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?