helpful in the past. Plus, he knew that he would need a good recommendation from her to get the jobs that he wanted. But he couldnât help but wonder if her advice this time might be self-serving, since her own research would benefit greatly from the ad- ditional set of measurements. 1. Should Joseph try to change his adviserâs mind? For example, should he review what his measurements already show and compare that with what the new measurements would add and then ask his adviser to reconsider? 2. Should Joseph talk with other members of his thesis committee to get their opinions? 3. What actions could Joseph have taken earlier to avoid the problem? 4. What actions can Joseph take now to avoid future disappointment? Beginning researchers also have responsibilities toward their advisers and mentors. They should develop clear expectations with advisers and mentors concerning availability and meeting times. Also, beginning researchers have a responsibility to seek out and work with mentors rather than expect that potential mentors will seek them out (though potential mentors often do take the initiative in establishing these relationships). Readily available guidelines that spell out the expectations of advisers, mentors, advisees, and menteesâwhether provided through individual research groups or through research
On Being a S c i e n t i s t Choosing a Research Group When a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow is deciding whether to join a research group, gathering information about the group and its leaders is valuable in helping that individual arrive at a good decision. Sometimes this information can be acquired from written materials, from conversations with current or previous students or postdoctoral fellows in the group, or by asking the senior researcher directly. This may help to determine whether you are really interested in the research that the group is or will be pursuing. Among the useful questions that could be asked are the following:a â¢ Who oversees the work of beginning researchers? â¢ Will a research adviser also serve as a mentor? If so, what is that personâs mentoring style? â¢ What role does a trainee have in choosing and developing a project? â¢ How long do graduate students or postdoctoral fellows typically take to finish their training? â¢ What are the sources of funding for a project, and is the funding likely to be disrupted? â¢ Do beginning researchers participate in writing journal articles, and how are they recognized as authors? â¢ How much competition is there among group members and between the group and other groups? â¢ Are there potential dangers from chemical, biological, or radio- active agents? If so, what training is offered in these areas? â¢ What are the policies regarding ownership of intellectual prop- erty developed by the group? â¢ Are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows discouraged from continuing their projects when they leave? â¢ Are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows encouraged and funded to attend professional meetings and make presentations? â¢ Are there opportunities for other kinds of professional develop- ment, such as giving lectures, supervising others, or applying for funds? aâFor additional questions, please see: Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, Phillip A. Griffiths, Chair, Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering, National Academy Press, 1997. 84 pp.
Advising a n d M e n t o r i n g institutionsâcan define the terms of these relationships. As with all relationships between humans, there can be no guarantee for compat- ibility, but both sides should act professionally, and institutions must promote good advising and mentoring by rewarding individuals who exhibit these skills and by offering training in how to become a better adviser or mentor.