MTP Cases: Rewards and Challenges of Mentorship

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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

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.

Comment 1: I am delighted! I think it's time for Tom to become a mentor and I would refer him on to the MTP. Although he may not be quite ready to be a lead mentor because he is still building his resource base, he can begin to learn how to mentor.

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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.

Comment 1: I would be concerned about moving the K-Award application to year 2003. How can we adjust her time so she can write manuscripts, send a K-Award in sooner rather than later, and have a family? Does she need relief from other commitments? It takes at least two cycles to get a K-Award—starting sooner rather than later may be best. The mentoring team should discuss this.

Comment 2: Both Harriett and her mentoring team need to frankly assess why she has not been able to keep up with the goals of her IDP. It is important that Harriett be an active participant in this discussion. Together the mentors and Harriett need to discuss issues such as: Has her research had unexpected problems, have their been unexpected life events that have prevented progress, are there competing responsibilities (increased clinical service), competing other interests or general lack of focus. Hopefully this discussion is occurring early, changes can be made and if desired there is time to reset priorities and goals to improve the likelihood of success. Otherwise it is in the best interest of all parties to reset priorities and goals with the aim of formulating an alternate plan for a career path.

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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?

Comment 1: Oxygen mask on the mentor first! Learning to say no is important. Use the many tools available in the seminar 1.

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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?

Comment 1: I would not be bothered by not being included as a co-investigator on his funded CDC grant because that advice sounds right. I am concerned because it is not clear to me who his lead mentor and his mentoring team members are? Research is lonely without a team—sounds like he should change direction if he didn't have significant results from his CDC grant. What happened on the CDC grant? Was it that there weren't any significant results (that happens) or that it didn't get done? How many papers did he publish from the grant? What help does he want on this grant and when is it due? Depending on the kind of help he needs, it is still fine with me that I am not included on the grant.

Comment 2: The option of "multiple PIs" on a grant is worth exploring, but with a few warning labels: It would require an additional section in the application that addresses the "Leadership Plan" that contains information about how conflicts will be resolved, and that is not always very convincing to reviewers. Secondly, both PIs would need to be "new investigator" status for that criterion to apply, so it becomes a clear disadvantage to the new investigator if his or her other PI is an experienced PI.

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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?

Comment 1: I wouldn't be unhappy with this situation of not being a co-author. I have plenty of publications and I would still be happy to work together on publications and just not be included if that is how it will assist him. We could sit down and separate the future publications clearly as to which ones I felt comfortable not being on.

Advice for his lead mentor and the mentoring team: We should have a meeting and discuss this together. Do we as the mentoring team feel he is on track? Part of his mentoring team should be his career mentor from his department. If yes: Has Richard met with the Dean of Academic Affairs in his school? What is that Dean's assessment?

For the department: It may mean the Department Committee on Academic Personnel (CAP) needs to better understand what constitutes a successful Career in clinical and translational research. Perhaps the Department CAP is comprised of mostly basic researchers and they don't understand what a successful researcher in clinical and translational research looks like. Does the Chair need to bring in outside referees to Department CAP? Certainly the career mentor should be able to provide insights on the department.

It would seem reasonable after these steps were discussed by the mentoring team and Richard, that the lead mentor considers meeting with the Chair.

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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?

Comment 1: It is time for a heart-to-heart. What are they thinking? Has Harriett really chosen the career she wants? All series and career paths are important, discovering the one that is important to her is what really counts.

Comment 2: I would bring the mentoring team together for a discussion.

Comment 3: This has happened to me, both as a mentor and a mentee. It is most definitely the sign of a problem, but not necessarily with the career path the mentee has chosen. Lack of perceived mentor support, lack of a mentee's sense of purpose or worth in the relationship, or personal problems (depression, marriage difficulties, financial strains) may also be responsible. A good mentor will care enough to confront the issue of underperformance in a constructive and collaborative way with the goal of achieving mentee happiness and fulfillment first, regardless of where that means their professional career goes.

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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?

Comment 1: This is, and will always be one of the most difficult situations for a mentee, waiting for that CDA. This takes strategic and deliberate planning. I would bring together the mentoring team to brainstorm on creative ways to provide support. Certainly after meeting with the mentoring team, a meeting with the Chair of her department would be important. What support can the Chair bring to this faculty member? What support can the mentoring team provide in this situation? It's time to go to bat for this mentee. Does the mentee have multiple CDA submissions: NIH, Pharma, Foundation? The details of these will be covered in the Grants Seminar.

Comment 2: Presuming Kim is in the same scientific area that I am in, I would consider adding her to one of my grants to assist with support, or increasing her percentage time on a grant she may already be on.

Comment 3: I would recommend bringing the mentoring team together to discuss two important issues: first, to review the summary report of the CDA and identify why the application was not funded, and how we can plan to assure timely resubmission of an optimized amended application; second, to discuss how to financially support the mentee through the next 6-12 months. Retrospectively, the mentoring team should have encouraged the mentee to "recycle" his/her grant and submit it to other agencies for funding as in the current climate of funding, many CDA applications would not get funded first time around. Applying to other agencies for smaller fellowship grants may help prevent this crisis, and in case the CDA gets funded, may provide additional funding.

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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.

Comment 1: If we perform similar science and I can add her to a grant, or use some other funds, and we could write papers together, I would offer Kim 10 to 20 percent support for a year. I've done it for others.

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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?

Comment 1: This is also one of the most difficult situations, moving from a career award of 75 percent to independent funding. This again takes strategic and deliberate planning. I would bring together the mentoring team to brainstorm on creative ways to provide support. Certainly after meeting with the mentoring team, a meeting with the Chair of her department would be important. What support can the Chair bring to this faculty member? What support can the mentoring team provide in this situation? It's time to go to bat for this mentee. Does she have multiple grants in to UCSF, Pharma, Foundations? The details of these will be covered in the Grants Seminar.

Comment 2: There are many different ways to handle this depending on Kim's disciplinary focus and career goals. This may be a time to assess the fact that Kim needs a certain number of R01's to stay on in her current position—or she may need to collaborate pretty substantially with others if she wants to stay at her current position. The mentoring team should also discuss what her career goals are—does she want to move on to a tenure track position where soft money isn't the only way to live? These positions are hard to come by, but they do exist, and someone with her productivity in articles and small grants would be very competitive. Finally, it may be the case that Kim needs to discuss her last grant with her Program Officer and see what went wrong. Scaling back to an R21 or R34 is sometimes what the Program Officer suggests. Putting in a few of these grants in the near future may be an option.

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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?

Comment 1: Tough one but best to deal with directly and not let it drift a long. I would not have moved one of the tasks….time for a number of scheduled one on one meetings to get to the bottom of this and come to some agreements.

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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?

Comment 1: Training, Training, Training in clinical research methods. Through the CTST there are many levels of training and the fellow needs to at a minimum do the summer course—see if they like it and how they do....and certainly ATCR would be better, and obtaining a Master's best. If as they progress through they don't enjoy it or don't do well.....they and you have the answer. If they don't even start—that too is an answer.

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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?

Comment 1: I encourage my mentees to first celebrate the submission of the grant—because as we all know you may not get it! I definitely take time with the mentees that get those first few rejections…it just does not feel good….and it takes a long time to get that very thick skin that we all have faced……ouch! I would also reinforce my faith in them.

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