Jump to content

Is or was your advisor just a scientific advisor, a mentor, or a friend


Charise White
 Share

Recommended Posts

Charise White

Hi all,

I have had four advisors in my journey as a scientist through undergraduate, graduate, and postdoc experiences. Now, as I face the next step in my career, one in which I might become an advisor, I am thinking a good deal about my relationship with each of them. All of them without question are/were good scientists. I learned a tremendous amount from each of them, so I have had good scientific role models. However, perhaps with the exception of my undergraduate advisor, I did not consider any of them mentors or friends during the time I worked for them. My question to all of you is, Is this the norm? What do/did you consider your advisor(s)? If you are or have been an advisor, which of these do/did you strive to be? I wonder if there is some mutual exclusion among these roles. For example, I see a mentor as someone who puts the mentee’s interest above his or her own. Is this incompatible with being a hard-driven scientist who is well published and funded?

As always, I look forward to your replies.

Cheers,
cw14

P.S. As I created this post, I see that there are a few interesting posts related to the topic:

  1. Don’t Just Sink or Swim: Mentor Intentionally
  2. Moving from Adviser to Mentor
  3. Your Science Avengers: How to Assemble Your Mentoring Team
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Greetings,
In my thinking, the mentor will provide a basic necessary tools for the mentee to grow as an independently thinking scientist. The mentor should not clone him/ herself. A good mentor can be a good life-term friend as well. However, during the training and early stage of the carrier certain boundaries should be observed . It is a matter of good and healthy balance need to be established.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It has been about 37 years, but my mentor was certainly not a friend. In reality he was not really interested in my future at all. However, his lab was a part of a very large multidisciplinary research lab which provided endless human and material resources. So, anyone who was pursuing a graduate degree had vast opportunities. My mentor provided basic but priceless training in techniques the subject of my PhD was very trendy at the time. I was skillful in performing novel neuroscience techniques and this assisted in providing me opportunities for collaborations during the preparation of my PhD which did not please my mentor. I wanted a career in research, my independence and the ability to direct a lab. I was not looking for a friend or a social pal. In reality I am fortunate that my mentor interacted with me the way he did because it provided me with the ability to fend for myself. He got me through my PhD and I got myself all my future positions. My approach was that I was preparing my future not his. I think that if a mentor is well established and feels secure about his or her career then it should be easy to put the student’s interest as top priority. That said when I became a mentor I was well established senior scientist. My PhD students had no respect for me and were not even interested in knowing about my contributions to their own research projects. I provided them with endless opportunities to perform research, learn techniques, discuss their results, guide them, give presentations at conferences even paying their airfare out of my own pocket.
They ended up having the same attitude towards me as I have towards my mentor. None of us are friends. Two extremely different mentor to student interactions same results.
I have enjoyed a successful research career one of my students finished his PhD and got employed at a University. So in the long run it seems that it is the onus of the student to drive his career and not depend on his mentor.

I certainly do not endorse the mentor who needs to consider his or her research lab as an extended family with needs to have weekly social gatherings. I am also glad that I was not expected to have socialize with my lab when at an international conference. Frankly when I was at an international conference I was very pleased to meet persons who I did not see very often. Never have understood the need to dine with the lab at a conference

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi @cw14,

While I’ve only had a handful of advisors so far (at the tail-end of my PhD), I’ve had the seemingly rare experience where both my UG + grad advisors have been advisors, mentors, and friends. There’s a lot of debate about ‘being friends’ with your trainees on the sci Twittershpere (for example). But in my experience, working with (and for) someone who sees me as a person, with obligations outside of the lab, and that I can talk to about non-science things as much as I can about brain hormones, makes the often difficult experience of doing science much more bearable. With my undergrad mentees, I always try to strive for professional training, but also treat them as colleagues/friends. That’s always been the biggest ‘draw’ for the 2 main labs I’ve worked in - is being treated with respect and as a person. Just my two cents!

Hope this helps in some way :slight_smile:

Dan

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 weeks later...
Charise White

Thank you, Dan. Your relationship with your advisor sounds pleasant. Did your advisor do or say anything to foster such a congenial atmosphere?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes absolutely. Some subtle, some less so. He puts a lot of emphasis on ‘fit’ and ‘culture’ in the lab. He’s also fought a long uphill battle with administration to preserve our common room area (a small table with 4-6 chairs) so we all have the opportunity to chat about research, ideas, and non-science things (e.g. make cut out snowflakes in the shape of Game of Thrones sigils). We also go out regularly as a lab (UGs, techs/manager, grad, PDs) and we invite him along every now and then and when he’s able to he stops by for beer and a chat. He also prioritizes family and makes a point to leave by 4:30 every day so he can see his kids and partner, which is emphasized to us as well (e.g. most our PDs have started families during their time in our lab, which he’s been super supportive of. Additionally, he’s always happy to have us [grad students/PDs esp.] take off time to visit family since we’re all non-Massachusetts natives). There’s honestly a lot more to say, but he’s just really good a striking a balance of friendly professional.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 month later...
Gabriella Panuccio

WOW @Dan_Vahaba! Your PI seems like a dream human being. It is (in my own and by indirect experience) very hard if not impossible to find someone like him, you’re very lucky.
I find that, unfortunately, often personal interests, regardless of the career level, get in the way of establishing a good relationship between PI and student. Some PIs also purposely generate unhealthy competition among team members in order to push them to do more and more. Let’s not even mention the disaster happening when the PI is also a narcissist…
I think that the considerations made by all of you lead to the main point of ‘what it takes to be a good scientist’. In my opinion, it takes nothing more than just being a good human being.
I also believe that scientific/technical training should not be the sole role of a PI. Mentoring is what makes a Master’s or a PhD student decide whether to pursue research or rather quit it. Not everyone is brave enough to give a radical turn to their career and they may end up being unhappy after a lot of commitment, effort and sacrifice to reach the long-waited for graduation day.
This does not necessarily mean ‘being friends’, but just ‘being there’ to listen to the student seen as a human being, not just another person on a temporary ‘team permit’.
In building the scientific community of tomorrow, we need to nourish talents, guide them through difficult moments and celebrate when they exceed our expectations or even surpass us.
@Jaadeja, I am sorry to hear about your story. You really did your best and I’d be proud of it. Maybe the generation gap made those students see you as outside their sphere, or maybe they could just not appreciate the value and the importance of your commitment. Luckily, these are not the only type of students on planet Earth. I agree that the student should not depend on the mentor in terms of absolute guidance for a career path, i.e., we must find our way. However, our experience in pursing a career can be as precious as all the technical skills and the scientific knowledge that we can pass on to our students. So, I agree with @AAgbas that we need to establish a healthy balance. If we want to pursue an independent research career, we must act independently; if we want to become leaders, we need to act as leaders. If we wait four our supervisor to provide us with a job opportunity, I think we’re on the wrong way.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...