Learning and teaching during postdoctoral training is an important aspect of academic research. Obtaining advice from peers on research and training helps develop technical skills and also fosters scientific friendship. Teaching juniors or peers about the science and discussing scientific literature allows everyone to develop skills such as scientific communication, data analysis, and interpretation, along with development of scientific techniques. For postdoctoral researchers wanting to stay in academe and aiming to become a professor, peer-to-peer mentoring can help develop their career.
Below are some advantages of having a peer-to-peer mentoring group:
- Teaching: a mentor can teach about science, improve writing and communication skills, develop scientific thinking, motivate, encourage, provide networking opportunities, and provide advice on career paths. Having peer-to-peer mentoring groups (between graduate student, postdoctoral researchers and even among independent PIs) can help with many of these things. We cannot all be excellent in the different fields and learning from peers with diverse experiences can help us tackle scientific scenarios and better equip us in the academic world.
- Networking: Mentoring groups at many universities now aid researchers in their career development. For example, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has a mentoring circles program to help find the optimal career path for each researcher. The program details the different opportunities available to postdoctoral researchers and points out their advantages and disadvantages. In addition, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas has career and mentoring committees for postdoctoral researchers that help provide support and encouragement to peers and helps them develop their career. Such peer groups can be formed in other universities to help develop professional relationships in addition to providing guidance, advice, and support.
- Scientific advice: Peer to peer mentoring groups can also help with technical or scientific advice. Experience in science is required to plan experiments, interpret results, and critically evaluate and review scientific literature. Peer groups can help develop and support these skills by bringing together scientists with different technical backgrounds and diverse experiences. Every researcher will have a unique perspective on asking and answering a research question. Mentoring groups can bring these individuals together and help develop scientists’ acumen.
- Mutually helpful: Mentoring groups can also help peers work through both their successes and failures. It allows everyone in the group to lead and learn at the same time. In today’s scientific environment it is easy to get discouraged with science. Mentoring groups can provide the encouragement, support, and motivation needed to be productive. They can provide moral support and help researchers navigate the academic environment.
- Accountability: Mentoring groups provide accountability and help everyone achieve their goals. Peers set goals and hold each other accountable and this makes mentoring effective. Everyone in the group is encouraged to learn, teach, and contribute in any way possible, thus helping the mentoring group be successful. Everyone in the group has ideas on how to reach goals set by peers and helps each other reach their target.
Science is hard but being part of a peer mentoring group can help you navigate your career path and provide you with support, motivation and encouragement. If you have any experience with a mentoring group at your university please let us know about it below in the comments.
About the Author:
Sushama is doing her postdoctoral research in the laboratory of Dr. Hongtao Yu at UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas TX. She obtained her PhD from the laboratory of Dr. Gary J Gorbsky at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), Oklahoma city, OK. She is interested in understanding the mechanisms that regulate mitotic progression in mammalian cell lines. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Szalinski is a science writer with a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Pittsburgh.