According to the National Institute of Health, the best mentors are advisors, coaches, counselors, and supporters all at the same time. They are experienced researchers who guide their mentee’s research while also challenging them to develop independence. A good mentor helps to define research goals and then supports their mentee’s pursuit of those goals. He or she shares knowledge and provides encouragement and inspiration. In addition to supporting research, a mentor should help a researcher to develop their career goals and construct a scientific network. Above all, the mentor should be someone who will always keep their mentee’s best interest in mind.
Mentors at the Multidisciplinary Training Program in Cardiovascular Epidemiology are no different. The mentors associated with the training grant represent a variety of experience with appropriate expertise who are available to support trainees in their research. All mentors have strong records as researchers, including recent publications and successful competition for research support in areas directly related to the proposed research training program. In addition, each mentor has a strong record of training individuals.
Mentoring in the training program is not limited to the scholar’s primary research mentor. The training grant strives for a team of mentor resources for each postdoctoral scholar, including a primary research mentor, a Career Mentor, and a Peer Mentor network. Through this team approach to mentoring, scholars are able to gather information and advice from a variety of sources.
Identification of a primary research mentor occurs during the application process in which the mentor formally agrees to:
(a) serve as the scholar’s research supervisor;
(b) provide the program with feedback concerning the scholar’s achievement of milestones; and
(c) report to the program directors any delays in milestone achievement.
Typically, the primary research mentor for postdoctoral scholars is the faculty member supervising the scholar’s research project and who has expertise in the major training track chosen by the scholar.
The primary research mentor will be identified within three months of joining the training program and will assist the scholar in the selection of a research project, help her/him prepare the original research proposal for review by the T32 Executive Committee (EC), and then oversee progress of the research. In addition to frequent meetings (with the research team including the biostatistician), the primary mentor will meet the scholar at least once every week for recording the scholar’s progress, comparing it to Individualized Development Plan (IDP) milestones, and documenting progress in manuscript and grant writing; written records will be reviewed quarterly by the T32 Executive Committee (EC).
Assignment of a career mentor
Each postdoctoral scholar in the training program meets with the program directors early in their first year to discuss career development milestones and personal goals, and develops an Individualized Development Plan (IDP). The program directors then assign a career mentor based on the individual’s goals, who refines the IDP and meets with the scholar throughout their training period. The career mentor is also usually a faculty member of the training program but may be from a research discipline distinct from that of the primary research mentor. This latter point is critical so that the scholar is free to discuss perceived problems with the research project and training plan.
Development of peer mentoring network
The program will facilitate a peer mentoring network by hosting luncheons once a month. Additionally, weekly meetings are encouraged among the scholars to informally discuss progress in their research plans, manuscript preparation and grant writing, thereby creating a multidisciplinary network. The literature indicates that focusing on one scholar every week in peer group meetings and circulating documents ahead of the meeting translates into greater research productivity (number of manuscripts completed) and efficiency (ratio of completed to total number of projects started). The weekly peer networking meetings are an opportunity for postdoctoral scholars to support each other towards achieving their scientific and career goals.