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Mentoring and Laboratory Supervision

Mentoring plays an important role in the conveyance of research standards to trainees. Trainees not only draw from their mentors scientific expertise, but also infer from the words and actions of their mentors notions about responsibly conducting research, preparing grant applications, interacting with colleagues, and preparing articles for publication. Laboratory supervision, one activity encompassed by the concept of mentoring, is critical to assessing the professional development of the trainee and to ensuring the integrity of projects in which individuals other than the principal investigator may play a role.

Upon entering graduate programs, trainees are generally in a position to select their own mentors, based largely on which faculty member has research interests that are most closely in line with those of the trainee. Other factors are likely to playa role in the selection process, though, including the personality and reputation of the professor, the productivity of the lab, the atmosphere and esprit de corps within the lab, and opportunities for professional growth. These criteria are legitimate and can be compelling.

Thus, Case E1 is designed to place the reader in the position of making certain tradeoffs. A trainee is faced with a decision to work under one of two well-reputed professors, the labs of each having certain attractive and not-so-attractive features. What one reader finds a plus about a lab, another reader may find unappealing. Thus, the reader is encouraged to consider the importance of various laboratory characteristics and the impact that the lab environment can have on a scientific career.

Mentorship may playa very special role for individuals who are underrepresented in research. The mentor serves as a living example for the trainee that people similar to himself or herself can indeed succeed in the system. Also, many labs are diverse in their representation and leadership within the lab must be sensitive to the many experiences and points of view that such diversity brings. Women and minorities often find it particularly difficult to find such sensitivity among their majority counterparts.

The isolation, stereotypes, and communication problems that may come with being a woman or a minority in a field dominated by others are explored in Case E2. The scenario focuses initially on a typical situation that a woman might face and is subsequently recast in the questions to present an analogous situation with which an African-American might have to contend.

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