Working with a Mentor
Effective mentoring plays a critical role in making your postdoctoral training experience one that is meaningful and productive for you. Knowing how to establish and sustain mentoring relationships, however, can be challenging. There is no one ideal, perfect mentor-mentee relationship; each mentor and mentee are unique, and everyone’s needs, goals, and approaches to mentoring vary. Establishing productive and supportive mentoring relationships requires being attentive to your own needs as a mentee, intentional about the relationships you cultivate with mentors, and thoughtful about how you sustain the relationships you establish.
Some resources to help you work with your mentors are included below. Trainees who would like to develop additional skills they can use to improve their mentoring relationships are encouraged to attend the Mentoring Up + Down workshop series sponsored by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs.
Postdoctoral trainees at Northwestern are encouraged to seek out a team of mentors, including University faculty, staff, and individuals from outside of the University community, to support their training and career advancement. No single mentor can provide all forms of the mentoring you will need to support your professional development, and with a team you can benefit from a diversity of experience, knowledge, and expertise.
Before you start building your mentoring team, it is useful to think about what you want and need from your mentoring experience:
- Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Mentor: an article that introduces the important questions to think about before you begin a mentoring relationship.
- Beyond Mentoring : a resource from the National Postdoctoral Association to postdocs assess their mentoring needs and learn more about effective mentoring relationships.
- How to Obtain the Mentoring You Need: a guide from the University of Washington with helpful tips on how to get started with building your mentor team.
- Great Mentoring in Graduate School: A Quick Start Guide for Protégés: from the Council of Graduate Schools contains advice for graduate student mentees that is also useful for postdoctoral trainees.
Supporting a new mentoring relationship
The early phases of a new mentoring relationship are an important time when you and your mentor can get to know one another and establish a productive working dynamic. It can be helpful to utilize tools to help you articulate your professional goals and, depending on the type of mentoring relationship, set some guidelines for how you will work together.
- Complete an individual development plan (IDP) and share it with your new mentor. Read about how to get started with an IPD.
- Tools to align and articulate expectations, such as these developed by NUCATS, can also help establish clear and effective communication between mentors and mentees.
- Watch a short video on aligning a mentoring relationship developed by The Graduate School.
Sustaining a productive mentoring relationship
Mentoring relationships will grow and transform over time as your needs and goals develop and change. Some resources to help you maintain established relationships and navigate challenges that may arise are provided below. Postdoctoral trainees can also reach out to the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs with any questions or concerns about navigating relationships with mentors.
- How to be Proactive in Your Mentoring Relationships from the National Postdoctoral Association
- How to Get the Most Out of Your Mentor from UCSF
- Making the Mentoring Relationship Work, an article from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
- Strategies to Addressing Mentoring Challenges from the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Institute for Clinical and Translational Research