Scholarly Mentoring

Mentoring plays a vital role in the development of young scholars, setting the pace for them to enjoy highly successful careers. Due to a number of factors, there should be a flexible approach towards mentoring, in order to yield maximum results.

Below are a few tips for being a good mentor:

1. Treat each individual uniquely
It is important to know that every trainee is different, and as such, your approach to handling them must be tailored to their individual needs. Observe them well enough so that you will be able to distinguish between those that need strictness to be effective and those that need much less pressure. By asking questions, find out what their priorities are in meeting with you and what areas they are hoping to improve in.

2. Ensure they maintain focus
The importance of focus in research cannot be overemphasized as distractions tend to come often. These distractions are often results of surprise findings, which many a time lure one to make a series of unplanned experiments that in the long run are unlikely to aid the research in any way. So, it is your responsibility to ensure that they do not drift off course while working on their projects.

3. Ignite passion in them
It is important to ensure that your trainees are very enthusiastic about whatever project they are working on; if not, they just might be heading towards failure. Keep your trainees motivated and enthused so that they will be able maintain focus even when the research becomes more challenging. There is however a need to balance enthusiasm with strictness so as to avoid laxity from them.

4. Teach them to be dynamic
Sometimes, trainees learn a new technique and then spend a large part of their careers—and perhaps the entirety—in looking for only problems that can be addressed by this technique. The right approach for developing a career in research is being dynamic. Techniques are always changing as new technologies evolve, so they should be deliberate about learning new techniques and adopting new technologies. They should learn to diversify, such that they will be able to address any problem with an appropriate technique.

5. Encourage audacity and persistence
Researchers who refuse to take risks will never reach their full potential. In a typical scientific research, it is very possible to get an unexpected result. It does not necessarily mean that you screwed up; it just might be a sign that you are about to make a significant discovery. Deciding to proceed with your work in the midst of uncertainties might just be the beginning of a story which ends with a brilliant new discovery credited to your name. Mentors must encourage audacity and persistence. It is easy to lose motivation in the face of the many challenges that come with doing research, but persistence will help one to go on and on until a desirable outcome is achieved. Mentors should not just encourage persistence with words, they should model it. Whatever role you directly get to play in their work—be it writing a letter of recommendation for them or editing their manuscript—should be done promptly. Such promptness serves as a strong motivation for them. Rather than mounting undue pressure on them, simply model persistence and hard work.

6. Help them to own their projects
Hear what your mentees have to say first before giving your opinion. Encourage them to pursue their own ideas rather than imposing yours on them. Try to understand their point of view first; then, give an appraisal. By so doing, you will be guiding them and not using them, and they will feel a sense of ownership over their projects and a sense of responsibility for their own success.

7. Tell stories
Share stories with your mentees; this is a great way to connect with them and convey an idea to them. Share stories about previous studies in the lab and their outcomes, and how they connect with ongoing experiments. This is a great way to show them that you understand what they are going through.

8. Light up the atmosphere with humour
The atmosphere does not have to be drab in a bid to get them serious with their work. Having a good sense of humour sparks creativity. Cracking jokes does not just light up the place, it affects the mind in a way that makes one tend to skillfully think outside the box regularly.

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