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Mentoring and Training Postdoctoral Scholars

Background

The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires each proposal to include a postdoctoral researcher on the budget to include a description of mentoring activities that are planned for that postdoc. Below are excerpts of recent significant changes regarding mentoring and training of postdoctoral researchers.

Chapter III. A, Review Criteria, has been renamed Merit Review Principles and Criteria and revised to incorporate recommendations from the NSB. New language has been added on merit review principles, and revised merit review criteria language was inserted. Language regarding evaluation of mentoring plans for postdoctoral researchers has been moved from the GPG Chapter III to the Postdoctoral Mentoring Plan instructions in Chapter II.C.2.j. References to the document containing examples illustrating activities likely to demonstrate broader impacts have been deleted. This was done to eliminate confusion over the document, which was often viewed as a prescriptive list of additional requirements instead of illustrative examples.

At the University of California, postdoctoral experience emphasizes scholarship and continued research training under the oversight of a faculty mentor.

Faculty mentors are responsible for guiding and monitoring the advanced training of Postdoctoral Scholars. In that role, faculty mentors should make clear the goals, objectives, and expectations of the training program and the responsibilities of Postdoctoral Scholars, provide regular and timely assessments of the Postdoctoral Scholar's performance, and provide career advice and job placement assistance.

What is mentoring?

Scientific mentoring is a personal, on-on-one relationship between a more experienced scientist and junior scientist through which the trainee receives guidance and encouragement that contributes to professional development.

Why should you be a good mentor?

Good mentoring should be viewed as an essential ingredient for ensuring that the postdoctoral-mentor relationship is professionally productive. Mentors also often mention deriving personal satisfaction in helping nurture the next generation of scientists.

Traits of a good mentor

  • Accessibility: An open door and an approachable attitude
  • Empathy: Personal insight into what the trainee is experiencing
  • Open mindedness: Respect for each trainee's individuality and for working styles and career goals that may be different from those of the mentor
  • Consistency: Acting on your stated principles on a regular basis
  • Patience: Awareness that people make mistakes and that each person matures at his or her own rate
  • Honesty: Ability to communicate the hard truths about the trainee's chances of success
  • Savviness: Attention to the pragmatic aspects of career development
  • Trust: As a mentor, you are privy to considerable information about your trainee, including accomplishments, failures, financial situations and possibly even personal information. Information should be treated as confidential so your trainees feel they can trust you and share their ideas and problems with you.

Strategies for effective mentoring in your lab

  • Make everything a learning opportunity
  • Set specific goals and measures of accomplishment
  • Encourage strategic thinking and creativity
  • Uphold professional standards
  • Impart skills
  • Provide networking opportunities
  • Give moral support

Literature and resources on mentoring postdocs

To view an example of postdoctoral researcher mentoring plan for an NSF proposal, please download the MS Word document.