Mentoring is critical to a successful and delightful academic career. It can make the difference between being passionate about your research, teaching and scholarship to dreading going to the laboratory or office. In my experience working in both academic and public service sectors, I have seen my share of good and bad mentors and mentoring practices. A good mentor can inspire the mentee to work harder and strive for the best while a bad mentor can create an unfriendly and unstable environment and demotivate even the brightest of people. If left unresolved, a poor environment or a bad relationship can escalate problems leading to personal feuds and unethical behaviors. I am sure everyone reading this post will remember one or more times, perhaps even currently, someone in their lab, school or workplace who was a poor mentor and leader. Personally, I have had several amazing mentors throughout my career and several mentors that still drudge up bad memories. From personal experience and from hearing stories of friends and colleagues, it almost seems that everyone has encountered a bad mentor at least once in their academic career. Perhaps this is because everyone talks about the bad apples and never the good ones. Regardless, it seems reasonable that there poor mentors are out there in academia.
The classic book Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering written by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine explains that ‘mentoring is a personal, as well as, professional relationship that develops over an extended period. Mentors take a special interest in helping another person develop into a successful professional.’ Mentoring permits someone with greater experience and knowledge to pass it on to the mentee and thus mentoring works at almost all levels from senior to junior students, post-doctoral fellows to graduate students, faculty to fellows and students, and senior faculty to junior faculty. There are many reasons why mentoring is important. A good mentor usually means a nurturing environment and a good mentor will serve to attract students, fellows and faculty, develop collaborations and strengthen their professional network, achieve self-satisfaction from mentoring, pass on knowledge and experience to the mentee, and advance the goals of academia – one of which is to educate and pass on knowledge and skills.
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