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January 7, 2012 / jpschimel

Mottoes for Memorable Mentoring

A number of years ago, I was invited to participate in a panel about mentoring. I have several real mottoes on that front including:

As a Professor, it is your job to produce both science, and scientists.
Take care of the people who take care of you.
As a mentor its your job to help your students get to the right place for them.
Never let the rules get in the way of doing the right thing.

But I couldn’t bear to just get up there and be sappy about just being a good person, taking care of your people, etc. So I decided to have some fun. I came up with a set of mottoes that, if you follow all of them, would guarantee that you would be one of the most memorable mentors in the history of academe. Remembered, however, for being one of the most evil people ever to blight the University.

Yet, all of these are based on something that either has a grain of truth in it, or on attitudes that some colleagues of mine have seemed to believe had a measure of truth. I hope you find them amusing. But please do the opposite–you will be equally memorable (without the curses)–and you will be more successful too.

Mottoes for Memorable Mentoring

1. Remember that we have graduate students for the same reasons farmers have kids: we need the cheap labor.

2. Credit is finite and a zero-sum game. If you give credit to your students, you lose it.

3. When they finish, your students will become your competitors. Why would you want to do anything that would advance their careers after they graduate?

4. Students need to learn effective time management:
A. Days have 24 hours, don’t they?
B. There are 7 days in a week: weekends are so you can get work done without distraction.
C. Graduate school is so much fun, students don’t need vacations.
Corollary: A student’s standing should be based on how many hours they are in the lab, not how much they accomplish in the hours they do spend there.

5. Academia is rough; you will experience harsh and undeserved criticism. Make sure students are used to it.

6. Make sure that your students know that when they get their Ph.D. they too, will know everything. Until then, they know nothing and aren’t worth listening to.

7. Make sure that students know about the “pot of gold” at the end of the road- i.e. a job. Don’t tell them that you will write a letter of recommendation that will ensure that they don’t get it.
Corollary: Be sure to let your people know they are wonderful, up until the day you fire them.

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