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FelCom - Mentoring

What is a mentor?

Choosing a mentor

Nih mentoring resources

other mentoring resources

upcoming events


The Mentoring Committee is committed to ensuring that the mentoring system at the NIH provides assistance to strengthen mentor-mentee relationships, allowing fellows to successfully conduct independent research, improve their scientific and personal communication skills, and develop and achieve their career and training goals.

NIH Intramural postdoctoral fellows inhabit a unique environment: surrounded by thousands of other postdocs, members of labs filled with world-class talent, working under the tutelage of renowned PIs. Time at the NIH has the potential to be incredibly rewarding and productive, in terms of both scientific achievements and professional development, if you take advantage of the multitude of resources available to you. One way to do this is by engaging mentors to help you identify and achieve your scientific and career goals.

What is a mentor?

The word "mentor" has come to mean an experienced and trusted advisor, one who imparts knowledge and wisdom to someone less experienced. Mentors can be your peers, a supervisor, people you work with, or other professionals in your field. In science, "mentor" is often synonymous with "PI." However, not all PIs will act as mentors to their fellows, and even if your PI is a great mentor you may find that you need guidance in an area where your PI lacks expertise. To make the most of your time at the NIH, it's to your benefit to seek out multiple mentors with a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences in order to maximize what you learn from them.

A good mentor will:

  • Teach you about specific issues
  • Coach you on a particular skill set
  • Facilitate your professional growth by sharing resources and networks
  • Challenge you to move beyond your comfort zone
  • Create a safe learning environment for taking risks

How to choose a mentor

Basic steps for finding a mentor:

  1. Figure out what you want from a mentor
  2. Research people who are experts in the area(s) in which you need help
  3. Approach a potential mentor and explain why you're asking her/him to mentor you.

Looking for more information? This blog piece from takes a light-hearted but practical approach to laying out what you should look for in a mentor and how to recruit her/him. Here are a few more pieces with good advice on picking and working with a mentor from The New York Times and The Washington Post. The American Physiological Society and NIH's OITE offer advice specifically for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) postdocs and grad students on choosing a scientific mentor and lab. And remember, you can—and should!—have mentors outside your PI.

Mentoring resources at the NIH

The NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) offers a number of mentoring seminars and workshops for fellows. Your Institute/Center may also have its own mentoring services, so get in touch with your Training Director to find out what's going on! And, as members of the NIH community, Intramural fellows are entitled and welcome to take advantage of resources offered through the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, Employee Assistance Program (health and wellness issues), and the Ombudsman's Office (work-related issues).

For members of communities traditionally underrepresented in biomedical science research, there are numerous organizations and societies at the NIH that offer mentoring resources and activities to their members:

You can also check out these NIH guides:

Blogs and articles

Other mentoring resources

  • myIDP Science Careers provides this service to help you create your own Individual Development Plan (IDP), a document in which you define short-and long-term research and career goals and outline steps for reaching them. IDPs can be extremely helpful for holding yourself accountable and moving on to the next stage of your career. Some ICs already have their own IDPs/training plans in place but if yours doesn't, myIDP is a good place to start.
  • National Postdoctoral Association: NPA is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving all aspects of the postdoctoral experience through education and advocacy. Their page dedicated to mentoring has helpful information on making a mentoring plan (aka IDP) as well as resources from other organizations.
  • Association for Women in Science: AWIS offers webinars, workshops and a wealth of other information on the benefits of, and getting involved with, mentoring. Additionally, AWIS has chapters in Bethesda and DC (and elsewhere around the country, if you're not on the main NIH campus) that you can join to take advantage of in-person networking and events, like Mentoring Circles.
  • Office of Personnel Management: OPM has a great Guide with definitions of mentors, types of mentoring and steps for implementing a mentoring program. OPM also has its own Training and Development page with great information on IDPs and the difference(s) between mentoring and coaching.
  • MENTOR, The National Mentoring Partnership: This site has anything and everything you've ever wanted to know about mentoring-being a mentor, being a mentee, nationally available resources, starting a program, etc.

Upcoming mentoring events (NIH main campus)

OITE seminars and workshops:

  • Speaking Up: How to Ask for What You Need in Lab and Life
  • Workplace Dynamics (series of five workshops)
  • Management Bootcamp (requires application AND completion of WD series)
  • Improving Mentoring Relationships
  • Planning for Career Satisfaction and Success
  • Mentor Training

Please check the OITE website for dates, times and places of upcoming events.


  • Co-chairs:
    Nivedita Sengupta - NICHD
    Gloria Laryea - NIMH

    Committee Members:
    Afrouz Anderson - NICHD
    Camila Coelho - NIAID
    Alireza Ghahari - NEI
    Jennifer West - NIDDK
    Fany Messanvi - NIMH
    Lori Conlan - OITE


  1. Getting Started: Preparing for your summer student

Establish a good relationship with your mentee straight from the start. Here is a list of points to consider and prepare for before your summer student begins.

When you first meet them:

  • Make direct eye contact
  • Be enthusiastic
  • Introduce them to the lab and your lab members
  • Acquaint them with the building
  • Get them started on a lab notebook
  • Talk about the “big picture” and how his/her project will fit or contribute into it
  • Discuss lab policies
  • Discuss the mentee’s background and get to know your mentee


Create a list of basic laboratories techniques every undergrad should know and review them with your mentee. Some of the common ones are listed below:

  • Encourage them to ask questions rather than make avoidable mistakes
  • General lab and computer safety procedures
  • How to find and use helpful reference manuals such as Current Protocols
  • Proper basic techniques associated with your field of research
  • Literature research skills
  • Basic guidelines for generating graphs and tables


Write up a paragraph describing your mentees project before you meet them. Develop a good research project that:

  • Has a reasonable scope
  • Is feasible, multifaceted, and generates data that the student can present
  • That has built-in difficulties that the student can navigate through


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.




  1. Learning to Communicate: Goals and Expectations


Setting goals for any project is the key to success. The right goals allow you to direct the mentee in a planned systematic way and lets you achieve your desired outcome. Hence an open discussion and understanding of each other’s expectations is essential before starting the project. These conversations are meant to help you improve both the quality and achievability of the research projects as well as the general satisfaction of both you and your mentee. Below are some strategies:

  • Get to know each other at the very beginning: discuss your respective experiences, long-term plans, perspective on research, etc.
  • Talk to your mentee and get a good idea of their background and any experiences they have.
  • Clearly set your expectations from the mentee and the project, but also ask for the mentee’s expectations. To determine whether the mentee understands the project, have them explain it to you or to another student in your lab.
  • Communicating the project outline will help the mentee to make the best out of his experience scientifically and personally. Respect mentee's professional and personal priorities, time, needs and ideas by creating lines of open communication.
  • Address concerns mentee may have about the project early on. Based on this knowledge, be flexible in altering the definition of the project and its timeline taking into consideration the strengths and weaknesses of the mentee.
  • Remember to set of high standards so that the mentee can accept you as a role model to emulate.
  • NIH is a diverse place hence it is important to consider the cultural differences too while setting goals and expectations
  • Finally, have regular meetings to discuss the expectations and progress throughout the duration of the project.


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.



  1. Identifying and Resolving Challenges & Issues

It’s been a few weeks since your summer student started. Take a moment to identify issues and challenges. Identify your biggest challenge, your biggest success, and your biggest disappointment as a mentor so far. How do you handle these cases?

  • Ask for honest feedback from your mentee to identify problems in your mentor-mentee relationships.
  • In your discussions, ask for specifics on what is going well and what is not going well. Do not assume things are fine because you have received no complaints.


Cultural differences are a source of richness but also difficulties. Studies have demonstrated that environment which is diverse on different levels (ethnicity, gender, social, religion, etc.) increases the creativity, critical thinking, and intellectual growth of its members. On the other hand, it can decrease the cohesiveness and communication and therefore trigger anxiety.

  • The solution to take advantage from a culturally diverse environment is to respect the mutual differences and create a climate beneficial for all.
  • Recognize the unconscious biases that can influence your judgements and interaction with people different from you
  • As a mentor, think about the differences between you and your mentee and consider how they could influence your interaction, but also what you could learn from those differences.


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.



  1. Evaluating your progress as a mentor

Periodical assessment and evaluation is important to stay on track and focused. The evaluation occurs in two parts – self-evaluation and evaluating others. As a mentor you should do both. Self-evaluation will help you to judge whether you are providing the necessary guidance, support and feedback to your mentee to help him achieve the goals whereas evaluating others will keep your mentee on track and make him aware of his strengths and drawbacks. For any evaluation, it is better to follow few well established steps.

  • Develop an evaluation form and set up an evaluation schedule after discussing with your mentee.
  • Identify the performance measures that will be used to measure the performance of your mentee to help with the evaluation process.
  • Provide constructive advice, with praise and positive reinforcement to enhance participation and performance of your mentee in case the periodical evaluation fails to show the desired progress.
  • It is also important to create disciplinary and warning procedures too in case the mentee fails to perform after several sessions of guidance and feedback.


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.



  1. The Elements of Good Mentoring

Have conversations with your own mentors/advisors and peer mentors to find out what you can learn from other people’s mentoring styles. Evaluate your discussions to determine whether they are helpful in guiding your perspective on good mentoring.


Effective tools to include in your “mentoring toolbox” might be

  • Identify mentees’ goals, evaluate mentees’ understanding and talent
  • Relationship founded on mutual respect
  • Giving mentees’ ownership of their work and promoting accountability
  • Creating an interactive lab environment and walking experimental avenues together
  • Identify what motivates each mentee
  • Create a safe environment where it is acceptable to fail and learn from mistakes
  • Encourage growth through challenges, promote learning through questioning


To help your mentee prepare for their final presentations, think about the following:

  • Simplicity, clarity, big picture, what the audience should remember and why they should care
  • Start preparing early! Train them on computer programs needed to generate posters
  • Have your student practice their presentation multiple times with different audiences
  • Decide together what material, text, data, and figures to use.
  • Be helpful and constructive, but allow them to take ownership of their presentation


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.



  1. Develop a Mentoring Philosophy

Write a mentoring philosophy based on what you have learned in the past few weeks about what worked and did not work while interacting with your mentee.

This will help you to achieve the following goals

  • Reaffirm the expectations of both mentor and mentee.
  • Assess the progress you have made in completing you research project.
  • Determine what can reasonably be accomplished in the remainder of the program.
  • Outline a strategy for completing the final paper and preparing the final presentation.


Use evaluations from your mentee and your own evaluation of the experience to write your philosophy


  • Do you feel that you are achieving the goals you outlined at the beginning? Why or why not?
  • What do you believe has been your greatest accomplishment in the laboratory so far?
  • What has been the most frustrating part about working in the laboratory? How can your mentor help you deal with this?
  • How do you feel about the progress you have made on your research project thus far?
  • What would you still like to accomplish about your research project?
  • How can your mentor help you in writing your final paper and in preparing your final presentation?
  • Would you like to maintain contact with your mentor once the program has ended?
  • Would you like to ask your mentor to write you a letter of recommendation in the future for your application to graduate or professional school, or for employment?



  • What do you think has been your mentee’s greatest accomplishment in the laboratory so far?
  • What have you learned from mentoring this student in your laboratory?
  • How do you feel about the progress you and your mentee have made on this research project?
  • What would you still like your mentee to accomplish about the research project?
  • How can you help your student in writing their final paper and in preparing their final presentation?
  • Would you like to maintain contact with your student once the program has ended? Would you be willing to write a letter of recommendation for your student in the future?


Handelsman, J., et al. (2005). Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.