In the previous post I have introduced the aspect of PI mentorship and the main characteristics of a good research mentor. Today I would like to discuss how you, as a graduate or undergraduate student, can work to make yourself a good mentee.
Now that you just stepped into the lab, as an undergraduate or graduate student, you need to acknowledge the basic assumption that you will need guidance regarding (a) thinking scientifically and (b) how to correctly perform the experiments to answer your scientific questions. While you may know how to run a SDS-PAGE or how to culture cells, the lab your just entered might have different work habits or protocols. So even if you feel you’re the next Einstein, keep your profile low for a while until you see how people work at the bench and ONLY then modify it according to your judgment.
Cool. How can I expedite the learning process?
- Interest & motivation - Mentorship is a process in which both parties must demonstrate a great deal of interest for it to be successful. If you are not that motivated about the whole lab business, it is better to rethink your current position. You might waste a lot of your and other people’s time resulting in a mediocre recommendation and bad reputation. Both will not serve you well.
- Ask, ask, and…ask – As a mentee you better leave your shyness at home. The learning process involves asking questions and getting answers, whether it’s from your mentor, the internet, or any other source of information. No questions = no learning!
- Read, read and more reading – Learn as much as possible on the subject you are working on and on the specific techniques. It will improve the efficiency of the guiding process and will bring you closer to working autonomously.
- Prepare – Find the time to prepare for the next days experimentation or meeting with your mentor/PI. Ill-prepared mentees mean additional waste of yours and the mentor’s time as well as risking a mistake.
- Mistakes happen – learn from them! – You will make a mistake eventually, trust me, no matter how well you prepared yourself. It’s not bad to make mistakes just make sure your learn from them.
- Dare when possible – At a certain point your mentor will leave you to do the experimentation without his/her presence. That’s great as it means that he/she thinks you can actually run the procedure or experiment on your own. You might be confronted with surprising results. Before running to your mentor for help, try to analyze the established result and then think of possible next steps to perform. Explore and dare your assumption. This is one of the basic requirements of a good scientist so it is better to develop it as soon as possible.
- Schedule meetings – Initiate progress meetings with your PI on a regular basis (don’t forget, you’re most probably not the only student in the lab). Make sure you summarize your achievements, difficulties and possible exploration path for coping with these difficulties.
- Set Expectations – You might be surprised to realize that your PI sees your project in a different light than the way you see it. Make sure you check expectations at the door when you start your project (or any other new project that crosses your way) to avoid disappointments.
Do you have any past experience with your PI as mentor that you want to share with us?
Chen Guttman is a Graduate Student at the Zarivach lab in Ben Gurion University. Chen blogs at benchwise and serves as BioData's community liason.