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Mentor vs. Monolith

Finding and being a good graduate advisor

Mohamed Noor, Caiti Heil

Career Development

Caiti: Networking isn’t just for the business world—we need to meet scientists who will be future colleagues, collaborators or even postdoctoral research supervisors. It was particularly intimidating for me to walk up to “famous” scientists, introduce myself and ask questions or advice from them. One of the most helpful experiences for me has been making lists of people to meet at upcoming scientific conferences, and then having my advisor facilitate some of these introductions if he’s going to the same conference. Doing this a few times helped me become more comfortable initiating such introductions on my own.

But I know an even more challenging problem is what to do if you don’t want to follow the same career path as your advisor and introductions at such conferences are not forthcoming. Good advisors discuss multiple possible careers and encourage students to develop skills suited for diverse paths.

Mohamed: This is a tough one for advisors, because most of us were trained in and pursued only a single path. We have no idea how to get jobs in industry or government or other areas. Many of us have only ever been at particular types of universities, so we may not even know how to approach different academic routes. That said, we should not presume that all our students want to be clones of us—it’s becoming increasingly clear that there won’t be enough positions or funding for that to be possible anyway, even if we erroneously presumed it was their desire to do so. A good advisor will advise to the extent of their own knowledge, and will help students build connections to others who can advise them on that with which they are unfamiliar. Advisors need not feel like they are the student’s only resource.

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