This week’s meeting: Mentoring for young scientists

The topic for the next meeting of the astronomy twitter journal club (Thursday, 20:10 GMT) is the importance (or otherwise) of mentoring for helping young scientists establish themselves. It was suggested by Marcel Haas, and I’ll pass you over to him to explain further…

Here is another ‘paper suggestion’, or rather a suggestion for a discussion topic: Mentoring systems for young scientists (grad students, postdocs). As a young scientist you are in a crucial point in your career. In a few years you can be either ‘made’ (resulting in a permanent position in astronomy or elsewhere if you like) or ‘broken’ (leaving you outside of astronomy while you wanted to stay, with the feeling your science years were lost time). In practice most scientist are left on their own to pave their career path, while help in such issues could be of major advantage for the person him-/herself and for the institution that employ them.

A couple of questions I would have in mind for discussion are:

    – Should young scientists be mentored? In the remainder I will assume that the answer to this is yes. If you think not, I would be interested to know why!

    - What is the kind of topics mentoring should encompass? You could think of career development, skills in paper writing or oral presentations, help in visa situation or day care systems

    - Should the ‘mentor’ just be the supervisor, or would it be useful to have a second senior scientist mentor you (and if so: is it advisable to have that mentor be in the same sub-field of astronomy)?

    – Should mentoring be optional or obligatory for mentors and ‘mentees’?

    - What would you yourself expect from a mentor in the early stages of a career?

    - Do current and prospective supervisors need more training to be a mentor than is the case now?

    - How can/should an eventual mentoring program be monitored to ensure success?

My reason for this is threefold. First, I am interested in how other young scientists feel about this. Secondly, I am involved in the organization of a mentoring program at my institute and we are investigating what such a program should be, how it can be implemented and how we monitor this. Lastly, I am participating in a National Academies panel on ‘The State of the Postdoctoral Experience for Scientists and Engineers’, for which input from a large group of people from the community would be more than welcome!

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2 Responses to This week’s meeting: Mentoring for young scientists

  1. Barb Buenz says:

    Hi Emma,

    I have spent the last 10 years as a practitioner in the filed of mentoring. I would be happy to share some insights with you if you’d like to have a conversation. Some initial thoughts to some of the the questions you pose above.

    Having a mentor that is not your direct supervisor allows the mentee to have a “safe” place to discuss the difficult issues that he/she may not feel comfortable talking about with a supervisor. It is also great to have varied perspectives.

    It is never a good idea to force someone to be a mentor. A mentor needs to have a natural willingness to give back to someone else.

    Training both your mentors and mentees is important. It helps to align expectations for the program. Properly aligned expectations is one of the key factors in a successful experience. Also, simply because someone has advanced in his/her career it doesn’t necessarily mean they have all the skills to mentor another. This is where training is invaluable. Many reasons justify training your mentors and mentees on how to successfully manage a partnership.

    There are some great free online tools for surveying participants. I also highly recommend checkpoints throughout the life of the program.

    I hope this is helpful and feel free to reach out to me if you would like to talk further.

  2. Pingback: Review: Mentoring for young scientists | Astronomy Journal Club

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