This week, @biochembelle tweeted:
Sometimes I think my boss is the unicorn among postdoc mentors.
This got me thinking about what makes a mentor a unicorn (or even just one of the good guys). I welcome input from those of you who have views, especially from a PD position. First disclosure: none of my trainees ever told me I was a unicorn. One did say she liked my new glasses because it made me look like the wise owl that I am. Needless to say that was in the early 90’s.
But… what makes a good mentor?
1. Think about what it was like to be a trainee. And then interact with your trainees the way you would have liked to have been treated (and all the rest is commentary). I could stop there, but I am trying to think of more specifics, to refresh my memory.
2. You listen to the trainees. Really listen, and not just for the stuff you want to hear.
3. Understand that they have a life. Discuss experiments that run all night in advance. You understand that child care doesn’t always work as advertised and understand/remember what the heck morning sickness is.
4. You think about what they want for the future, not just what you want. They may not (probably don’t) want to grow up to be just like you. And you try to make opportunities available for them to reach their goals.
5. They are partners (albeit junior ones) in the pursuit of science.
6. They are not your friends, your buddies, or your drinking pals and they really don’t want to hear about your private life. Likewise, they may not want to talk about their lives. You are not their parent. It is none of your business how late they stay out and what their recreational habits are. It is your business how they function in lab/class/discussion. A good mentor can find the place between ignoring them except in the lab and getting soused together, a place that involves an occasional after work beer/glass of wine or lunch.
7. Likewise there is a place between, on one hand, pointing to the lab and saying “go do science” and, on the other, giving them absolute explicit instructions and hovering like a dragonfly over their bench, desk or treadmill. Activities involved in teaching trainees have the same non-linear curves as writing papers.