Everyone who’s gone through the early stages of an academic career has had an undergraduate research supervisor, and a Ph.D. and postdoc adviser. But not everyone can claim to have had a mentor. Even fewer can claim to have had more than one. And that's too bad.
The essential difference between an adviser and a mentor is that the adviser directs while the mentor guides. An adviser often has an agenda, be it to point your research in a particular direction or merely to publish more papers. Foremost among a mentor's concerns are your professional development and personal well-being. A mentor offers you support, guidance, and even solace with no other motive than helping you identify and reach your own goals. A mentor is someone you can open yourself up to without fearing deleterious consequences.
If you are lucky, your adviser is also a mentor, but many mentors are found outside of the lab.
It is also common -- and recommendable -- to have several mentors, each contributing a unique approach to your problem or situation to help you broaden your perspective. As you move up the career ladder, you should also expect your mentoring needs to change. A new mentor may be needed.
Whatever your career stage, it is important not to see yourself only as a protégé. Even at the Ph.D. level, you can start giving back to the scientific community by mentoring younger scientists. It is also possible for peers to support each other in a mentorly way. And mentoring relationships need not be one-sided: Protégés can give back more to their mentors than the satisfaction of being a mentor. Mentoring is, above all, a relationship of support and trust between a senior and a junior scientist, and the experience can be tremendously rewarding for both, professionally and personally.
But, like any relationship, mentoring takes time and dedication. So on the one hand, it is appropriate and important for you to seek and accept offers of mentorship because you have much to offer the world and an investment in you is well justified. On the other hand, if you want a relationship to endure -- including a mentoring relationship -- you need to make sure that both sides benefit.
Below we highlight the best Science Careers articles about the meaning and importance of mentoring and how to make it rewarding for both mentors and protégés.
General mentoring advice and programs
Armando Rodriguez, winner of a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, explains the importance of mentoring both for protégés and mentors.
In our 2008 global feature on mentoring, we look at both sides of a mentoring relationship and give advice on how to make it work.
Professors at Columbia University discuss the importance of mentoring -- and the hazards of some apparently mentorly relationships -- in "Transitioning From Pet to Peer."
The GrantDoctor discusses the importance of mentorship or collaboration with an experienced investigator on grant proposals.
Mentoring for protégés
Our Mastering Your Ph.D. columnists give advice on how to look for a mentor.
Our Mind Matters expert tells how to spot a good mentor and cultivate a relationship that will improve your professional prospects.
A leader in the field of mentoring and mentor training in clinical and translational sciences, Joan M. Lakoski offers "Top 10 Tips to Maximize Your Mentoring."
Andrew I. Schafer, chair of the department of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City, highlights the importance of having a mentor in making it as a physician-scientist.
Physicist Joan Hoffmann used support from an industry-based mentor to navigate graduate school and launch her career.
Sander van Zuijlen's Ph.D. supervisor was not only an adviser but also a mentor who eventually became a scientific collaborator.
Freelance science writer David Bradley explains how you can get by with a little help from your friends.
Mentoring for mentors
The MentorDoctor explains the difference between an adviser and a mentor.
Taken for Granted Columnist Beryl Lieff Benderly discusses how some new policies have encouraged the provision of mentoring by principal investigators.
Educated Woman columnist Micella Phoenix DeWhyse reflects on what a mentor is and isn't.
Before making the decision to become a mentor, senior scientists should consider some ethical dilemmas.
Lakoski and Philip S. Clifford, an associate dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin, offer "Top 10 Tips for Mentors."
Rodriguez provides a checklist of requirements and responsibilities for good mentoring.
Mentoring for minorities
Reposted on Science Careers, this Computing Research Association article looks at how mentoring can help retain minority students in graduate programs.
Jean Fuller-Stanley, a former director of the Minority Mentoring Science Program at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, offers another approach to mentoring that can increase the retention of minority students and boost morale.
A key issue in the retention of women in the physician-scientist trainee pipeline is ensuring they have support from peers and mentors.
Freelance science writer Karyn Hede asks women physician-scientists whether they need role models who are women.
Patrick Limbach, a middle-aged white faculty member, reflects on how to be an effective mentor for minority students.
This AAAS/Science Custom Publishing Office special feature discusses the importance of role models and mentors to reaching gender equity in science.
Another AAAS/Science Custom Publishing Office special feature looks at the place of mentoring in the professional lives of young lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender scientists.
The AAAS/Science Custom Publishing Office also published several mentoring success stories with Native Americans and Latinos.
Carlos Castillo-Chavez examines different mentoring program models and their influence on diversity in the U.S. higher educational system.
Over the last 3 decades, the University of Toronto's Status of Women Office has been working to remove barriers and inequities for female students, staff, and faculty.
The Alberta Women’s Science Network was set up with the goal “to give women in science opportunities to realize their full potential and to attain a higher profile in society."
The National Graduate Degrees for Minorities for Engineering and Science Consortium provides funding, a support network, mentoring, and professional development to underrepresented minority graduate students in the United States.
The Coalition to Diversify Computing in the United States increases minority participation in computer science.
Dissatisfied with his field's white-male, "old boy" network, Benjamin Cuker created a Minorities Program at the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography 2 decades ago.
A search for "mentor" retrieves more than 920 entries on Science Careers; "mentoring" returns more than 520; searching for "role model" returns more than 560 articles; searching on "adviser" yields more than 930 results.