Oh, Won't You be My Mentor?


Now, I try my best not to be a woe-is-me type person. I am definitely more of an acknowledge-what-you-don't-like-and-do-your-best-to-change-that-shit kind of person. And along those lines, I've always dug the serenity prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Now, I'm not the praying type, but that is one hell of a prayer. Those words sum up everything that I believe I need to be happy. Acceptance. Courage. Wisdom.

So what does this have to do with today?

Today, this week, this month- I've been trying to acknowledge, to get a handle on the limitations of the lab in which I work. In my last post, I spoke of my frustration with having done a crapload of experimental work in the last 2+ years, yet having no submitted manuscripts. A couple of the ensuing comments struck me:

GeekMommyProf writes, "Taking on high-risk projects is admirable, but you need to balance them with bread-and-butter work. You advisor should help cultivate in you how to strike a balance."

PhysioProf chimes in, "It sounds to me like you need more and/or better guidance from your mentor(s), who certainly have better developed senses for the relative impact of different projects, the relative likelihood of success of different projects, and the relative time/effort that is going to get sucked up by different projects."

Well, shit guys.

Thinking about it, I totally get it. I'm a postdoc, not a PI. I'm doing my best to get there, but I could use a little help. The problem, you see, is that there is little mentoring available to me in my lab.

Aside from meeting with my direct supervisor ~ once every 2 months, the only real "mentors" I have are my fellow postdocs. The lab system of which I am a part cultivates many positive qualities in the independent, collaborative researcher. I don't really think I'd want to be part of another lab.

But the thing that is lacking, of course, is guidance. The more I think about this, the sadder I get, and then the whole "woe-is-me" thing starts happening. Which is retarded, because I cannot inherently blame my lack of publications on my lack of mentorship. But I can wish that I had a real mentor.

The problem is that wishing for something won't get me jack shit. I mean, even the serenity prayer doesn't tell you to wish for something. It tells you to screw your head on straight, and then to accept or to act.

So what do I do? Anyone who knows me would tell you that I'm not very good at accepting things, so let's assume, in this case, that I need to act. Options (that I can think of) include:
  1. Trying to meet with my PI. I have had 2 meetings with my PI since I joined the lab, each of which has run approximately 10 minutes. I have doubts about the willingness of someone this time-pressed to give me the attention I'd need to help sort through my 5 projects. I know some people in my lab actually go to him. But there is something in me that is loathe to consume his time for anything other than A) a serious problem or B) a serious success.
  2. Trying to meet more/get more out of my relationship with my direct supervisor. I am in regular email contact with him, and have frequent enough meetings with him that he is generally kept abreast of my experimental accomplishments and failures. However, he is in charge of a lot of people, and he simply cannot afford to devote much mental energy to me and my issues.
  3. Calling up my grad advisor and trying to get him to mentor me. But, oh, how I don't want to do this because it's just not his job anymore. I still ask him for advice on stuff that isn't directly related to my research (aka- should I write a review for Journal A? Which topic do you think is better for my TT research statement?). But I don't want to ask him for advice on my current research. It's not his area of research, and it just reeks of neediness and incompetence to me.
  4. Asking my grandmother, or possibly her cat, to step in as my advisor.

What do you think, internets? If you are an advisee in a large lab, how do you find mentorship? If you are an advisor, what are you willing to do for your past and present mentees in terms of project advice?

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