Improving mentorship

Mentorship training and review

A recurring theme of our conversations with both faculty and trainees was the desire for mentorship training. During our department-wide conversations, some faculty alluded to the fact that many never received any formal mentorship training, yet this is a key component of their position at the university. Because of the hierarchical lab structure at most universities, faculty and trainees may find themselves either in the position as the mentor or the mentee in various situations, but many times neither party is familiar with what responsibilities that entails. This seems like a fairly straightforward problem to solve, as there are established mentorship training programs and resources available through our (and most other) university; however, how can we prioritize and incentivize mentorship training in our department when such training is not a requirement for faculty, who already have strained schedules?

We still don’t know the answer to that question, but had some ideas to incentivize and enhance access to mentorship training for faculty in our department. We wrote our ideas in two separate proposals to faculty: 1) mentorship training and 2) mentor evaluation. They have not yet been implemented in our department; we will add updated information as this effort progresses.

Proposal to faculty – mentorship training

Proposal to faculty – mentor review


Annual lab check-in and communication protocol

These action items were inspired by faculty in our department. During the department-wide discussions, one faculty member asked if any other faculty use Communication Protocols in their labs to ensure consistent and effective communication between lab members; no one had. This protocol is a document that should be developed and maintained by the lab as a whole.

Another faculty member in our department discussed her use of one-on-one annual “check-ins” with each of her trainees to make sure they are getting what they need from her and meeting their goals.

We wrote a proposal to faculty for the department to formalize each of these programs to be implemented in all labs.

Proposal to faculty – communication protocol and annual lab check-in

Communication protocol example 1

Communication protocol example 2

(Both communication protocols modified from: Hoover 2003 Developing departmental communication protocols. Conflict Management in Higher Education Report)


Intellectual property disputes

All members of the Biology Department research community (graduate students, PIs, postdocs, research staff, technicians, and undergraduate researchers) are involved in the production of intellectual property – scientific journal articles, posters, and patents.

Failure to give credit to those who have made a substantial contribution to an intellectual product is a form of plagiarism —“appropriating another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit” (1).  It is therefore a form of research misconduct.  Conversely, using one’s position to obtain authorship on a product to which one has not made a substantial contribution is a form of scientific fraud, and therefore also a form of research misconduct.

Disputes over intellectual property are perhaps the most common conflicts between PIs and trainees.  Trainees, being in a lower-power position, are particularly vulnerable to being omitted from works to which they have made contributions, or to being coerced into sharing authorship with more senior researchers who have not made substantial contributions to a work.  Many disputes can be avoided before they begin through clear communication of expectations and ethical standards.  We therefore propose a plan for the prevention and resolution of intellectual property disputes within the department, with greater emphasis on prevention.

Faculty proposal – IP disputes