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Mentoring for Trainees and Fellows

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Mentoring helps guide your training and prepare you for the next stage of your career. While the scientific and technical aspects of a lab are crucial in making your decision, the science isn’t enough to ensure a great training experience.

Choosing a Mentor

Choosing a mentor is one of the most critical aspects of your training experience. To choose a mentor wisely, a certain amount of self-assessment is required.  It is important that you consider aspects such as effective communication, management style, and availability. While it is your mentor’s responsibility to prepare you for independence, the mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street and requires work on both sides. 

Communication with Your Mentor

First, you want to make sure that you can communicate with your mentor.  In addition to your project goals, you want to make sure you are discussing the skills and training you need to successfully position yourself for your next steps. Additionally, there will be bumps along the way, and it is critical that you feel comfortable discussing issues and problems as they arise – you do not want to wait until the last minute to address concerns in the laboratory.   

Mentor Management Style

Second, you need to think about management style. This refers specifically to how your mentor makes decisions and exercises authority. Do you prefer someone looming over your shoulder the minute you get data to discuss the results?  Or do you prefer a set meeting time to discuss your results?  This point requires the most self-reflection because you must think about the type of environment that encourages you to be the most productive.

Mentor Availability 

Lastly, you should consider the mentor’s availability. Many of the investigators at the NCI wear multiple hats, some of which require them to spend time outside of the lab. Think about how often you need to or would like to meet face-to-face with your mentor.  If you prefer to be able to drop by the mentor’s office throughout the day, then you may want to choose someone whose primary role is in the lab.  However, if your mentor is very responsive to email or phone calls, and is willing to schedule time to meet with you outside of the prearranged times, then perhaps you are willing to consider this type of mentor.

Recommendations from Lab Members

While you can gauge these factors during an interview, it is important that you talk to the members of the laboratory (preferably outside of the lab) to get honest opinions of the investigator to help guide your decision.  You are in the driver’s seat of your career and should be actively participating in a path to independence. It begins with asking the right questions and advocating for yourself from the beginning.

Mentor a Summer Student

Mentoring a summer student during your time at NCI is a great way gain mentorship experience and improve your mentoring skills.  At the NCI, the Summer Internship Program (SIP), Cancer Research Interns Program, and the Werner H. Kirsten Student Internship Program (Frederick campus) are programs in which high school and college students participate in research at NIH.  

If a summer student is too high of an investment, consider leading a Summer Intern Journal Club.  The Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) has several resources to help you make your journal club a success.

Mentoring Resources

Guide to Training and Mentoring  Authored by NIH’s Deputy Director of the Intramural Research Program (IRP) Michael Gottesman, the guide to training and mentoring seeks to emphasize the training role of the NIH and encourage outstanding mentoring in NIH laboratories and clinics.

Summer Intern Journal Club There are approximately 40 journal clubs provided for the ~1000 summer interns at the NIH.  These 6-week journal clubs are designed, planned and led by NIH grad students, postdocs, and fellows. The call for new journal clubs comes in the Spring of each year, shortly after the Summer Internship Program application website close. 

Career Mentoring Advantage Program (note: requires NIH credentials). The Career Mentoring Advantage Program (CMAP) is NCI’s internal, year-long, facilitated mentoring program that promotes sharing and teaching of critical skills and institutional knowledge, and nurtures the professional growth of its employees. Applications for the program open every July.

The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) supports advancement at every career stage of research in the biomedical sciences. Experience mentorship and professional development programs designed to improve practices and deepen connections to the diverse nationwide scientific community.

NRMN’s Research Mentee Training workshops are designed to help research mentees maximize the effectiveness of their mentoring relationships.  These workshops are intended for mentees in the biomedical sciences across career stages, including undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and junior faculty.


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