This post is part of an ongoing NACB Scientific Shorts series on professional development. The series addresses issues relevant to early, mid-career, and experienced clinical laboratorians, with a focus on the people side of the job. We’re kicking off the series with a discussion of mentorship in clinical chemistry.
The reasons for seeking mentors in medicine and science are many. A mentor may serve numerous roles, including: teacher, sponsor, advisor, agent, role model, confidante and coach. A mentor can help to optimize research productivity, efficiency and focus, especially early in one's career.
Is a mentor the same as a faculty advisor? You can choose your mentor, but faculty advisors are often chosen for you. Though there is some overlap, a mentor is not the same as a role model. For example, Sir William Osler, one of the most influential physicians of the 20th century, was a role model to many, but a mentor to few.
As teacher, a mentor can help the mentee to critically read scientific literature, write and review manuscripts, and apply for grants. As sponsor, the mentor can help navigate a sometimes capricious system. As advisor, the mentor can provide guidance, acting as a sounding board to test notions. Careful, non-judgmental but critical listening is the most significant contribution a mentor can offer. A wise mentor will act as an agent for the mentee, knowing when to step in and when to let the trainee find his or her own way. This requires a mature mentor who is comfortable letting students shine, without a need to have a clone of himself or herself.
Since the fellow or young scientist looks up to the mentor as a role model and wants to emulate the mentor’s approach academically, the mentor can act as a role model for academic productivity, leadership, and ethical behavior.
As coach, the wise mentor motivates the student to go outside his or her comfort zone. This involves being sensitive to differences in career stage, gender, background, and geographic place of origin.
It is impossible to find the ideal mentor, one who possesses all the desirable traits. Many chemistry fellows seek out several mentors.
A mentor can help provide focus by asking, what is your area of special interest? In other words, what excites you? What would you like to investigate?
An unpublished survey of recent clinical chemistry fellows was performed by the Society for Young Clinical Laboratorians (SYCL). In this survey of 49 SYCL members, 92% stated that they have had a mentor in the past that positively impacted their career path. In the same survey, 38% responded that they had more than three mentors.
Also noted was that 84% of survey respondents stated that they did not know of educational resources or training materials that were available to help them select a mentor. This indicates a need for guidance in this area in clinical chemistry. Perhaps surprisingly, 76% believed that it was not important to have a mentor of the same gender. 65% indicated it was important or very important for a formal mentor to help focus one's career. 40% disagreed that the relationship should be assigned to be most effective.
AACC has several resources for those interested in mentorship, including Mentoring Minutes (http://www.myadlm.org/members/sycl/mentor/pages/default.aspx#, accessed April 25, 2014).
What are the qualities that you seek in a mentor?
1. Jackson VA, Palepu A, Szalacha L, Caswell C, Carr PL, Inui T. "Having the right chemistry": a qualitative study of mentoring in academic medicine. Acad Med. 2003;78:328-334.
2. Detsky, AS, et al. Academic Mentoring—How to Give It and How to Get It. JAMA. 2007;297:2134-2136.
3. Cameron SW, Blackburn RT. Sponsorship and academic career success. J Higher Educ. doi:10.2307/1981284. 1981;52:369-377.
4. Sambunjak D, Straus SE, Marusic A. Mentoring in academic medicine. JAMA. 2006;296:1103-1115.
5. Lee JM, Anzai Y, Langlotz CP. Mentoring the mentors: aligning mentor and mentee expectations. Acad Radiol. 2006;13:556-561.
6. Ramani S, Gruppen L, Kachur EK. Twelve tips for developing effective mentors. Med Teach. 2006;28:404-408.