A writeup in ScienceCareers on an AAAS survey of postdoctoral mentors has a few gems:


Todd Castoe, a postdoc at the University of Colorado Medical School, … “My adviser is giving me a lot of firsthand experience with the practicalities of running a lab. We talk about why we should finish specific projects and how that relates to current and future grants. We look at a pile of new data and decide what direction is most profitable to follow up,” he says. “I get to see the larger picture.”

Castoe has been involved in writing grants, reviewing papers and then discussing them with his adviser, establishing collaborations, and working on grants for large projects. “Thirty percent of my day is devoted to things other than my own research,” he says. Although he sometimes worries that all the added exposure will not be reflected on his CV when he starts to look for a job, he realizes that the training is preparing him to run his own lab. “I would call this one of the best-case scenarios for training. It is very holistic.”

Here’s a guy who understands that the job of a postdoc is not only to get a RealJob but also to prepare oneself as completely as possible for success in that RealJob. Particularly in the first few years where the learning curve is steep, anything you bring along already-learned is a GoodThing.

According to the survey, most supervisors (61 percent) spend 20 percent or less of their professional time supervising their postdocs; the remainder (39 percent) spend more than 20 percent of their time doing so. A large majority (78%) feel that they have this balance just right, while 14% would prefer to spend more time supervising, and only 6% believe this responsibility to be taking too much of their attention. “My philosophy is I could focus on publishing 20 really good papers or also make sure that I train 20 really good scientists who then each publish 20 really good papers,” says professor Graeme Mardon at Baylor College of Medicine. “In the end mentoring makes a greater contribution. For me it is more satisfying to see someone develop than the nuts and bolts of running a lab.”

A fascinating equation. Ever attend the GeezerLecture (you know your society meeting has one or three of these every year) which is either for a formal mentorship award or just from a Luminary who is proud of his (yah, generally male GeezerLectures) trainees? Are you the type that thinks “Damn, I’d be pretty happy to look back at my career and see those 20 of my trainees who are now luminaries in their own right”? Or “Aha! The path to world domination of my scientific views is to generate viable careers for scientists who think like I do!”  I know I do…  And yet looking at some people’s approach to mentoring and career development you can see that this isn’t even remotely on their radar for a life-accomplishment. I don’t get that.