Review: Mentoring for young scientists

The 17th meeting of astronomy twitter journal club turned out to be a very lively discussion of the importance of mentoring to early career scientists. The topic was suggested by Marcel Haas and he explains why he put it forward in our preview post. The full transcript of the meeting is also available to read, if you want more details than are given in this review.

First point for discussion: Should young scientists be mentored?

I think there’s a fair case for students not being mentored too much. Just having somebody to ask questions could be enough. – @brucesibthorpe

Yes! one supervisor will be biased, has a conflict of interests wrt you and will probably not have all desired skills. – @MarcelAstroph

What kind of topics should mentoring encompass? e.g. career development, skills in paper writing or oral presentations, help in visa situation or day care systems

important role of a mentor is to encourage mentee to apply for awards, grants, etc that they might not on their own – @astropixie

Or discourage, as appropriate? – @ritatojeiro

Discouraging somebody is as or more important than encouraging them. Nobody else will be in a position to do this. – @brucesibthorpe

I’ve never been on the advisor side, but seems cruel not to encourage for awards, doesn’t it? – @astropixie

I find it more cruel to encourage someone into a difficult career if not confident, or optimistic about their ability – @ritatojeiro

As a PDRA I had a boss whom I could trust to tell me things I didn’t want to hear. Very valuable. – @StephenSerjeant

So do you think it’s best to have a mentor who’s not your supervisor? Someone who can take more of a global view of you?

I think it’s crucial for a young scientist to seek out a non-advisor mentor. someone from a different field or institution even – @astropixie

Would a mentor from a different field really be useful? Would it still work if they weren’t a scientist? – @astronomyjc

I would definitely prefer a scientist, and not from too further afield. practicalities change so much with area – @ritatojeiro

I have benefitted from mentors not in my field, who understand how academic or competitive/male-dominated careers work – @astropixie

I feel strongly that every phd/postdoc should have mentoring from someone other than their supervisor – @sarahbridle

well I could tell her anything as she was out of field. That was handy! But I had to explain stuff a lot. – @KarenLMasters

disagree; a supervisor can also at times be a great mentor; depends on the issues. My sprvsrs have been mntrs too – @davidwhogg

How do you go about getting a mentor?

I think it’s difficult to get any formal mentoring processing working. I never saw the one assigned to me for my PhD. – @brucesibthorpe

I’m a Reader, and I got a mentor when I started my job: a prof in Earth Sciences. Useful for strategy, politics. – @StephenSerjeant

mentee should seek out and choose mentor, then ask politely šŸ™‚ once I set up a meeting after hearing a great talk. we talked science then I (shyly) asked about mentoring… – @astropixie

I think informal mentoring tends to disfavour less confident people. Need formal too. – @sarahbridle

Agreed. i would never dream of approaching one, even if felt the need. – @ritatojeiro

Agreed that informal mentoring is not as good for less confident, but formal mentoring often doesn’t “click” for me – @davidwhogg

Wow, that is VERY interesting. I’m now won over by the need for formal mentoring. – @StephenSerjeant

a formal scheme, even if not a formal allocation of mentors, would make me more confident about asking – @ritatojeiro

Formal does not mean that the mentor is not chosen by the mentee, it can just be a stimulus? – @MarcelAstroph

There are formal schemes available, e.g. http://t.co/pLtFEE3D (for women). – @emeegray

A few years ago I was desperate to find someone who could advise on career + family. Any academic would have done! Luckily(?) I was so desperate that I threw myself at various people and they were mostly wonderful.. So go for it?! – @sarahbridle

So what would you expect from a mentor? Should the onus be on the mentee to make the effort to have meetings etc?

IMO a major mentoring role is socializing to unwritten field norms. Skills, productivity, standards… – @NGC3314

it’s the mentee’s role to set up appointments, I think. @ – @ritatojeiro this also helps to start building courage – @astropixie

clearly a good mentor can help with encouragement to seek help and mentoring! Key professional skills – @davidwhogg

that’s precisely why I needed a mentor at the junior fac level: @emeegray @sarahbridle “navigate…power channels” – @davidwhogg

How many people taking part/lurking here tonight have/had a mentor? Was it a good thing if so?

haven’t had mentoring myself but i was wondering this exact point — peer or near peer mentors over v senior ones… – @augustmuench

Had two, both non-astronomers and as part of a formal scheme. Incredibly grateful to both. – @emeegray

Never had a mentor in a formal sense, but have always made sure to have lunch/coffee with people, talk a lot. – @johngizis

I had two mentors, at the same time, with one I did work. Incredibly helpful, both of them! – @MarcelAstroph

one formally as part of http://t.co/rbmGoX59 Still keep in touch once in a while. Much more informal “adhoc” advice. – @KarenLMasters

I’ve never had mentors,but good mentoring supervisors/bosses. good friends both, but still feel obligation towards them – @ritatojeiro

The meeting ended with a suggestion…

Is there a list of astronomers happy to be mentors anywhere? Could start one? – @sarahbridle

a list of senior astronomers who’d be willing to be mentors would be a HUGE result of this meeting I think! šŸ™‚ – @evanocathain

Great if someone starts a publicly viewable signup list (google doc?) for astronomy mentors. (Am not volunteering to start it tho) – @sarahbridle

Any volunteers?

And finally:

Important: a mentor doesn’t tell you what to do – but helps you figure it out for yourself. – @emeegray

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