Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities issues are integral to the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) instruction, and everyone involved in research-related activities should be aware of these issues to conduct and support research responsibly. Research mentoring, the practice where senior researchers train individuals new to a scientific discipline, seeks to preserve the integrity of all scientific efforts. This proactive approach to the education of novice researchers increases awareness of issues that can compromise the responsible conduct of research throughout one's career.
While the concept of 'mentor' extends back to the era of Greek mythology, its application as a formal practice in research dates from the 1970s. Zelditch defines mentors as " ... advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge; supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement; tutors, people who give specific feedback on one's performance; masters, in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed; sponsors, sources of information about and aid in obtaining opportunities; models, of identity, of the kind of person one should be to be an academic." (Cited in, The Council of Graduate Schools, 1995). Haney further defines the mentoring relationship as one between an experienced and a less experienced person in which the mentor provides guidance, advice, support, and feedback.(1997).
Research trainees, on the other hand, are defined as". Anyone learning to be a researcher under an established researcher's supervision. This includes primarily graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, but may also include undergraduate and high school students working on research projects or junior research faculty, research scientist, and research staff" (Steneck, Zinn, 2003). Training, defined as 'developing by instruction, discipline or drill', can take place in vocational, workplace, academic, clinical, or research settings. In the area of research, training ideally occurs by imparting specialized information and specific skills in a complete, consistent and systematic approach. Trainees who are mentored undergo a developmental process where they can refine the research skills that become the foundation for a productive research career. Ideally, the mentor does not just show the trainee what to do, but how to do it. Thus, this can become a prime opportunity for guiding young researchers on the responsible conduct of research and increasing awareness of research misconduct.
The nature of the mentoring relationship has been described as one of the most complex, developmentally important a person can have (Levinson, 1986). This relationship, occurring under the watchful supervision of an experienced researcher, begins at an early stage of a trainee's research career, but can extend beyond the formal training period well into one's professional life. The value of mentoring is increasingly recognized in many fields including medicine, nursing, science and engineering, as well as the arts, the private corporate world, and the legal profession. When queried about the most useful and positive aspects of their training, recent graduates of medical schools and training programs gave "outstanding mentorship" as the second most common response (Sung, Crowley, Genel, Salber, 2003). On the other hand, a scarcity of mentors and role models was often cited as a disincentive for entering a career in clinical research.
While the trainee benefits by developing the necessary skills, experience, and knowledge to conduct research responsibly and ultimately become an independent researcher, mentors also benefit by participating in this relationship, “There is a measure of altruism in mentoring – but much more than altruism is involved. The mentor is doing something for (him/herself). He/she is making productive use of (his/her) own knowledge and skill in middle age. He/she is learning in ways not otherwise possible. He/she is maintaining his/her connection with the forces of youthful energy in the world and in him/herself. He/she needs the recipient of mentoring as much as the recipient needs him/her” (Levinson, 1986).
Because the quality of the mentor trainee relationship can have long ranging consequences and influence all aspects of research, both parties share responsibility for a successful relationship. This module will describe research-related issues of the mentor trainee relationship. These issues will include an exploration of 1) the significance of mentoring in promoting the education and training of research professionals, 2) the numerous forms of mentoring, 3) critical attributes of the mentor-trainee relationship, 4) responsibilities and expectations, 5) environmental determinants that facilitate efficient and successful mentoring, and 6) perspectives on dealing with challenges trainees are likely to face. For the purpose of this module, mentoring issues have been organized into the following topics that reflect the developmental stages of the relationship:
- Need for Mentoring
- Expectations, Goals, Objectives
- Establishing the Relationship
- Working Together
- Identifying Challenges
- Lessons Learned
- Transition to Independent Researcher
Ideally, the mentoring relationship should benefit trainee, mentor, sponsoring institution, and science. However, the reality is that not all successful researchers have had mentors, and not all mentor/trainee relationship end successfully. Each research institution has its own perspective on the value of mentoring, and how deeply it is willing to invest in the practice. Nevertheless, potential mentors and trainees should become familiar with likely responsibilities as well as the benefits and costs of this relationship.
Haney, A. (1997). The role of mentorship in the workplace. In Workplace Education, edited by M.C. Taylor: 211--228. Culture Concepts: ED 404 573, Toronto .
Levinson, D. J. (1986). A conception of adult development. American Psychologist, 41: 3-13.
Sung, N.S., Crowely, W.F., Genel, M., Salber, P. (2003). Central challenges facing the national clinical research enterprise. JAMA, 289: 1278.
Zelditch, M. 1990. Mentor roles. In Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Western Association of Graduate Schools, 11. Tempe , Ariz. , March 16-18.
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