Following from a discussion on last weeks' post about the new NSF is borked forum, the comments moved towards the topic of junior PIs and whether they should be postdoc mentors. The start of the discussion was sparked by Dr. Girlfriend, who made the comment:
I honestly do not believe the average new PI has the experience to qualify as a suitable postdoc mentor.
I took issue with this being an unsuitably broad statement to make and then we were off on a tangent of no return. So, I thought it might make for an interesting broader discussion. Do you, dear readers, believe that a pre-tenure faculty member can make a good postdoc mentor?
As full disclosure, I obviously have a horse in this race and may or may not be currently in this role. But certainly my comments can be interpreted from the position of someone who feels they can be an effective mentor at this stage of their career.
Most importantly, however, I think it is key to recognize that effective mentorship does not only mean one-on-one activities. As I stated in the previous thread:
We are also making the assumption here that the lab PI is the only person to whom a postdoc can go for guidance, and IME, that is also far from true. As a postdoc I consulted several PIs, both at my home institution and elsewhere, on a variety of different issues from applications, to funding and taking a position. I'm not sure how that would change based on the experience of the primary PI.
It is ridiculous to impose a requirement of tenure on anyone who wants to mentor a postdoc (as Dr. Girlfriend seems to want to do), because every mentor is going to have strengths and weaknesses. A postdoc and supervisor need to be able to recognize these 'holes' and find other mentors to compensate for weaknesses of the PI. This is no different from the situation where a postdoc wants to go into an 'alternative' career and must find mentors that will be able to guide them through that process.
As I have stated before, mentoring is about facilitating the transition from trainee to whatever career, for your peeps. If I am mentoring someone who wants to go into industry, I'm going to make sure they find someone in that field to talk to. Why is that any different when it comes to being a faculty member? Why can't junior PIs encourage their postdocs to solicit other information on being a faculty member from people at different stages of their careers? All of us do this all the time and it wouldn't make any sense to not suggest that to our trainees.
So, I guess I'm confused or maybe just used to ensuring that I have a broad base of mentorship and that my trainees do as well. Perhaps I just didn't realize that I need to be a Swiss Army knife of mentorship, when I probably see myself, at best, as a spork.