Research Ethics Resource Center - Mentor-trainee relationship responsibilities

Why is mentoring important?

Mentoring is central to promoting responsible conduct in all areas of research since mentors function as role models and are often the primary means by which professional standards are informally communicated. A good mentor will demonstrate both professional and social responsibility in the context of research. Mentoring can broadly be thought of as covering four aspects:

  • Content – What I do
  • Procedure – How I do what I do
  • Attitude – Why I do what I do
  • Network – With whom I do what I do

Who is a mentor?

A number of people may function as both official and unofficial mentors:

  • Thesis advisor or major professor who provides direction and guidance to students.
  • Principle investigator of a project who demonstrates practices in research, obtaining funding, etc.
  • Project coordinators.
  • Post doctoral students may function as mentors for graduate students.
  • Graduate students may function as mentors for undergraduates.
  • Colleagues
  • Administrative staff – IRB personnel, department administrators, etc.

For mentees

  • If you have the option of choosing your own mentor, select one who values the practice of responsibility in research, and, has the background, experience and time to assist you in the pursuit of your goals.
  • Educate yourself on the ethical standards and principles of your field.
  • Take an interest in the ethical aspects of your research and discuss them with your mentor.
  • Find out what resources your program and your department offer with regards to mentoring and helping you grow into your professional role.
  • Identify your goals and clarify your expectations with your mentor.
  • Your mentoring needs will change as you progress in your career. Periodically evaluate the mentoring relationship for whether or not it addresses your current needs. If your needs are changing, inform your mentor.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your mentor does not respond appropriately, find one who will.
  • If you have problems with your data, discuss possible options with your mentor to make sure that your actions will not be construed as questionable or as research misconduct.
  • Expect that there will be obstacles in the mentoring relationship and be proactive in trying to resolve them.
  • Try not to take up or demand more time of your mentor than is appropriate.
  • The mentoring relationship is one that should be beneficial to both mentor and mentee. Therefore don’t enter the mentoring relationship with hidden agendas.

Mentor do’s

  • Find out your mentees’ aspirations.
  • Attend RCR training opportunities. The actions that constitute misconduct or fall into the grey area of questionable conduct are evolving. Keep abreast of new information relevant to the responsible conduct of research.
  • Involve mentees in local IRB meetings and encourage them to understand the types of concerns raised and the ethical principles involved.
  • Discuss ethical challenges with mentees and encourage discussion and feedback from them.
  • Schedule regular, structured meetings for advising mentees and giving feedback about their work and future careers.
  • Teach by example. Demonstrate good behavior in your professional role, moral reasoning and the practice of social responsibility.
  • Show mentees how to grow into their role as researchers properly: how to read a journal article, write a manuscript, critique a manuscript, revise a manuscript.
  • Demonstrate how to manage time.
  • Demonstrate how to train and supervise personnel.
  • Teach mentees how to conceptualize a study and design it; how to collect and record data, and the proper use of lab notebooks; how to document and report findings.
  • If you are the PI, review raw data, and participate in the clean-up of data and analyses with mentees.
  • Address potential problems in the mentor-mentee relationship as early as possible.
  • When you spot a problem in your mentees’ practices, deal with it as part of process of research rather than as a way to assign blame or disparage your mentees.
  • Allow mentees the use of your data.
  • Introduce mentees to other potential mentors such as the key librarian for your relevant field and other professionals in the field with similar research interests; and to resources such as professional journals.

Mentor Dont's

  • Don’t assume that your mentees already know the proper way to conduct research or that they know exactly what constitutes misconduct or questionable practice in research.
  • Don’t steal primary authorship on papers that mentees have conceptualized and analyzed. Your role is to help them become primary authors in their own right.
  • Don’t hinder your mentees’ graduation simply because they are useful to have around.

Training Modules

  • Mentoring Case
  • Commentary
  • Essay
  • Best Practicies
  • Interactive Module on Mentorship by Northern Illinois University
    A self-paced learning module intended especially for individuals in the early stages of their research careers (i.e., students) and for individuals involved in supporting or training research staff and students (i.e., PIs, mentors, project coordinators, administrators, etc.). Includes quizzes, games, cases and opportunities for reflection. The entire module may take 3-5 hours to complete fully. The module is intended to promote responsibility in research and to help those involved in research activities to become proactive and better prepared to deal with the issues that arise during the course of a research project.
  • Mentoring Module by Columbia University
    This module is intended to be used by those involved at all levels of the research enterprise - graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty, senior researchers, and department and research administrators. Highlights the central role of mentoring to the entire field of responsible conduct of research, as a means for transmitting professional standards. The module identifies the characteristics of the mentor-trainee relationship, examines ethical issues that arise within the relationship, defines the responsibilities of mentors and trainees, and identifies environmental factors that support effective mentoring. Includes case studies, Q&A and opportunities for reflection.


  • Adviser, teacher, role model, friend: On being a mentor to students in science and engineering. 1997, National Academy of Science.
    This guide – intended for faculty members, teachers, administrators, and others who advise and mentor students of science and engineering – attempts to summarize features that are common to successful mentoring relationships. Its goal is to encourage mentoring habits that are in the best interests of both parties to the relationship. While this guide is meant for mentoring students in science and engineering the majority of it is widely applicable to mentoring in any field.
  • Characteristics and challenges in academic mentoring. By Jacqueline Tasche and Jo Anne Beazley, 2000. Graduate Quarterly, University of California - Los Angeles, 10(1):6-11.
    A description of faculty and student perceptions about the mentoring process at UCLA. Questions addressed are: How does the process itself go forward? What are key characteristics and challenges of academic mentoring? What kinds of relationships are formed? How important is this relationship to graduate students’ success, both at UCLA and in their subsequent careers?
  • Limbo: Blue-collar roots, white-collar dreams. By Alfred Lubrano, 2004.
    The book describes Lubrano's view of the challenges that upwardly mobile children of blue-collar families (he calls them Straddlers) face in establishing themselves in white-collar enclaves. It can be read as a way to understanding the struggles of first generation college students.
    Waldo Library, Call Number: HN90.S65 L83x 2004
  • The merits of training mentors. By Christine Pfund, Christine Maidl Pribbenow, Janet Branchaw, and others, 2006. Science, 311(5760), 473-474.
    Describes a model for mentoring training at Uni of Wisconsin.
    Waldo library, call nos. Q1 S35
  • Lessons in mentoring. By Linda M. Selwa, 2003. Experimental Neurology, 184,( Supplement 1), 42-47.
    Describes the results of a survey with mentees regarding their former mentors’ training style. Article also provides a review of the current mentoring literature, and includes training programs for mentors.
  • Mentoring relationships in graduate school. By Harriet Tenenbaum, Faye Crosby & Melissa Gliner, 2001. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59,3, 326-341.
    Results of a survey with graduate students from the University of California about their relationships with their advisors, satisfaction, and academic success.
  • The importance of interpersonal similarities in the teacher mentor/protégé relationship. By Claire J. Owen & Linda Zener Solomon, 2006. Social Psychology of Education, 9,(1), 83-89.
    An assessment of the effect of interpersonal similarities between mentors and protégés in a large formal teacher mentoring program.
  • Mentoring in academia: An examination of the experiences of protégés of color. By Rowena Ortiz-Walters and Lucy L. Gilson, 2005. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 67,3, 459-475.
  • Towards a true community of scholars: Undergraduate research in the modern university. By Kenneth Bartlett, 2003. Journal of Molecular Structure: THEOCHEM, Vol. 666-667, pgs. 707-711.
    Highlights the importance of including undergraduates in research and the mentoring process.
  • Dysfunctional mentoring relationships and outcomes. By Terri Scandura, 1998, Journal of Management, 24, 3, 449-467.
  • The protege’s perspective regarding negative mentoring experiences: The development of a taxonomy. By Lillian Eby, Stacy McManus, Shana Simon, & Joyce Russell, 2000. Journal of Vocational Behavior 57, 1–21.
  • Toward a typology of mentorship dysfunction in graduate school. By W. Brad Johnson & Jennifer M. Huwe, 2002. Psychotherapy: Theory/Research/Practice/Training, 39, 1, 44-55.
    Article identifies characteristics that result in a dysfunctional mentoring relationship and provides recommendations for both graduate program administrators and individual faculty members who find themselves in problem mentorships with graduate students

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