Research: The difficult art of mentoring

Laboratory life. The British scientific journal was published on March 19 Nature during a ceremony at the Collège de France, three prizes were awarded to French researchers for a little-known activity, namely mentoring. The term denotes the more or less formal support of a doctoral student or postdoc by a more experienced colleague, to guide or advise him in his career, to support him psychologically at certain moments, or even to share his experience, especially during failure situations.

Even though the definitions are vague, the position is different from that of a ‘coach’ or a ‘supervisor’ (which has a hierarchical relationship). “We cannot do good research without mentoring”explains World Magdalena Skipper, director since 2018 Naturewho created this prize in 2005.

The mentoring activity is often carried out by the thesis supervisor, but some programs offer external people to carry it out – a form of intervention that is not common. In France, the Femmes & Science association has ‘mentored’ more than 800 doctoral students since 2015, thanks to its network of volunteers, who ensure regular meetings in pairs or testify about their journeys. Workshops on job interviews, for example, complete the system.

Research, a collective activity

Sorbonne University also has a program, which includes one of the winners, Marie-Emilie Terret, research director at Inserm and group leader at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Biology at the Collège de France. “The benefits go both ways. The mentees also bring me a lot. I draw strength from itshe testified during the awards ceremony. Their future is just as important to me as my research results. »

His co-recipient, Daniel Schulz, research director at the CNRS and the Paris-Saclay Institute of Neurosciences, goes even further by stating: “My greatest contribution to science is my mentorship. » Finally, Fabien Lotte, research director at Inria at the University of Bordeaux, regrets the third prize “the low recognition of this activity in careers”. “We do not see research enough as a collective activity, a sports team”underlined Magdalena Skipper in her speech, concerned that this award promotes a vision “positive research culture”.

The three winners, selected from a file consisting of long letters from five “mentees”, listed some of the required qualities. Kindness, listening, creating a good climate, giving positive or negative feedback, focusing on what people want.

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