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A small step for postdoc mentoring

Today, President Bush is scheduled to sign the linkurl:America COMPETES Act;http://science.house.gov/legislation/leg_highlights_detail.aspx?NewsID=1938 (the full title is "American Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act"). The new legislation would approximately double NSF funding over the next five years (which linkurl:some say;http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/7/1/28/1/ could be a bad idea for scientists). Nestled with that 500-p

By | August 9, 2007

Today, President Bush is scheduled to sign the linkurl:America COMPETES Act;http://science.house.gov/legislation/leg_highlights_detail.aspx?NewsID=1938 (the full title is "American Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act"). The new legislation would approximately double NSF funding over the next five years (which linkurl:some say;http://www.the-scientist.com/2007/7/1/28/1/ could be a bad idea for scientists). Nestled with that 500-page document is a 15-line provision (section 7008) that requires NSF applicants to describe how they will mentor their postdocs. The Act suggests that mentoring activities include things such as career counseling, guidance on teaching skills, and training in research ethics. Each applicant's mentoring plan would be evaluated as part of the broader impact merit review. What does all this really mean for postdocs? Bobby Mixon, a spokesperson for the NSF says that it's too early to really say how the NSF will interpret and implement that provision. But he says, "once [the president] signs it, we will have a flurry of activity." We'll follow up and keep you posted. It could be great news for postdocs funded by NSF grants. But if you're funded by an NIH grant, your PI may provide as little mentoring as he or she likes. NIH guidelines require that 100% of a postdoc's time be billed to research activities. But what about the time a postdoc spends being mentored, The National Postdoctoral Association linkurl:asked?;http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/site/c.eoJMIWOBIrH/b.1388059/k.DBBE/NPA_Home.htm The NIH linkurl:responded;http://www.nationalpostdoc.org/site/c.eoJMIWOBIrH/b.1438743/apps/nl/content2.asp?content_id={F4B49FD3-80CE-4E89-816E-198716174FC0}¬oc=1 that a postdoc can be paid for the time she or he is mentored, as long as those mentoring activities are part of the normal research activities. "A specific event devoted entirely to mentoring," would not be allowed. So, you may have to deduct the time you spent going to that lecture on careers in science, but it's probably okay to talk to your labmates about it afterward. Do you think the government is doing enough to promote mentoring for postdocs?
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Comments

Avatar of: Carol B. Muller

Carol B. Muller

Posts: 1

August 9, 2007

"Mentoring" comprises multiple activities and relationships. Asking the supervisors of postdocs to provide mentoring is not unreasonable. Like any good learning process, however, mentoring is best and most readily accopmlished when there are clear learning objectives. Postdocs can help develop their own mentors by working toward articulating their needs and desired learning objectives, asking their supervisors to undertake specific roles and responsibilities in that process, and assuming responsibility themselves for ensuring that the mentoring process stays on track once a set of objectives is mutually agreed upon as appropriate and accomplishable. In addition, postdocs (and everyone else) should recognize that it's unlikely that any one individual will be able to provide the sum total of mentoring that might benefit a protege at any given point in time. As a result, people benefit from having multiple mentors, or what some researchers and other experts have termed a "mentoring network." Ideally, one's mentoring network will include those within one's own organization -- "internal mentors" -- who can provide needed information, advice, and guidance specific to that particular environment and its people, practices, policies, procedures, and politics. But it will also include those external to one's own organization, who are in a position to confirm standards that cut across insitutional variations. External mentors often serve as safer confidants, without the added complications of secondary roles such as advisors and supervisors, who will be evaluating the protege's performance as well as providing guidance. (MentorNet (www.MentorNet.net) is one online, large-scale, nonprofit service for science and engineering fields, which enables postdocs to locate and be matched with external mentors in their fields. While there are still too few volunteer mentors to serve all the postdocs who may be interested, a growing number of postdocs each year have found external mentors through MentorNet -- 136 in the last year alone.)

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