The topic of mentor and trainee responsibilities covers the relative roles and responsibilities of both the mentor and the trainee. This includes the best approaches for selecting a mentor, managing conflicts and potential competition between mentor and trainee, mapping out the extent of collaboration between mentor and mentee and constructive procedures for mitigating abuses and resolving grievances. It is also important to make the distinction that a mentor is not always a direct research supervisor and so may play a different role than the supervisor in the trainee’s professional development.
Postdocs are often in the unique position of simultaneously serving as both mentor and trainee. Since they are typically the most senior researcher in a group, they are frequently called upon to supervise the research of graduate and undergraduate students. While learning the extent of their role as research mentor, postdocs will also need to understand the potential limitations on their role since they may not be the official supervisor for these trainees.
The importance of the postdoc’s supervisor to his or her future career cannot be overstated, since the good recommendation of the supervisor is key to obtaining the next position. This considerable dependence of the postdoc on the supervisor’s goodwill can lead to conscious or unconscious abuses and can be a particular challenge for international postdocs who may be concerned about jeopardizing their visa status. Formal grievance procedures can help; however, it is important to note that even in the event that a postdoc wins in a formal ruling, they will still lose to some extent due to the loss of job recommendation and other fall out.
RCR programs that can provide guidance and information on these topics will greatly help postdocs navigate their relationships with their supervisors, mentors and trainees. Some institutions are also moving towards mentoring resources and programs for faculty and more senior mentors as well, since formal training on mentoring is not widespread.
Case Studies and Teaching Materials
Mentoring Scientists: An Ethical Dilemma An articles from Science Careers examining a case study on the ethics of mentoring, such as how to choose a mentor and who is the most appropriate person.
Chapter 3 of the textbook Scientific Integrity deals with Mentoring:
Macrina, F.L. (2005) Scientific Integrity: Text and Cases in Responsible Conduct of Research (Third Edition). American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington, D.C.
Additional case studies on Responsible Authorship from the Online Ethics Center at the National Academies of Engineering
Handbooks and Guidelines
Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering
Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, HHMI-sponsored handbook by Jo Handelsman, Christine Pfund, Sarah Miller Lauffer, and Christine Maidl Pribbenow; it outlines a seminar on how to be a mentor
How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty in a Diverse University
"Mentoring and Being Mentored"
Mentoring International Postdocs: Working to Advance Science & Careers
On the Right Track: A Manual for Research Mentors (2003) is available for a fee from the Council of Graduate Schools. This manual discusses the individual and corporate responsibilities of graduate faculty in producing competent scholars capable of conducting independent, original and ethically sound research.
The University of California, San Francisco, has developed mentoring guidelines for its faculty:
Science Careers has multiple resources on mentoring, including this article on “Enduring Qualities in Mentoring”
UCSF Mentoring Program
Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows
MentorNet is an internet based mentoring resource that connects individuals seeking mentors with those willing to serve as mentors through e-mail exchanges:
The Association for Women in Science (AWIS) has a number of resources focused on mentoring:
The American Association of Medical Colleges has developed a compact for postdocs and their supervisors and lays out their relative roles and responsibilities. Some institutions have implemented the compact as a (non-binding) contract to be signed upon beginning the postdoctoral appointment.