Researchers mentoring researchers

Mentoring has been an everyday activity for me as supervisor of students (PhD and MSc) and postdoctoral researchers. This mentoring has usually focused mainly on research itself, and the specific field of research I work in. In addition I have brought to the discussion more general topics but they had been mostly unplanned detours from other discussions. To some extent, answering questions in ResearchGate, StackOverflow and through e-mail, has also been small-scale mentoring. I have regularly taught at and organized training events for PhD students and early stage researchers. In recent years I have edited a handbook on methods in photobiology, and co-authored another one on calculations related to photobiology. I have written a text book on the R language, aimed mainly at independent learning. I have developed open-source software to make correct calculations and plotting of radiation data as used in photobiology easier. The aim behind all this work has been to make “good science” easier to carry out, and through mentoring and training, to encourage other researchers in my own field to pay more attention into avoiding methodological pitfalls.

Our university has during recent years encouraged young researchers to enter into a formal mentoring agreement with more senior colleagues. Last year, a postdoctoral researcher from a different faculty asked me if I would be willing to be his mentor. I was a bit surprised at first, but accepted looking forward to an enriching and interesting experience.

It has turned out to be an even more enjoyable and interesting process than what I expected. I think, because, our discussions are not centered on the actual details of research, but instead, almost exclusively on the broader issues of doing original research. Issues such as the philosophy of science, the role of good writing skills in scientific success, planning or not a career in advance, or even the link between enjoying doing one’s work and being successful. I am looking forward to further enriching and interesting discussions.

We are trying to keep a record of the discussions, which could eventually become a short book.

A list of topics:

  1. Career planning: balancing being flexible about geographic location and being flexible in the research subject or type of position one is willing to be employed in.
  2. Narrow field of specialization vs. broader background.
  3. What is a true generalist?
  4. Emotional detachment from own and other researchers’ hypotheses or expected vs. unexpected experimental results.
  5. The assessment of scientific output: short vs. long-term. Uncertainties involved.
  6. The problem of published results that cannot be reproduced.
  7. The problem of misleading and biased use of references.
  8. How can a perfectionist survive in a system that favors volume of output and short-term news-worthiness overlong-term impact, result reliability and quality of evidence?
  9. When and why does the productivity of researchers peak?
  10. Why/where do students “learn” that the choice of subject during BSc, Msc and even PhD has a large impact for their whole future working life?
  11. Why do we have so many different degrees awarded at HU? Specially for PhD, each individual student really studies something different. Some universities abroad go to the extreme of awarding PhD in Science, or PhD in Humanities.
  12. I would like to find/collect some data on what percentage of highly successful researchers vs. moderately successful ones have drastically changed subjects or studied more than one subject before being successful.
  13. The role of bare curiosity in success in research.
  14. Human relations as a key skill for researchers.
  15. Retirement. Planning for retirement, and why many successful researchers never effectively retire.
  16. Self publishing and open-access.

Leave a Reply