Sound mentorship can contribute significantly to the intellectual and professional development of mentees, but mentors also stand to gain strong leadership skills in this process, and the ability to draw the best from a team can only aid in the overall success of one’s research agenda, according to February’s Editorial in Nature Cell Biology (12, 101; 2010). While picking the appropriate problem and the right approaches is fundamental to a running a successful research programme, capable mentoring of laboratory members and new faculty members is also crucial.
What are some of the objectives of good mentoring? The goal is to be able to recognize the individual potential of mentees and to encourage them in research projects that match their interests, skills and personalities. Successful mentors foster creativity and independence and ensure that trainees have opportunities to develop essential skills beyond bench work for their future success in research, for example, in critical analysis and communication. Instilling high ethical standards is also important. A mentor who can provide an experienced perspective on the challenges of balancing work and family is invaluable.
New PIs face multiple challenges — setting up a laboratory from scratch, recruiting and managing a team, completing administrative tasks, managing a budget, setting research priorities, writing and reviewing grants and papers, and designing and teaching classes — and often these responsibilities have to be juggled with family commitments. Time management is therefore an essential skill for the new PI. Experienced faculty members can help guide new colleagues through this thicket, as well as advise on developing a viable research agenda, navigating an increasingly competitive funding environment, negotiating with administrators and managing people.
Although a strong track record in mentorship is unlikely to be a decisive factor in tenure or funding decisions unless bolstered by a strong publication record, its importance in research is becoming better appreciated by awards and recognition by scientific societies, journals, and other organizations.
Alas, researchers with enviable publication records are not always committed to good mentoring. Graduate students and postdoctoral trainees would be well advised to consider the importance of thoughtful mentoring when choosing an advisor. Mentees exposed to good mentoring are better positioned to absorb these attributes and become successful mentors themselves. Universities, research organizations and funding bodies must promote a culture of mentorship through all levels of academia, as a supportive training environment will define and develop the next generation of scientists.
This is a shortened version of the Editorial at Nature Cell Biology (12, 101; 2010).