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 don'ts

  • 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.

Courses and materials

Additional resources

  • Adviser, teacher, role model, friend: On being a mentor to students in science and engineering, National Academy of Science, 1997
  • Dysfunctional mentoring relationships and outcomes. By Terri Scandura, 1998, Journal of Management, 24, 3, 449-467.
  • Lessons in mentoring. By Linda M. Selwa, 2003. Experimental Neurology, 184,( Supplement 1), 42-47.
  • Limbo: Blue-collar Roots, White-collar Dreams, by Alfred Lubrano, 2004.
  • 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
  • Mentoring relationships in graduate school. By Harriet Tenenbaum, Faye Crosby & Melissa Gliner, 2001. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59,3, 326-341.
  • 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.
  • The Merits of Training Mentors, by Christine Pfund, Christine Maidl Pribbenow, Janet Branchaw, and others, 2006. Science, 311(5760), 473-474. 
  • 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.
  • Waldo Library, Call Number: HN90.S65 L83x 2004
  • Waldo Library, Call Number: Q1 S35