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Mentors are not always people who are professionally accomplished individuals, who push us to succeed workwise; it can be anyone from our every day’s life. For example, a teacher, friend, family member, or even an absolute stranger, who had left a positive impression on our minds or challenged us for the good when we had self-doubts.

Having a mentor in your life to help with personal development and assistance through unfamiliar waters gives people an edge over those who are deprived of the wealth of knowledge, counsel, and motivation in times when they need it most. If you are one of the lucky mentees, relying upon the solid foundation originated from your mentor’s rich experiences and sound clarity to navigate life, you must respect and cherish that invaluable person at every given opportunity. (Lim, Jaret, Marsh and Mobley, 1994)

Academic Mentorship, Training, and Supervision

In the academic world, in addition to all that mentioned above, the mentors usually provide career guidance at the stage of professional transitions and ensure the successful future of every mentee and award recipient who earnestly upholds his/her part in collective responsibilities of effective academic mentorship. Many research institutions have research mentor programs and policies in order to professionally groom mentees from the stage of undergraduate to junior faculty and onwards to the successful research career. The National Institute of Health (NIH) conducted a study A Guide to Training and Mentoring in the Intramural Research Program at NIH  to define the role of research mentor in academic advancement as well as the personal growth of mentees as “a person who has achieved career success and counsels and guides another for the purpose of helping him or her achieve like success.”

The NIH through its many Institutes and Centers (ICs), each with different research objective, works actively towards the mission of public welfare by health-related biomedical research and agenda of training and mentoring as many biomedical scientists as is possible under Intramural Research Program. Many of the scientific leaders all around the world have come out of different NIH laboratories due to the outstanding investigators’ mentoring and training.

The Role of the Mentor in the NIH’ Awards

The NIH is the most prestigious and renowned medical research agency and training center, because of its sustained status as the world leader in basic, clinical, and translational research discoveries. This grand structure operates through an organized support fund mechanism comprising of a variety of grant awards further categorized into different series. Each grant program is differentiated by several NIH designated activity codes in order to additionally simplify the common understanding.

Out of all the NIH grant awards, K award, or career development award, bags relatively more assigned mentors than any other grant program because this award is very important for clinical and translational researchers to progress in academia. Career development (K) awards are basically transitioning awards with an objective to provide fund support and mentored training to physician-scientists and potential biomedical investigators until they are qualified to pursue an independent research career. Every year there is a great tooth and nail fight among junior investigators aiming for career independence transition, in order to secure the grant funding support and training opportunity. (Casebolt, Macrine, Markowitz, Ripley and Williams, 2012).

The varying roles and responsibilities attributed to the NIH mentorship faculty depend on many different factors, for instance, the particular field, the kind of expectations and relationship, and qualification capacity. Yet, there are some certain elements that serve as accountability barometer for the credibility of an individual mentor, such as:

  • Commitment to mentorship in all sincerity.
  • Grooming mentee’ personal capabilities by encouraging his or her own ideas.
  • Taking equal responsibility with a mentee of any setback or failure.
  • Respecting and acknowledging the hard work and unique input contributed by the mentee.
  • Enhancing and expanding the knowledge horizon for mentee by challenging his or her abilities.
  • Addressing all of the queries and doubts that the mentee might have in a comprehensive manner.
  • Letting the resources and expertise be timely available.
  • Providing honest, inclusive feedback on the mentee’s work.
  • Fairness in criticism, the mentor should be more constructive than unnecessarily harsh in the disapproval.
  • Sharing and celebrating the success with all its consequential benefits with the mentee.

Mentored Career Development Awards

There are four K awards that have assigned a mentor with each applicant for the following grant programs:

  • K01 – Mentored Research Scientist Development Award
  • K08 – Mentored Clinical Scientists Development Award
  • K23 – Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award
  • K25 – Mentored Quantitative Research Career Development Award

K01: The purpose of the mentored research scientist development award program is to provide supervised research experience of 3-5 years to potential investigators that show research independence capabilities of productive contribution towards clinical, biomedical, and behavioral sciences.

K08: The purpose of the mentored clinical scientists development award program is to provide support for supervised research experience to facilitate career transitions of individuals having outstanding training in health-related clinical research of biomedical and behavioral areas.

K23: The purpose of mentored patient-oriented research career development award program is to support and facilitate career progress of potential clinical investigators committed to patients’ engagement in the research process to have better priorities identified by patients themselves.

K25: The purpose of mentored quantitative research career development award program is to support individual investigators through career guidance on the significance of quantitative science and engineering research – A research conducted through statistical, mathematical, and computational approach – in the health-related fields. This award seeks to integrate investigators from all over the world with the quantitative research relevant to the NIH.

Role of the Mentor in Training K Award Recipients

It is mandatory in the application requirement of any of the above mentioned K awards to have a mentor. The award programs’ guidelines clearly define the required characteristics for a potential mentor as follows:

  • The mentor should be specialized in the area of research explained in the application proposal.
  • The mentor should possess the telltale record of training independent investigators successfully.
  • The mentor should be resourceful enough to take care of any unforeseeable costs, in addition to the grant award, of the project proposed in the application.

Mentored K awards do not pay salary to any of the assigned mentors. Yet, they provide guidance, share responsibility with the award recipient, lend knowledge and experience for the successful conduct of the proposed research.

According to the national study that is approved by the review board present at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and The NIH Individual Mentored K Awards Program Report, of mentor relationship on the basis of demographic factors of both the recipient and mentor, almost 3027 K award applicants were reported successful in obtaining their award grant in 2007 because the study reported; those who start out under the mentorship of senior investigators have more confidence in themselves in term of research career than those starting professional career without a mentor. Such numbers testify to the significance of effective mentorship role in the process of reaching productive, far-reaching academic success. (Marusic, Sambuniak, and Straus, 2009).

In the study, the relationship satisfaction of mentees with their mentors was gauged to be down to contact frequencies. Mentors are obliged by the NIH criteria to allow access to themselves, and most mentors do their best to be available for discussion sessions and meetings with award recipients, whether in-person or telecommunication. The regularity of stable communication, or the lack of it, is said to be the critical element for the quality of relationship required between a mentor and the award recipient in training.

The two infamous Kram classifications of mentoring duties explained it rather simply by categorizing the activities in two neat turfs. First being Instrumental support, which explains mentorship requirements as “reviewing and writing manuscripts and grant proposals, discussing research projects, and facilitating sponsorship, coaching, exposure, opportunities, and challenging assignments,” in training award recipients and the impact of delivering on said requirements on mentees professional growth. Second being psychological support, which explains good mentoring itself effects mentees psychology in a positive way by providing counsel and guidance through stressful phases of the award process. (Mertz, 2004).

Effective mentorship from Mentee’s Perspective

According to the study Characteristics of Successful and Failed Mentoring Relationship, many of the award recipients participating in the survey had attributed three common actions to effective mentorship.

Career guidance

From the mentees’ point of view, career guidance is constantly mistaken with supervision where one feels forced in a certain career choice. An effective mentor maintains a clear distinction between advice and order. If the mentee is looking for career guidance, the mentor should utilize his or her resources to create opportunities and networking to assist mentees in navigating through institutional obstacles bound to be present on a successful career in the biomedical field.

Emotional Support

Most of the award recipients participating in the study emphasized the need for emotional support. It is essential for any effective mentor to be able to help the mentee in efficiently dealing with stress and eliminating the factors possibly responsible for the anxious, demoralized, or exhausted state of mind. Keeping a close check on the activities of mentees, not to reprimand and criticize, but to provide encouragement and morale booster.

Work/Life Balance

Mentees often get too involved in their projects or fulfill the requirement of certain goals, that they completely neglect social and personal aspects of their lives. An effective mentor is usually experienced in striking a good balance between work and personal life and therefore perfectly able to assist mentees in developing a balanced work and life relationship.

The Primary Care study reinforces the assessment of the mentorship by a mentee with its own review of the K award recipient vying the research related areas in the guidance of the well-recognized mentor. These recipients reported having a satisfying relationship with their mentors, along with personal and professional attribution.

References

  1. Jaret, C., Lim, Y.Y., Marsh, K., & Mobley, G.M. (1994, July). Mentoring, Job Satisfaction, and the Legal Profession. Sex Roles, 31(1-2), 79-98. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01560278
  2. Casebolt, A.N., Macrina, F., Markowitz, M., Ripley, E., & Williams, L. (2012, August 7). Training NIH K award Recipients: The Role of the Mentor. Clin Transl Sci, 5(5), 386-393. https://doi.org/1111/j.1752-8062.2012.00436.x
  3. Marusic, A., Sambuniak, D., & Straus, S.E. (2009, November 19). A Systematic Review of Qualitative Research on the Meaning and Characteristics of Mentoring in Academic Medicine. J Gen Intern Med, 25(1), 72-78. https://doi.org/1007/s11606-009-1165-8
  4. Mertz, N.T. (2004, October 4). What’s a Mentor, Anyway? Sage Journals Educational Administration Quarterly, 40(4), 541-560. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X04267110