As I find myself recruiting my first PhD student at the University of Reading and reading the complete dissertation of my soon-to-be first PhD graduate, I have been pondering about what kind of mentor I am and what kind of mentor I would like to be. I suspect there is no a single best way to advice students, nor do I aspire to become perfect but surely there are good and bad approaches. So I made a list of what NOT to do, written as a hopefully ironic list of to do’s. These are not words of wisdom based on decades of supervising but rather my own out loud reflections. Read if you wish. Comment if you want.
A non-comprehensive guide to what good mentors should do
- Assume mentees are great at time-management. Surely they will figure out on their own how to finish on time.
- Meet only when meetings are requested. Why waste your time organizing regular meetings? Let your students figure out your schedule and adjust to it.
- Design all their work and dismiss any attempts to depart from the design and explore new ideas. You clearly know better. Why fix perfection?
- Let students explore ALL their new ideas. Time is infinite so even if you know that an experiment/analysis would not work let the student try. First-hand experience is always best.
- Ignore different individual needs and personalities. You have your own personally, which is great, and mentees should adapt to you. Your mood swings, sarcastic comments, and scatterbrain personality are just lovable.
- Mentor as many people as possible. Enormous labs are great and 30 minute meetings every 6 months are more than enough. Alternatively, have a single mentee at a time and meet every day for 1 hour to request updates on progress.
- Provide no funds. Students need to learn how difficult science is, let them fence for themselves, alone. Alternatively you can provide all funds. Designing and writing proposals are useless skills in science anyway.
- Avoid cultivating diverse skills. Learning how to communicate (to other scientists and the public), how to get funding, how to write, how to fail (and pick yourself up) are just wastes of time.
- Forbid side-projects. Collaboration and breadth of knowledge are overrated.
- Disregard group dynamics. Politeness, respect, open-mindedness, and patience are pointless. Scientific brilliance thrives under stress.
- Dismiss scientific rigor. A little plagiarism or data massaging never hurt anyone. More papers is always better. Mentees should learn to do whatever is necessary to publish more.
- Quickly point to failures and never, ever, reward achievements. Because really, Who likes being praised?
- Be apathetic about research and life in general. I mean Is there a point to all this?
- Write blog entries instead of reviewing your student’s papers. Apologies Pablo. I am getting to your final dissertation chapter right now…
And now for some, probably more useful, wiser resources