Musings on Mentorship

In addition to checking out Mendeley, I also participated in some good conversation about mentorship (#sciomentor) with folks at the #scio14 conference1. It got me thinking…

Formal/obligatory/mutualistic mentorships

This is the kind of mentor/mentee relationship that you’ll likely be looking at in grad school. You choose a mentor to study under because you are interested in their work, they accept you into their lab because your credentials look good. Your success or failure reflects upon your mentor and you get a boost to your CV.

Either good or bad, you’re likely stuck with a primary mentor throughout grad school. I can’t stress enough the importance of meeting your mentor beforehand so you can be more certain of how you’ll get along together. Ask yourself, “Disregarding their name and position in the field, can I really put up with this person for 2-6 years?

Informal mentorships: Kronos and the Unicorn


No, nooooo! All I wanted was your letters of recommendation!
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a. Kronos: This mentor is very powerful and you would like nothing more than for him/her to be your mentor. Having this person guide you will be wonderful for your career, CV, networking, etc. Kronos thinks you have a lot of potential and has noticed your abilities. There’s just one problem. Kronos doesn’t want your abilities to surpass his/hers. And so does not mentor you in such a way to reach your full potential.


My perfect Unicorn. Look, she’s reviewing my manuscript!
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b. The Unicorn: This mentor is also powerful. They respect your abilities and potential and recognize how their standing can move you up the ladder. Instead of taking away what power you may have, the Unicorn fosters it. He/she truly wants you to succeed and will guide you appropriately whether that is by offering you advice or reviewing your manuscripts.


So how do you avoid Kronos and find the Unicorn? My advice is to put out your feelers. Some really long ones. Be hesitant. My guess is that there’s going to be some ego involved. This potential mentor knows they’re powerful, but what they do with that knowledge is the key. How do they act? How do they talk to you and to others? Remember: feelers. This is like dating!



Unbalanced power is inherently present in mentor/mentee relationships for obvious reasons. #scio14 on Power Boundaries in mentorships

One last note.

You can think about mentorship like you think about diddling in the stock market. Diversify your investments. You can, and should have, more than one mentor. You can, and should have, mentors in varying fields. The possibilities are endless!

  1.  Is that not SO cool to be a part of a conversation at a conference and not physically BE at the conference? Also I learned how to do footnotes in WordPress!