On November 14, the Junior Faculty at Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, together with Nature Genetics, hosted a workshop for early-career researchers about mentoring in the sciences. The goal of the workshop was to identify what postdocs and new faculty members wanted from a potential mentor and how the institute could go about establishing a formal mentoring program. The workshop was a direct result of a previous workshop at KI, also co-organized by Nature Genetics. A commentary about that workshop can be found here.
Formal mentoring programs, while rare, do exist at other institutions. For example, one of the day’s speakers, Pam Ohashi, spoke about the mentorship program at the University of Toronto. Professor Ohashi spoke about the need to convince the institute that mentoring is important and will benefit the institute in the long run. In addition, it is important to provide incentives for mentors, such as including mentoring outcomes in annual performance reviews. In a formal mentoring program, an official within the institute or department (such as the department or division chair) will pair mentors and mentees. Together with the mentee, the mentor should outline an implementation plan so that specific goals can be set and progress toward them monitored. Professor Ohashi also emphasized that mentoring needs to be flexible and tailored to the specific individual. Common questions mentors had for mentees, in her experience, were related to personnel management, how to navigate the promotion process, how to write successful grant applications and what expectations should be set for trainees.
We also heard from two previous recipients of the Nature awards for mentorship in science: Barbara Demeneix and Andrew McMichael. Professor Demeneix also emphasized the point that mentoring should be a part of the career assessment for professors. This is because both the institute and mentor benefit from mentoring, not just the mentee. She also noted that mentors should be mindful of particular difficulties faced by women when mentoring young female colleagues. Professor McMichael pointed out that scientists can have many mentors, both formal and informal, throughout their careers, and that networking (such as at conferences) is crucial especially for identifying potential informal mentors. He also made an important point in that mentees have duties to their mentors, not just the other way around. You shouldn’t only contact your mentor when you need something from them.
The need for incentives for mentors was emphasized by nearly all of the speakers. Although, as one speaker noted, mentoring future scientists is an essential part of the scientific system, professors are busy and may see it only as an added burden. What kind of incentives, and how they might be implemented, was a topic of discussion.
Another issue discussed was how to maintain a mentoring program once one was established. There should be a specific person in charge of pairing mentors and mentees and making sure that incoming faculty and postdocs are assigned mentors as early as possible. There was also a general consensus that there should be regular meetings between mentors and mentees and that progress of the relationship should be formally evaluated, though what criteria should be used for evaluation was an open question.
Finally, many junior faculty members noted that the number one thing they wanted from a mentor (in addition to general career advice) was access to the mentor’s network. For example, young faculty may not know who is the best person to contact for help with a specific problem, but the mentor (a more established faculty member) will likely be able to point to the right contacts.
Based on the information from the speakers and feedback from participants and department officials present at the workshop, the Junior Faculty will likely implement a pilot program to determine the best model for an institute-wide mentoring program.
Mentorship can be an important part of each stage of an academic career, and we applaud the Junior Faculty for taking this first step toward a formal mentorship program at KI. We look forward to hearing the feedback from the workshop and seeing how the program unfolds.