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Mentor vs. Monolith

Finding and being a good graduate advisor

Mohamed Noor, Caiti Heil

Importance of Choosing Wisely

Caiti: Choosing an appropriate mentor is paramount to your success as a scientist: Your whole career is about mentoring and being mentored. This mentoring probably started with experiences that made you want to become a scientist—activities with a great high school science teacher, for example. Then, of course, part of one’s training as a Ph.D. student is how to become a mentor, which you learn both by helping others and from watching your advisor.

2012-11EthicsNoorFA.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageMohamed: … including from his or her mistakes! When I started as a new faculty member, I incorporated some strategies I observed from my past three advisors (undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral), but I picked and chose from among their approaches to form a mixture that felt right to me. I also developed some strategies of my own. Still, very few of us receive any sort of training in mentoring, so we learn almost exclusively from our experiences (good or bad). The analogies to parenting are hard to avoid—we even build family trees of “relationships” based on who trained with whom. The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) declares that thesis advisors are a conflict of interest, meaning you can never review the grants by your former advisor or your former students. Amusingly, although current spouses are explicitly disqualified from reviewing your grant proposals, your ex-husband or ex-wife could technically review your grant after several years have passed. You can never change who your advisor was after graduating, though. So, by NSF rules, you’re closer to your current or former Ph.D. advisor than to your spouse!

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