2 thoughts on “What is the value of multiple mentors for graduate students and/or postdoctoral researchers, and what different roles do they fill?

  1. As a Library Faculty member and scholarly communication expert on my campus, I see and consult with hundreds of graduate students every year who are looking for help with topics they feel their faculty may not: (1) be knowledgeable about (copyright and fair use, open access publication, open science, new forms of peer review, establishing scholarly/professional identity, assessment of impact, and various other “new-fangled” 21st century authorship skills) and/or (2) are not comfortable talking about because they are ‘hot topics’ (IP ownership in collaborative works, order and criteria of authorship; signing publishing agreements on behalf of multiple authors; getting credit for contributions to data management, curation, documentation, etc,). The words of appreciation from grateful students say things like “no one else here could help me with this;’ ‘I did not know who I could turn to; etc. Having a library faculty as a some-time mentor gives graduate students a highly engaged co-advisor with no skin in the game of their college/dept/research lab, whose expertise complements that of their subject expert faculty advisors..

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  2. I think that each graduate program should designate a few faculty as “advocates” that students can safely go to when they need help. Like a lawyer, the role of the advocate would be to always be on the student’s side and try to help them. They would be responsible for knowing the details of the student’s situation and communicating the student’s case to other faculty (arguing the student’s side of things to the fullest extent that it is defensible) and might help mediate disputes when necessary. Leaving students on their own to deal with conflicts with faculty doesn’t work because the power differential can prevent students from being able to effectively advocate for themselves. The faculty advocate should not be a research collaborator with the student or their mentor (so as to have no conflict of interest) and should not be involved in the student’s academic evaluation in any way (so as to maximize the student’s freedom to speak openly and honestly with them). The advocate would also need to keep some student issues confidential (such as when a student needs to talk to someone, but fears negative consequences for doing so) and might, at times, help facilitate a change of labs for a student who needs one.

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