What Happened to Mentoring: Offering Solutions

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado, Mayo Clinic, and a member of the Biophysical Society’s Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women, considers the state of mentoring in academia in this three part series. Read parts one and two.

We’ve already addressed the often-present disconnect between mentors and mentees that can leave students wanting, and some of the factors contributing to this situation. Today, I will talk about what can be done to improve mentor-mentee relationships.


For mentors. Spend some time thinking about your mentoring style and history as well as your own mentors’ style and your history with them. Are you turning into your mentors the same way we turn into our parents? Do you like your mentoring style? Have you been in touch with your former students lately? Did you have fallouts with most of them and afterwards generally avoid each other at meetings? Would you join your laboratory as a student? Would you recommend yourself as a mentor to yourself as a student?

This may sound sappy but here it is: are you happy when mentoring? Are your students happy when they work with you?

Have you asked yourself why do you train students? What do you gain? What do you offer them?

For institutions. Training students should be considered a privilege and not a right. Professors should be evaluated in their role as mentors in anonymized exit interviews from graduating students. Institutions should offer continuous education options and mentoring for all faculty members that may present them with areas of improvement in their mentoring style as has been published about recently (Acad Med. 2014 May;89(5):774-82).

When a mentor/mentee relationship is established, every student and advisor should write together the expectations from both sides as a requirement to initiate research in that laboratory. Thesis advisory committees should discuss mentoring issues separately with each the mentor and mentee, to avoid conflicts of interest.

For students. Students can also contribute to reverse the rate of poor advisor/mentee matches. Senior students must be open and talk about the issues troubling them with junior students; they will make students aware of things that junior students should know so that they will be better prepared. Student support groups provide a safe environment to share and troubleshoot with peers. There is increasing evidence that these support groups can make a difference for many students by helping them avoid isolation.

Mentoring in academia is a tradition that is as individualized as each of us and simultaneously as general as the advancement of science and knowledge. Successful mentoring for all students is an undertaking that will take time and effort from everyone involved. The need is great and we should all rise to the challenge.

The author wishes to thank Dr. Estefanía Mondragón and Prof. Gabriela Popescu for their helpful suggestions to this blog.


Interested in becoming a mentor or mentee? Biophysical Society has partnered with the National Research Mentor Network [NRMN], an organization that matches mentors with mentees across the biomedical, behavioral, clinical, and social sciences.

Visit NRMNet to learn more and access FREE virtual mentorship, grantwriting coaching groups, mentorship training and more professional development programs and resources through the National Research Mentor Network, funded by the NIH.



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