My Mentoring Philosophy

by Samuel A. Acuña, Ph.D.
Updated: Spring 2023

As a mentor, my goal is to foster independence and promote self-efficacy. This involves direct guidance and training through research activities but is most importantly a shared journey of personal and professional growth. I view the mentoring relationship as a deliberate partnership where we learn from each other, and as such, I will treat my mentees more as colleagues than as students or employees. My hope is that the mentoring experience develops into a lifelong relationship of friendship and professional collaboration. To accomplish this, my mentoring is based on effective communication and alignment of expectations.

When taking on a new mentee, a formal mentoring relationship will be explicitly defined and mutually agreed upon. Here, we will outline what I expect of a mentee, and what they should expect of me. In general, I am less concerned with logistical matters (e.g. what times should I be in the lab?) and I am more concerned with critical thinking and solid deliverables. However, I do expect to meet regularly with my mentees, and one-on-one meetings will result in clear action items that I will follow up on. I do want to establish a clear understanding of the student’s personal career goals so that I can tailor my mentoring to help the student reach those goals, with the understanding that goals and ambitions will evolve with time. As such, I consider the mentoring contract a “living document” that will be updated to best reflect our current needs. At least once a year, we will review this document and talk about how we are reaching our long-term goals.

My new mentees will immediately join in a research activity to “get their feet wet” and start seeing some data, even before fully realizing what it means or what they are doing. By jumping in, they will get a taste of what research encompasses through direct experience. Meaning and impact of our research activities will develop through written and oral communication our work. As they progress in their training, my mentees will take a real ownership and control of the research process.

I invite my mentees to join me in critical thinking. I value their opinions and insights when examining data, methods, and the literature, and I want them to voice their thoughts and not defer to my own ideas. I want them to tell me when they do not understand something. I will train my lab to be skeptical of everything, ask tough questions, and contribute suggestions for the next steps in research.

I will also be emotionally available to my mentees. Education and research training is hard, and life has challenges. I provide freedom to fail without judgement—let’s figure out together how we can improve. I want my mentees to live rich, fulfilling, and balanced lives. I will “check in” periodically to see how they are doing in life outside of research. I hope we can develop a positive relationship where we celebrate our non-academic achievements and interests, as well as our struggles.

Lastly, I see good mentoring as one of the most powerful tools for scientific success, and I want to be good at it. I intend to keep my lab small—so I can be as actively involved in the research as possible—while purposefully cultivating a lab with a rich diversity of experiences and backgrounds. Research is a communal practice, and our team will be the foundation of our academic endeavor. Most learning and training will take place together as we share our resources and pass down what we have learned to the newer students. Our research lab community will provide a space to share our struggles as well as our successes.