Discussion topic: mentoring

S L Forsburg nospamforsburg at salk.edu
Wed Nov 11 10:02:18 EST 1998

( I hope we are not having posting problems again.) here's another point
for a possible discussion.

Nature (395:823) had an editorial discussing the tragedy of the Harvard
graduate student who killed himself and left a note blaming his
experience as a student.  The editorial concludes by questioning whether
the culture of science has become so focused on achievement and
competition that it runs in danger of losing the tradition of mutual support.

 I rather wondered at this where the editorial writer has been.  In my
15+ years working  in academic science, mutual support is the exception,
not the rule. Reviewers see themselves as gatekeepers to keep work out
of grants and journals, not as advocates to see it improved and advance
the field.  The tacit contract of support between professor and student
or postdoc, or between senior and junior faculty, has long since been
broken.  This has resulted in  considerable damage to academic life and
loyalty. The quality of science has also suffered as career concerns
have exapnded at the expense of intellectual concerns. 

All of a sudden, this has been noticed, and "mentoring" is the new buzz
word.  But it remains to be seen whether it will be  implemented
meaningfully.  After all, to be a mentor means to take away time from
your own interests for those of your juniors. And if that effort isn't
recognized, there is a negative reinforcement for doing it.

So--have the women in biology reading this--students, postdocs,
faculty-- had positive or negative experience of organized mentoring
programs?   What do you think is required to make such program work?  

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S L Forsburg, PhD  forsburg at salk.edu
Molecular Biology and Virology Lab          
The Salk Institute, La Jolla CA 

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