The following case scenarios are to assist in defining the rewards and challenges mentors face. Each case offers tools to evaluate and improve a challenging situation you may face as a mentor.
Rewards of Being a Mentor
Challenges of Being a Mentor
- Fostering the mentee's independence
- Separation of a co-mentor and mentee
- Assessing lack of success
- Short on funds—what could the lead mentor do?
- Short on funds—what could the co-mentor do?
- Short on funds—career development award or independent funding?
- Salvage the relationship or not: Problems between Principal Investigator and Co- Investigator
- Is clinician-investigator the right path for your mentee?
- Developing thick skin (i.e. not letting the turkeys get you down)
Rewards of Being a Mentor
Helping a mentee succeed
As a senior professor in your department, you chaired a search committee and recruited Tom, an excellent candidate who was subsequently hired as an assistant professor. You were Tom's designated mentor—a very good arrangement, since you had invested so much time as the Chair of the search committee, and felt you knew him and his career goals better than others in the department. Although his methodological expertise was different, Tom could match with your own research population of interest and you included him as a co-investigator on your R01, which funded him for 20 percent of his efforts. You also included him as a co-Faculty of Record (F.O.R.) for a class you taught during the previous two years and agreed to be on an additional school committee to allow him to be excluded from committee service during the first year. With your help, Tom submitted a 5-year grant that was funded by the CDC. He was tenured last year, with a year left on the CDC grant. He has been very productive, worked well with your team, and had two first-authored papers accepted from your project.
Setting reasonable goals for the project
Harriett has met with her mentoring team and developed an individual development plan (IDP) that was approved by everyone on the team. It was overly ambitious and you commented that some of the activities would need to be revised to be realistically accomplished during her first year. She has met with you, as her co-mentor, every month and modified her IDP form to reflect this feedback. She also postponed a planned activity to write a K-Award application in year 2001 and moved that to year 2003 of her IDP in order to have time to write more manuscripts and start a family.
How many mentees is too many?
You are a rising researcher at UCSF who is successful with exciting ongoing studies. You are already mentoring junior faculty, several fellows, residents, and medical students. How many mentees is too many? How do you say no to people who keep approaching you? What's the best way to ensure that your research career progresses while you assist others with their research as well?
Challenges of Being a Mentor
Fostering mentee's independence
Tom's funded CDC grant did not include you, his lead mentor, as a co-investigator because his Department Chair advised him that he needed to be seen as an independent investigator. Now, Tom is tenured and applying for a NIH grant. He came to you to get your help for this grant application. You are surprised to learn that he had no significant results from his CDC project and wants to change direction after consultation with his Department Chair. He has no intention of including you or anyone else as a co-investigator in the grant, although he talked with you in the past about how "lonely" it was to do research.
Has the mentor-mentee relationship changed? Is it time to terminate this relationship or modify it? What advice would you give this mentor? How would you advise this lead mentor (or co-mentor) to address the issue with Tom directly? How do you think the lead mentor should address this with the Department Chair?
Separation of a co-mentor and his mentee
You have been a co-mentor for four years to a junior colleague who has been very successful. The mentee, Richard, has nine first-author papers and just received a K-award. The two of you enjoy working together, and contribute to each others ideas. Your relationship has begun to grow from mentor-mentee to colleagues, as you feel the work both of you do together is better than the work either of does alone. However, Richard recently came up for his mid-promotion review and the Department merit-promotion committee was concerned that his research was not as independent from your research as it should be. They suggested your mentee's future publications not include you as an author. Both you and Richard are unhappy with this recommendation because you want to continue working together.
What advice would you give to Richard? What advice would you give to his lead mentor and co-mentor? Is it possible for the co-mentor and Richard to continue their relationship and still have Richard get promoted on time? It was suggested that the co-mentor continues to work with Richard, but takes his own name off Richard's papers. What are your comments on this solution? How do you define independence? Are the typical metrics of independence used in the promotion process good measures? Do you think the emphasis on independence in the promotion process is good or bad for an institution? Should the mentor's beliefs on this question influence actions with regard to Richard?
Assessing lack of success
Harriett has not kept up with the goals of her IDP over the last few years. She remains unpublished, without grants, and seems unhappy. Her mentoring team, including her career mentor in the department, is very pessimistic about her chance to advance. What would you do?
Short on funds—what could the lead mentor do?
Your mentee, Kim, has kept on task writing papers, small grants, and has submitted her career development award (CDA), but it won't likely be funded this cycle. The mentoring team is very enthusiastic about her career, work ethic, and accomplishments to date. She is coming up short on funds for the next 6-12 months. As her lead mentor, what do you recommend?
Short on funds—what could the co-mentor do?
Your mentee, Kim, has kept on task writing papers, small grants, and has submitted her career development award (CDA), but it won't likely be funded this cycle. The mentoring team is very enthusiastic about her career, work ethic, and accomplishments to date. You are her co-mentor and the lead mentor is wondering if you have any support for this stellar researcher.
Short on funds—career development award or independent funding?
Your mentee, Kim, has kept on task writing papers, small grants, and has submitted her Career Development Award (CDA) which was funded. Kim is finishing most of the training portion of the grant, working on the research plan, and she submitted an R01 that was not scored. She was 75 percent on the K-Award and her R01 was budgeted for her at 30 percent time. While awaiting the summary statement feedback from NIH reviewers, what should the lead mentor advise Kim to do? What discussion should the mentoring team and department chair have with Kim?
Salvage the relationship or not: problems between Principal Investigator and Co- Investigator
You are mentoring the PI or the co-investigator (co-I). You notice some problems between the PI and co-I in a community-based (T2 or T3) study. The co-I's role (15% effort) is to do 2 specific tasks. The project is on time except for those 2 tasks. So, the PI moved 1 of the 2 tasks to someone else and asked the co-I to concentrate on the 1 task. 2-3 months ago a staff person sent an annotated bibliography thoroughly reviewing materials as a way to expedite the process. The last group meeting ended with the co-I emotionally expressing that s/he doesn't want anyone else taking away the co-I's tasks. The PI noted that the co-I ignored instructions about communicating with clinic administrators and that clinic declined to participate in the study. What do you suggest to the PI? The co-I? The co-I's division chief? Is there some way to salvage this relationship without the PI removing the co-I from the study team?
Is clinician-investigator the right path for your mentee?
Your research mentee, a clinical fellow, expresses the desire for a career path as a clinician-investigator, beginning with obtaining a K award. However, based on the mentee's productivity to date, you have doubts about the amount of time and effort that the mentee will be willing to devote to this goal. What are suggestions for handing the situation so that the mentee does not go too far down a path that is unsuitable, and how can alternative paths be presented in a positive and attractive light?
Developing thick skin (i.e. not letting the turkeys get you down)
Your new research mentee (a physician) has been very successful as an undergraduate, graduate student, and clinical fellow. They are now completing their first year of research fellowship and it has been a tough but productive adjustment. Yesterday, however, your mentee learned that an important grant submission they spent months developing and writing will not be funded. It was not even triaged! This disappointment is compounded by the recent rejection of a manuscript at a top tier journal necessitating revision and resubmission and acceptance at a less desirable journal.
Your mentee is clearly demoralized. They have never experienced rejection before academically. You have great faith in their abilities and know that this is the reality of academics—papers and grants will get rejected and successful academics must have resiliency and not take the criticisms personally. You call the mentee into your office to discuss these issues and hope to help them understand the realities of the new academic world they are entering.
What do you say?