forsburg at forsburg at
Tue May 18 12:25:01 EST 1993

In article <119693 at>, pfoster at (Patricia Foster) writes:
> It seems pretty clear what a "role-model" is, but I wonder if we
> all mean the same thing by "mentor".  Close relationships between
> scientists and their students/postdocs can be destructive. Here are
> some questions I would like to see discussed
> When did "advisors" become "mentors"?  Is something different meant
> by the two terms?  Do men and women expect different things?  When
> does "mentoring" become "favoritism"?  Are such relationships 
> necessarily good for the two parties involved?  For Science?
> --
> Patricia L. Foster
> Boston University School of Medicine
> Boston, MA USA
> pfoster at

For purposes of discussion, here are my definitions:
ADVISOR:  degree supervisor;  the PI in whose lab the student or postdoc 
ROLE-MODEL:  senior person (ie, established) whom junior respects and
in whom junior sees characteristics worth emulating.
MENTOR:  senior person with a supportive interest in a junior.  MENTOR 
can be but is not necessarily equal to ADVISOR.  The way I tend to
think of a MENTOR is one who is sufficiently distant that favouritism
is not an element--no longer a direct boss/employee relationship, but
 someone who writes a knowledgeable  recommendation letter and who can 
guide the junior scientist through the pitfalls of 
science and the career confusions.

This is, after all,  a nearly feudal master-and-apprentice system.  One might 
think of the MENTORS as the good, nurturing masters, who get pleasure out
of seeing their apprentice achieve. 

Some ADVISORS become MENTORS and lucky the young scientist who has one, 
because the support of the powerful is essential to success in a crowded
field.  Whether this is good or bad for science is irrelevant:  human
nature is such that we fall into camps, we are competitive, and that is the 
way it IS. 

IMHO, anyway!


forsburg at

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