Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Mentors for new faculty

What does it really mean to have a mentor in science?  I'm just going to ramble for a bit here...  To me it can really mean two very different things.  These can be people who teach us tangible skills or concepts.  Your PhD mentor might have taught you how to do Western blots, for example.  But this isn't really the kind of mentoring that our administrators are talking about when they constantly urge us as new faculty to have a mentor.  They cite statistics showing that if you want to be successful, you MUST have a mentor.  And yet, what does an administrator in a faculty development office know about science mentoring?  How do they expect us to just FIND one!?  And even worse, how in the world do they think that an assigned mentor in a university program is going to do anything useful for us?  This brings me to what I think the second type of mentor is.  This is someone who constantly has you in the back of their mind as they go through their day because you've built a relationship with them.  When they see an important paper, they send it to you.  When they have a colleague coming for a seminar, they invite you to dinner.  When you ask them to read a paper or grant, they critique it diligently and quickly.  When someone asks them to be on a super easy, but important, committee, they suggest you instead.  When they hear that someone from your study section is visiting the university next door, they make some calls and get you on her meeting schedule.   When they get invited to write an article commentary, they suggest you instead.  These types of relationships don't happen over night, and they will rarely, if ever, come about because of a university program.  The effective mentors I have in my life also get something back from me (or at least they once did).  My PhD and postdoc mentors had me working like crazy in their labs and publishing lots of papers.  That built up a lot of good will that I'm still cashing in on.  At my new university, I have a senior collaborator who got a paper published very quickly because of a technique that I brought here.  We now have ongoing projects and he's constantly doing things for me like I mentioned above. How does this happen?  I don't consider myself to be particularly gregarious.  I'm actually pretty shy and maybe even socially awkward.  I wouldn't say that I'm "friends" with any of my mentors outside of work or even inside of work.  But what I think I have going for me is that I'm hard working, open to collaborations, and do a good job when I'm tasked with things.  Those are the reasons that I have mentors. 

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