I think a serious misconception amongst trainees is that the only thing that matters in grad school is racking up a huge body count of hours at the lab bench. I see them grinding away at the bench hour after hour only to go home too exhausted to do any critical thinking. You have to partition out some of your time to read, write, and more importantly just to think. I've asked these lab bench workaholics how often they are reading and the answers are quite frightening. In my opinion (and for what little it is worth) you need that precious time to just sit and process your own research, your subfield, and what is going on around you in science. This is what sustains the flame of intellectual curiosity and keeps you mentally sharp and focused. At least for me anyways.
So I have heard much debate recently over the topic of mentorship and its been split amongst two camps, those that believe that the quality of mentorship has increased and those that believe the golden age of mentorship has passed us by. I personally like to think its getting better what with people talking more about shitty mentorship, whole workshops regarding mentorship, and recent prospective graduate students seeming to be more cognizant of this and ask potential mentors about their mentorship style.
I've heard from detractors that PI's are too busy to mentor like they used to back in the day because of the increased stress of getting out papers and grants, in addition to dealing with the ever increasing myriad of institutional bureaucracy.
So dear reader, what do you think is the current state of mentorship?
Normally doing certain things like being a closing out a baseball game by committee, rarely seem to work well in the long term. However for mentorship I think its a great thing. A few people I know going through the PhD process seemed to be more than satisfied to just be mentored by their PhD advisor alone. I think this is dumb as hell personally, I tend to opt for the mentorship by committee option. And I'm not just talking about my own PhD committee, I've expanded my net to other professors and even those outside of academia.
My advisor's advice is invaluable and very helpful but much of the time it can just be limited to the realm of my project. Sometimes mentorship in the areas of my future and professional development can be lacking. These are the things that rarely come up in our meetings, he's much more interested to see my most recent data, and rightly so because it affects his bottom line. But from time to time, throw a bone at me on what I should be doing or improve upon or opportunities to look into that might help me on later down the road. And that's why I'm tossing my fishing line in other ponds, I'm trying to catch more than what you just have to offer.
Smartly, I have developed a great rapport with my PhD committee members and keep in touch with them about what I'm doing and should be doing in professional life, not just my thesis project. Also I have reached out to people and industry, policy, and regulatory bodies to get their perspective on what they do and what they value about their jobs. Why would you reach out to someone who works at the FDA? Simple, there aren't that many tenure track jobs out there homey. You gotta keep your eyes out for any opportunity and it provides a fresh opinion from my advisor and committee who have been locked into academia forever. How did I meet these folks? Easily in fact, I just walked around some meetings and pressed some flesh and shot the shit. I showed interest in their work and asked if I could contact them in the future. Business cards were swapped and emails were exchanged.
Its interesting to know what areas of industry research are drying up and which ones are blossoming, what the new regulation is coming down the pipeline, or what inspectors are looking for. I enjoy chatting with these folks to see what they do, what they love about their jobs, the shittier aspects of their chosen profession, and what are critical skills needed to do what they do.
So if you want to just take everything your advisor says as gospel and not seek out alternative advice, go ahead. Not me man, I'm always seeking out new perspectives.
Since I had such a positive experience last year with having Genomic RepairGirl as high school intern last summer, I think I'm going to mentor another student this summer. And keeping with my belief that promoting in women in science should be a priority, I'd like to take another female applicant. Genomic RepairGirl wanted to come back to my lab but I refused her on grounds that she should try out another lab this summer to broaden her experiences and skills. Besides the mechanism that funds their stipends is centered around getting students access to science, letting them see how hypothesis driven research works. So it would be nice to give a fresh face and opportunity to have this experience. So here is the position description in case you were interested in being mentored by the Genomic Repairman.
Job Duties include:
-Actually giving a crap about what you do and are not just here for the paycheck.
-Attention to detail.
-Waking me up from my naps that I take in the dark room.
-Upon adequate training assuming all my responsibilities for cell culture. This is a time sink for me and its a testament to how much I trust you to let you manage my cells.
-Beer runs for me (if you are a college student above the age of 21).
-You must entertain me with stories of how difficult it is to choose between watching Jersey Shore or Teen Mom if they are on at the same time.
-Don't mind being laughed at by me when you ask to be my Facebook friend. It took me 5 years to friend my sister and you think 10 weeks of indentured servitude is going to get you into my exclusive circle of friends that includes the girl in high school who stood me up for a date and later got pregnant by some bucktooth motherfucker that worked in the Dairy Queen in my town? Puleez.
-Willing to learn how to run and optimize new techniques that I need for use in my project.
-Act as my security detail and keep vendors at bay by telling them I'm busy while I'm loading gels or just sitting in the corner of the lab reading ESPN magazine.
-Go outside and play catch with me when something in the lab pisses me off.
-Be the best intern I've ever had
On second thought I might rehire Genomic RepairGirl...