This is the third blog post on the talk at the Biomedicum Young Researchers Symposium by Gretchen Repasky. You can find the first blog post, on Connecting with colleagues and building communities here and the second blog post on Broadening career perspectives here.
Today’s topic is: Mentoring for success in science and other careers – A brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.
There are many reasons for having a mentor: Building scientific knowledge, encouraging critical thinking, learning new skills –writing, data analysis, publishing and more – get advice in choosing career paths, finding a job, networking opportunities, encouragement and personal advice. While your PI is also your mentor, one person might not fulfil all these needs, so consider finding more opportunities for mentoring.
Mentoring can be done one on one, as a formalized mentorship or informal interviews, from senior to junior or peer to peer. It can also be in the form of group mentoring. Junior researchers can learn career-boosting skills by forming their own groups. Mentor circles combine the advantages of both mentoring networks and peer-to-peer mentoring. Gretchen also recommended the following text on the process of learning to be a mentor.
There are a multitude of benefits from mentoring, both for the mentor and for the mentee. It can yield career and scientific advice, achieving more networking contacts, or even a new job opportunity. Another benefit is personal development such as confidence and self-respect, and to strengthen interpersonal skills such as communication. The mentee needs to be proactive and reach out. Both the mentor and the mentee need to be active listeners, willing to step out of their comfort zones, curious and engaged with their fields, responsible and respectful. The mentee should be dedicated to their own success whereas a good mentor should be dedicated to others’ success. Being a mentor fosters leadership skills and gives you a chance to engage in new roles and responsibilities.
In my first blog post on Gretchen’s talk, I mentioned peer-to-peer mentoring organized by the FIMM PhD and postdoc council. For postdocs, FIMM also hosts a 2nd Mentor Programme, providing a mentor different from the PI. This is a personally designed relationship for scientific advice, career and personal development. A research and funding plan is developed and presentation with yearly follow-up discussion on the progress of the research. This project is strongly supported by FIMM group leaders who, incidentally, have their own mentor programme. All group leaders at FIMM meet three to four times a year for group peer-mentoring. The PI who brings a specific concern to the meeting is the coachee, and the group of PIs that attend are coaches.
As a PhD student at KI, you have a mentor, it is required for the registration. The KI mentor info says: “The intention is not to be a scientific asset – that is the responsibility of the supervisors. A mentor is supposed to give advice to the doctoral student as an independent person concerning issues such as career planning, contacts with stakeholders outside KI (e.g. researchers and authorities) or other types of advice.” However, there is no formalized programme for how the mentoring is supposed to happen. In my case, I met my mentor three times during my doctoral studies: once when he signed the registration papers, once when he lectured on a course, and once when he signed the papers for the defence. What a stupid waste of an opportunity! Don’t make the same mistake; your mentor is probably a very knowledgeable person you can learn a lot from. And if they are not what you feel you need most, find another! Once you have acquired your mentor, you – the mentee – need to be accountable, take charge of scheduling, and prepare questions and discussion ahead of the meeting. Together, you should define clear and specific goals for the mentorship. It can be good to document the meetings. In the meetings you need to be selfless, open, and sincere. Just remember, while both personal and professional topics are good, private ones are not.
As of yet, there is no formal postdoc mentorship programme at KI, but there is nothing to stop you from finding a mentor of your own. Gretchen’s advice on how to find one, or several, personal mentors is to first identify your need and then invest the time in researching mentors. To make group mentoring work, you need to agree on group norms and manage relationships. Issues need to be resolved before ending, and the discussions should focus on group-appropriate topics, to minimize individual mentoring. KI also has a list of some external mentorship programmes for researchers.
As this is my final post on Gretchen’s talk, I also want to share her take home messages. While she has pointed to many good examples of solutions from FIMM, Gretchen stresses that what works in one place may not necessarily work in another, and so we have to think critically about specific needs and specific solutions for each specific situation. In each situation, whether it is to build interactive communities, develop your career or find someone to be your sounding board, you should:
- Identify the needs
- Think analytically – we’re scientists, that’s what we do
- Be creative in finding solutions
- Be proactive rather than reactive
- Practice with peers
- Don’t worry overmuch, everyone struggles
Here is again the link to Gretchen’s presentation.