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Getting the Mentoring You Need

Throughout your training, but especially in the postdoc experience, your faculty supervisor plays a significant role with you and your future.  We know there is a full spectrum of what faculty have to offer and how this matches with what you need. From what we have learned, it can take “managing up” and being proactive in your relationship with your faculty advisor to make it work for you. The National Postdoc Association recently posted a blog with exceptional tips for how to get more from the mentoring opportunities you have.  In addition to these points, which we summarize below, we also always recommend developing a mentoring team so you can get a full spectrum of support from many and are not solely dependent on one person alone.

With a few additions from us, here are the top recommendations from the National Postdoc Association blog. See the full blog – available to all UW postdocs through our institutional membership with NPA – for even more tips:

  • Make time to meet regularly with your mentor(s). In many cases, you will need to request and initiate these.  Be prepared for your meetings, send a written summary of progress in advance, and focus your f2f meeting on particular questions or challenges you are confronting currently.  Have specific goals and tasks in mind. Send a follow up email of agreed upon next steps or decisions that get made during the meeting.
  • Be willing to listen and learn. Ask directly for feedback – what is currently going well, and what could be done differently to work more productively or effectively together. Not everyone is skilled at giving feedback, so asking for specific areas where you want to know how you can improve shows strength and the willingness to grow.
  • Be proactive about your needs. Being proactive is much more than just taking the initiative – it’s about using your time during your postdoc experience more effectively. Thinking about what the faculty needs can also help you respect their interests while asserting yours.
  • Be a problem solver. When bringing problems to your mentor, you should have possible solutions in mind to foster the development of your own problem-solving skills. While the mentor can provide ideas and feedback, sometimes no one knows your situation better than you.

As the NPA writer concludes: “No matter what kind of a mentor you have – one who offers little or no help; one who constantly overwhelms you with information; or even a mentor who is an experienced teacher and understands how to work effectively with a postdoc – you will get more out of mentoring if you are proactive in the process.”

Additional Mentoring Resources: 

Originally posted on August 18, 2016.