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Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities

The word mentor comes from Greek mythology. Mentor, a close friend and counselor of Odysseus, advised and trained Odysseus’s son Telemachus during Odysseus’s long absence. In the realm of academic scholarship, the word mentor is used to convey a deeper commitment than one would expect from an advisor. A mentor has extensive research experience and helps a younger scholar develop research skills and a research career. Mentoring typically involves a close relationship between two scholars with markedly different levels of experience. It also typically involves a modeling of research and career skills, and an explicit discussion and development of those skills. Although the roles can overlap, mentors are different from friends, teachers, or advisors.

The Mentoring Role

Mentors often provide guidance in the following areas:

  • Technical understanding and professional skills
  • Research ethics and scientific integrity
  • Progress in moving through a graduate program
  • Development of research projects
  • Introduction to other professional colleagues
  • Understanding cultures of disciplines
  • Opportunities to present or publish work in scholarly circles
  • Opportunities for postdoctoral training and career positions
  • Interacting with funding agencies and obtaining funding

As the breadth of this list suggests, mentors have a heavy responsibility. Sometimes young scholars rely on multiple individuals in order be mentored in all of these areas. Finding the right mentor or constellation of mentors to provide guidance in all the above areas is critical to a successful research career. Recognizing the importance of mentorship, some graduate programs seek ways to help in establishing such relationships.

Being Mentored

While mentors have responsibilities to share knowledge and experience with younger scholars and to respect their rights, mentors also have rights and expectations of younger scholars. To foster mentoring relationships, a younger scholar can:

  • Approach appropriate senior scholars
  • Be diligent in studies and scholarship
  • Understand the formal requirements of programs and universities
  • Maintain regular contact with advisors and mentors
  • Respect the boundaries of advisors and mentors
  • Hear constructive criticism gracefully
  • Follow thoughtful advice
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