Mentoring in the laboratory

Effective mentoring is essential to the success of laboratory science. All students (including undergraduates), post-docs and technicians in my lab are mentored with the same basic approach, but the details and level of involvement will vary to match individual needs. My mentoring style has been heavily influenced by my own lab experiences combined with my own personal self-training in project management. It is my goal that all students and post-docs in my laboratory become independent and effective scientists. This way, we can all enjoy the discoveries to be made.

Career Resources for Trainees

There is no need for luck to have a successful career in science. In my opinion the ear part of a career in science is the science itself. Most scientists have well worked out protocols for things they do every day. However, few have equivalent resources to assist with managing their careers. The following resources have proven useful to me as I progressed through my career in science and I hope they are useful to others

Mentoring Plan for Trainees

Planning: Before a new lab member picks up a pipette, they will first develop a a research plan. Research plans have been proven to significantly increase productivity in the laboratory (Davis, 2005). In addition to research planning, this will also be a key time for career planning and goal setting. While planning does take time away from bench work it is an important time of reflecting on existing literature and effectively preparing for the experiments to come. The document the new student or post-doc creates during this time will be done in collaboration with myself and will be revisited frequently during the progression of their project and career. During annual staff reviews, it will also serve as a template for measuring progress and keeping projects and careers on track. For students who will be mentored by other members of the lab, the mentor will be a part of this process and the mentor will also create a plan of mentoring for the student.

Execution: This stage can be essentially summarized as the lab work itself. During this stage, a student or post-doc will require different amounts of feedback and encouragement to keep their research plan on track. This is also the stage at which most scientific projects derail due to technical problems. My preferred method is to make a daily lab walk-through to touch base with everyone in the lab and see how things are going. This can be as simple as a few minutes discussing what is going on, or as complex as troubleshooting technical problems. A daily walk-through is not only important for me to keep in touch with laboratory progress, but also an important component of building and maintaining lab spirit and morale. In addition to my own involvement, I also encourage collaboration amongst all members of my laboratory.

Additionally, all students and post-docs will be expected to present their findings at lab meetings and to meet personally with me outside of lab meeting to discuss project progression. All students are expected to be making enough yearly progress so that they can present findings at appropriate scientific meetings (including undergraduates). Post-docs and senior or talented graduate students should devote at least 10-15% of their time to a collaborative or independent projects outside the primary scope of the laboratory. This can be within the Division of Biology or may be with labs at other institutions. To me devoting time to collaborative work is important for bringing new skills into my lab, but most important for trainees to develop new skills, gain prominence in the scientific community and learn to be a part of a team larger than our own lab.

Wrap-up and publication: If all goes well, a project should result in publication. But if it should not, a brief project write up of the findings is important for future improvement of research planning and execution. During this time I focus on training students and post-docs how to write effectively. This means that students and post-docs will write all publications, with myself serving as the editor and writing trainer. This will also be the time that new research directions will be unveiled and the process of planning future research will reiterate. More importantly, times of publication will also be used to revisit student and post-doc career plans.


G. Davis. 2005. Improving the postdoctoral experience: an empirical approach. The science and engineering workforce in the U.S. R. Freeman and D. Goroff, Eds. NBER/University of Chicago Press.