Mentoring in the Middle: Advice for Postdocs

1.  Goal-setting 

Identification of professional and personal goals.  Not set in stone- may evolve over time, but good to check in periodically to reflect on whether you are progressing toward these goals and whom you need to be interacting with to do so.

2. Relationship between mentor and mentee should be based on a common goal

Advancement of academic, career and personal growth of the mentee.  Both mentor and mentee can benefit greatly from this relationship.

Related to this is the importance of giving and receiving feedback- you are mentoring others, but you are also seeking mentorship from senior faculty and/or administrators.  You are developing your mentorship skills while experiencing varying levels of mentorship from your colleagues.

There isn’t one ideal formula- what works for you may not work for all of your students.  Remember- the human factor in mentorship relationships means that no two models are identical.

3.  Preparedness of mind re: opportunities for mentoring and being mentored

The great microbiologist Louis Pasteur said that chance favors the prepared mind.  Take advantage of the fact that you are in a premier institution with people who have an enormous breadth and depth of expertise and experience.  Your senior colleagues are not your only mentors- there are others who may provide valuable guidance or insights toward other aspects of your career or personal goals. Individuals can benefit from having multiple mentors, because each mentor may have different strengths.  Be prepared to be receptive to mentorship from different sources, which can lead you to new opportunities.

4.  Time management

Intentionally develop your time management skills.  If you only have a 10 minute window before your next meeting/lecture, consider what you can do in 10 minutes rather than try to continue working on a substantive project (fill out a registration form for a conference?  Take care of an email response?).

Insert appointments with yourself in your Calendar to carve out time for writing papers, grants.

When considering how many UTRA students to take on, consider how much time you will need to spend mentoring and supervising them to have effective learning outcomes for the students and positive impact on your research and/or teaching.

5.  Thinking 2 steps ahead.

At what stage should your career be 3 years from now?  What about 6 years from now?  Thinking 2 steps ahead sometimes puts the options that present themselves immediately before you in a different light. If you are considering the choice between an invitation to an upcoming conference in New Zealand, versus a conference a bit later in the year in New Jersey (no offense to those of you from New Jersey), which is the better option in the long term?  Who are the scientists that will be there?  What opportunities will the respective conferences lead to further down the line?  How much data do you have now and will you have something more compelling to present 6 months from now?

6a. Communication

Communication is key for every aspect of your career.  Of course we think about the usual venues- conferences, publications, seminars. But what about teaching?  What about audiences other than our own disciplinary peers? What about outreach? -Significance of Broader Impact- you will be writing grants and you need to communicate to non-experts why they should fund you; why they should care; what it means for the public.  Teaching also requires communication skills to various audiences. Mentoring students is practice for teaching 

6b. Active Listening

Useful both as mentor and as mentee. 

7. Community-building

Belonging- sense of community.  Learning how to actively seek opportunities to be engaged in communities of practice- learning how to build community amongst your students and your research lab members.  Building a community is important for creating an environment where all under your care can flourish. 

Learn more about mentoring and being mentored.