Selecting a Mentor

Plan B, in case grad school didn't work out

Plan B, in case grad school didn't work out

When I started graduate school, I had been working for 6 years in the biotech industry.  Having had a handful of bosses during that time, I thought I knew how to choose a mentor.  In fact, I put much more weight on choosing the project than on the mentor itself.  I had it all wrong.

I’ve mentioned how my thesis mentor was less than traditional.  When I joined his lab, I hadn’t even rotated with him previously.  But I was infatuated with the project and the science and thought that would carry me through.

In the life of a grad student, there are times when you are ready to give up, revert to plan B, take the consolation prize, anything, just to get out of the situation you find yourself in.  Whether it’s because of failing experiments, personal conflicts with other lab members (or even your mentor), or just general unhappiness, I think every grad student finds themselves in this valley at least once. Properly choosing a mentor should help alleviate or shorten these periods, at least as they pertain to your doctoral training.

In searching for a postdoc fellowship, I was determined to learn from my mistake.  I listed the attributes of a mentor that I thought were important to me and prioritized them:

Career guidance, regular interaction, family-minded, proximal location (insitution), projects of interest.

It’s funny how my #1 priority as a student had fallen to #5 as a post doc.

Jonathan Yewdell wrote an article offering free advice for young or budding scientists.  I wish he had written it a couple of years earlier.

Taking all these criteria in mind, I think I have found an ideal position.  That’s not to say that everything will be coming up roses from now on.  Certainly, even in my less-than-ideal mentorship as a student, we forged a working relationship that extends now and is very congenial.  It’s all a matter of how hard you are willing to work at the mentor-mentee relationship.  You’ll get out what you put in!

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