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Mentoring Postdoctoral Scholars

Funding Agency Expectations for Mentoring

The importance of mentoring for postdoctoral scholars is increasingly emphasized by granting agencies.

  • In January 2009, the National Science Foundation implemented a provision in the America COMPETES act, which requires a section on mentoring in NSF proposals that include postdoctoral scholars. For suggestions on writing that section, review our Developing a Mentoring Plan for NSF Proposals.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has clarified its policy regarding the mentoring of postdoctoral scholars supported on its research grants. The new policy makes it clear that Principal Investigators (PIs) engaged in mentoring postdocs supported on their research grants may bill that time as part of their "effort reporting." For more detail, please see the NIH web site where they provide a detailed answer to the question "Can time spent mentoring students and postdoctorates be counted toward percent effort reported on a research grant?" They also note that "the mission of NIH can only be accomplished if the NIH also provides support for the training of the next generation of scientists. The mission of OER/Training Office is to maintain a cadre of well-trained investigators by offering a wide variety of research training and career development programs." NIH Research Training & Research Career Opportunities Q&A and FAQs

Responsibilities of the Faculty Mentor

  • A commitment to advancing the career of the postdoctoral scholar. This involves regular and thoughtful discussions of the strengths and limitations of ongoing research in the mentor's laboratory as well as attention to the development of skills and experiences that will advance the individual's career. Normally, this will include helping the trainee learn to write successful grant proposals and research papers and to develop mentorship skills.
  • A commitment to a collaborative process of identifying clear and achievable research goals for the postdoctoral appointee. This includes setting timelines and assessing progress towards them in a regular and collegial manner. The mentor is responsible for providing performance evaluations to postdoctoral appointees in a timely manner so that corrective action may be taken if necessary and new goals can be set as old ones are either achieved or determined to be unattainable.
  • Provision of the resources necessary to conduct the agreed upon work.
  • Recognition and publication of achievements of the postdoctoral appointee within the laboratory and the broader scientific community. This includes supporting the career advancement of the postdoctoral appointee.

Responsibilities of the Postdoctoral Appointee

  • A commitment to advancing the science ongoing in the faculty mentor's laboratory. This involves demonstration of a strong work ethic and scientific integrity.
  • A commitment to identifying clear and achievable research goals in concert with the mentor. This commitment involves setting and meeting timelines. If problems arise that preclude meeting agreed upon timelines, it is the responsibility of the postdoctoral appointee to request a new timeline of the mentor.
  • Performance of research as a good colleague in the mentor's laboratory. Technicians, graduate students, and other postdoctoral scholars share the responsibility of advancing the science conducted in the mentor's laboratory. The mentor sets priorities for all members of the laboratory in cooperation with appropriate members of the group.
  • Sharing personal career objectives with the mentor, including timelines for advancing one's career.

Mentoring Resources

  • Workshops
    The Graduate School and the Research Office collaborate in offering workshops on mentoring and related training on the responsible conduct of research for new faculty members, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students. Future workshops will be announced shortly before they are conducted.
  • Graduate student mentoring resources
    The Graduate School has useful information for faculty members on the appropriate mentoring of graduate students. That guidance is also relevant for supervisors of postdoctoral scholars.
  • More Mentoring Resources are on the postdoctoral scholar resources web page.