Evidence-Based Mentoring

Action: Encourage institutions and faculty to identify and adopt evidence-based practices so that students receive the mentorship necessary to develop essential career skills.

Mentoring is a relationship between a more experienced person, the mentor, and a less experienced person, the mentee or trainee, within which important career skills are transferred from one to the other. The mentoring relationship is an agreement between two people that the mentor will take a long-term interest in the career development and aspirations of the mentee. This is a serious responsibility for the mentor, who must accept that he or she has taken on an important, perhaps life-long, role in another's career.

For the purposes of scientific research training and career development, one crucial mentor in a trainee's life is his or her research advisor or laboratory head. However, anyone with experience can take on a mentoring role, and trainees may benefit from having more than one mentor.

In addition to the scientific focus on a mentee's research, good mentoring includes the cultivation of a variety of skills in the mentee. Such skills can include management, the ability to communicate clearly and a thorough understanding of the ethical and social issues surrounding biomedical and behavioral research. These may also aid the trainee in choosing between multiple career paths.

Surprisingly, despite the facts that the research community consists of trained scientists and that mentoring advice abounds, there has been little rigorous study of the best mentoring practices in scientific research. However, the data that are available make clear that structure, oversight and regular feedback are significantly correlated with both trainee satisfaction and success.

NIGMS encourages institutional oversight to promote the best mentoring practices for the graduate students and postdoctoral researchers it funds. For example, reviewers of training grant applications will be informed that NIGMS has a positive view of the presence of institutional postdoctoral affairs offices and the use of formal performance evaluations from advisors. In addition, overwhelming evidence indicates that the completion of annual individual development plans is associated with scientific success and the attainment of professional goals. NIGMS strongly encourages the use of such plans. The Institute will also solicit advice from the research training community and scientific societies regarding current gaps in mentor support and new evidence of successful training methods.