Choosing your career path is a difficult one. Doing it on your own is even more so. Having someone to talk to and share your concerns/challenges/ideas with can be extremely beneficial. The official term for someone like that is a Mentor. At the Naturejobs Career Expo in London this September, a panel of four academics got together to discuss their wildly different careers: Jim Usherwood from the Royal Veterinary College only spends his time doing research. Anita Hall from Imperial College London only does teaching. Lorraine Kerr and Louise Horsfall from the University of Edinburgh split their time (with different percentages) between research, teaching, business and management.
One of the questions our audience posed to them was: “How important is it to have a mentor in your academic career?” Here are their responses.
Usherwood suggests speaking to the postdocs – they’re the ones that do the research and will give you a “reality check”. By approaching many postdocs you can get lots of different opinions.
Hall has found that having a mentor to whom you can relate is very valuable. Don’t reach for the Nobel Laureate, go for someone who’s done one more postdoc position than you, or who has started their postdoc after their PhD.
Horsfall disagrees with Usherwood: “if you’re aiming for an academic position, you don’t want to go to a postdoc because they haven’t got the academic position either.” She suggests working with the university mentor schemes that are provided by universities. “It’s just an encouragement from somebody who is outside your immediate situation. They can give a different perspective.”
Mentors are a big discussion topic in the science career space. We’ve talked about the issue before: