Thursday, August 13, 2009

on being a mentee

Disclaimer: I’m only on my first (and hopefully last) post-doc, so I could be wrong about the following.

I did not take my post-doc position with the expectation that I would learn anything from my new PI regarding bench work. Hell, the last time this dude was at the bench, fire was still a novelty. Well, he's not quite that old, but his working at the bench days were a while back. Don’t get me wrong, he is smart, has good ideas and he totally gets the concept of everything we do in the lab, but he is not likely to provide a lot of technical assistance.

Even in graduate school, I didn’t find my PI to helpful with technical aspects beyond my second year in the lab. Don’t get me wrong, we still discussed ideas, hypotheses, data, presenting and writing, but trouble-shooting experiments was largely left to the individual. Personally, I think I learned a lot from this approach because it forced me to learn every aspect of every experiment that I performed, thus allowing me to pinpoint the problem or potential problems when things went awry as things tend to do.

Some of the post-docs in my current lab seem a little frustrated with Magnum, PI and don’t think he is a good mentor. They think he doesn't provide them with enough help. I do not share this opinion, but maybe these people came from labs where the PI directed their efforts. If so, then I can see why they might struggle. This lab is not a good fit for someone who can’t work independently.

I do not need someone to talk to me about every single experiment that I do, or think about doing. I don’t need to discuss every result and I don’t need to ask what type of experiment to embark on next. I do expect to discuss the data, as a whole, when it starts to take shape, when I get confirmed, yet, unexpected results or when I think things need to move in a significantly different direction. Of course, when I do talk to him about any of these topics, I am prepared. I don’t just show up, barf the data on his desk and wait for him to tell me what it means and what to do. It’s more like, here is the data, this is what I think and these are the reasons why. What do you think?

However, the mentoring that I really want and need is in relation to my future as an academic scientist. Specifically, applying for grants, fellowships, etc. I also hope that he can guide me from being a green post-doc to a prepared post-doc, with all the skills needed to interview for and obtain a junior faculty position. These are things I don’t know a whole helluva lot about. So far, I am pleased with the guidance I am receiving and I really don’t anticipate any problems in the future.

Of course, my sample size is n=1. What do you guys expect from your post-doc mentor? If you are a P.I., what type of mentoring do you provide your post-docs?


Thomas Joseph said...

As a post-doc, if you're looking at your mentor as someone to give technical advice, you shouldn't have been given your PhD at your defense.

A post-doc mentor is there to provide you with the OTHER things you'll need in your career like contacts, how to write a fundable grant (and get one too), developing a project YOU CAN TAKE WITH YOU, and things of that nature. If you're still expecting him to tell you why your gel ran all funky ... you're fucked! Sounds like some of the other post-docs in your lab are not setting themselves up for success in future endeavors. Just my two ducats.

chall said...

I'm with you.... as in I don't expect any technical help with experiments. Rather some "how to look at the bigger picture" and my PI is very good at seeing clinical applications aka motives to put in the grant so research gets funded.

THen I see him as a person to get contacts to me, or that I can use in my contats with others "oh, PI name. He is a good researcher in this field"

post docs are supposed to, imho, to be independent to a certain point. Then again, there are micromanaging pis too.... so maybe it is more about "finding a PI to match your post doc personal and vice versa?"

microbiologist xx said...

TJ - That is pretty much what I was thinking. I didn't learn how to get a fundable grant and obviously, did not develop a project for my career in my grad. school lab. Those are the top two things I want to learn and take away from this post-doc experience.

chall - I agree and yes, there do seem to be quite a few PIs out there that micromanage, something I can't stand. I knew of labs in grad school where the PI would look at every piece of data and then instruct the students on exactly what they were to do next. I saw them as more a glorified technician than a grad. students and often wondered how these people were going to make it as post-docs when they aren't given the chance to develop critical thinking skills during grad. school.

Thomas Joseph said...

I knew of labs in grad school where the PI would look at every piece of data and then instruct the students on exactly what they were to do next.

I don't know how they manage to do that. I have so much crap to do that I let my support scientists run amok in the lab and only really touch base with them every couple of days. They know to get me immediately if something in the lab blows up, but I trust them enough to proceed on their own without me hovering over their shoulder. It seems to work for all of us.

microbiologist xx said...

TJ - One of the PIs I am thinking of, in addition to directing every last bit of lab work, also told the students exactly what to say when presenting a poster. Word for word. I know this b/c I had the misfortune of standing next to a student from this lab during many a poster competition. No one I've ever worked for has ever had that kind of time...thankfully.

Anonymous said...

I agree XX, I think it is your job to run your experiments...I am happy your advisor know's that too. I think your outlook on a postdoc experience is spot on...I'm excited for your new learning opportunities!!