Commitment to Mentorship

Commitment to Mentorship

As a member of a research institution, you have the exciting opportunity to work on challenging and complex problems.  In many cases, the scope of a problem is not fully known before a research project has begun. Conducting leading research demands that we are open-minded, diligent, and professional.  Research is a team effort. As a group member, you will work with people who have a wide range of experiences, expertise, and level of training. Team members and collaborators will come from diverse institutes and cultures. Coordinating research activities can be time-consuming, even among small groups, and there is no single recipe for success. Nonetheless, there are two items that I have found to be essential among highly productive teams: clear expectations and communication.

General Expectations:

First and foremost, we are professionals. We write technical and non-technical explanations of research results, give presentations to scientists and the public, serve as experts in our field, and act as science learning promoters. As we progress in our careers, we should expect at some to point to host impromptu, thoughtful, and comprehensible science discussions with reporters and the general public.

Professionalism also requires being courteous to our colleagues.  We have hard deadlines in research, e.g., conference submissions, referee reports, and grant proposals, as well as soft deadlines, e.g., finishing a draft of a paper and replying to colleagues’ concerns. While many deadlines may be arbitrary and may not be explicitly stated, such as a timely response to a colleague’s question, we must be mindful that our actions can affect multiple people within our research networks.  

What you can expect from me:

  • I will help you identify your research interests and help guide you in selecting research topics.  I will serve as a facilitator of research tools and project background resources.  

  • I will encourage you to own your research project. One of the principal objectives of an academic research team is to promote a scaffolding approach toward research independence. When you join our team, you will likely begin by working on short and focused problems. As you progress in your career, you will be encouraged to play a significant part in shaping your research objectives, with the goal of becoming an independent researcher.

  • I will listen. During our regular meetings (see below), I will give you my undivided attention.  This means that I will push my computer screen aside, and speak with you directly.  If I cannot make a regular meeting or cannot give you my undivided attention for an unscheduled discussion, e.g., due to a deadline, I will let you know up front and will work with you to find a suitable time to meet.

  • I will ensure that you are made aware of fellowship and funding opportunities, and will work with you to develop a research plan and proposal to the extent allowed by the guidelines.

  • We will have regular professional development sessions during our group meetings.  These sessions will be used to discuss career progression and career options, even outside of academia.

What I expect from you:

  • We will meet regularly, with one scheduled meeting per week.  This is your chance to show me research results, ask for technical guidance, ask me questions about your career progression, and/or bring up any ideas, concerns, or comments.

  • We will have monthly group meetings, during which one member of our group provides a succinct update to the rest of the group. This gives everyone a chance to build their technical presentation skills, while also keeping the group informed of our cooperative progress.

  • You will be strongly encouraged to attend journal club or astro-ph sessions to  help us all keep current with the breakneck pace of research dissemination.  

  • Ask questions.  I understand that the fear of embarrassment is powerful and plays a large role in keeping people silent.  This fear is irrational.  Just remember that (1) you are probably not alone and that (2) it is far more problematic to pretend that you understand something. The latter will only cause confusion and complications down the road. One way to mitigate the fear is to learn how to phrase questions to get appropriate and helpful answers. This is an art, and the only way to master the art is to try.

  • Take an active role in shaping your research plan.  I want you to work on projects because they hold your interest. This may be difficult at first, but as you progress in your career and build a stronger foundation with tools and background information, it will get easier.  A major objective is for you to begin defining research projects in casual conversations, almost without realizing that you are doing it.

  • Be open with me.  If you are having problems with a project, let me know. If you do not think you can make a deadline, let me know.  I am your advocate, not your adversary. We will work best if we communicate openly.

    I look forward to working with you.

    - A. C. Boley