Position on Mentor/Trainee Responsibilities
While conducting investigations, researchers often assume the added role of mentors to trainees. The mentor-trainee relationship is complex and brings into play potential conflicts. How much time—training time for the mentor, research time for the trainee—should each devote to the other? Who gets credit for ideas that take shape during the course of a shared experiment? Who owns the results? When does a trainee become an independent researcher? The essential elements of a productive mentor-trainee relationship are difficult to codify into rules or guidelines, leaving most of the decisions about responsible mentoring to the individuals involved. Common sense suggests that good mentoring should begin with:
- A clear understanding of mutual responsibilities
- A commitment to maintain a productive and supportive research environment
- Proper supervision and review
- An understanding that the main purpose of the relationship is to prepare trainees to become successful researchers
Understandings and agreements, however, will count for little if they are not backed up by firm commitments to make a relationship work. Knowing the importance of personal commitments, researchers should carefully consider what responsibilities they have to trainees before they take on the essential task of training new researchers. Trainees, in turn, should be aware of their responsibilities to mentors before accepting a position in a laboratory or program.
Mentors are those who are directly involved in the professional development of a research trainee. Research trainees are dependent on their mentor for everything from money to pay the rent to approval for their thesis projects. Mentors are dependent upon their trainees to carry out their research plans, keep appropriate records, produce and leave the documentation necessary for publication and other use of the trainer's documented work and results. This level of mutual dependence together with the power disparity that exists in the mentor/trainee relationship creates the potential for abuse and exploitation by both.
The essential characteristics of a good mentor-trainee relationship are communication and clarity. If the mentor is able to communicate expectations and is able to explain the reasoning behind decisions that affect trainees, problems are not likely to develop based on assumptions or hidden agendas. If the trainee is able to ask questions and articulate concerns, there is less motivation for trainees to subversively manipulate the lab or its director.
Faculty with post-docs on their federally funded grants are required to mentor those post-docs in an appropriate manner to ensure compliance with federal regulations.