Important legal notice
Contact   |   Search   
RTD info logoMagazine on European Research Special Issue - August 2003   
 'Let’s be proud of our researchers'
 Research: a vocation
 Momentum to move
 Drawn to the USA
 Everyday life in Japan
 Balancing the gender equation
 A boost for science
 University challenge
 Migrating to the private sphere
 The incorruptible Marie
 National associations of students, PhDs and researchers

Download pdf de en fr

Title  Choosing a mentor

What do doctoral and post-doctoral students think of their mentors? What role do these experienced scientists play in the destiny of budding researchers? 'The choice of supervisor can be important and help determine your chances of success. But it is not the only factor,' says Augusto Palombini, an active member of the ADI (Italian association of doctoral students and researchers). It is an opinion that is sometimes questioned, and often shared. Here is how some others view the situation.

Shu-Wang Qiao, immunologist, doctoral student at the Oslo University Hospital (NO)
Shu-Wang Qiao
'A good supervisor-student relationship helps you to enjoy your work and is one of the most important factors in making a success of your PhD. This "master-pupil" relationship gradually evolves into a dialogue between scientists who discuss the results of a project in which they share an interest. This is an essential part of the process towards the intellectual maturity which is essential to the development of genuine and independent scientists.'  

Rami Olavi Vainio, assistant in physical sciences at the University of Turku (FI)
Rami Olavi Vainio
'I always had very active relationships with my mentors, in the sense that I tried to contribute to the choice of problems to investigate. In this respect, it was not a master-pupil relationship. This is probably quite typical of young researchers, even if some of them find it more comfortable, at least at the start, for a senior researcher to take important decisions for them.' 

Alexandre Urani, manager of a research project at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim (DE)
Alexandre Urani
'There are good and bad doctoral supervisors everywhere, some who use the results of their doctoral students for their own benefit and others who are honest. I would add that they are rarely very skilled when it comes to management. Management skills are not innate and it is perfectly understandable that somebody who is competent in his or her chosen field is not going to excel in everything, such as in HR management. This is why an association of researchers such as Eurodoc proposes that all doctoral supervisors should have certain basic notions in this field.' 

Véronique Boitsvert, physicist, post-doctorate at CERN (Geneva - CH)
Véronique Boitsvert
'I believe a bad relationship with the research supervisor can have a lot to do with a student deciding to abandon his or her doctorate or deciding to leave the academic or research world on completing it. I believe the master-pupil relationship is still very strong at universities. It is less evident in the research world.’

Florian Berberich, physicist, post-doctorate at the ESRF (Grenoble - FR)
Florian Berberich
'While working on a doctorate you learn to organise a research subject and to identify other questions. You are not yet independent and you are influenced by your tutors. During a post-doctorate degree, you still have a research supervisor who you discuss things with and who helps you to contact people at the start, but you are completely free in your research. You are no longer a pupil. You take initiatives.'

Marco Albani, doctor of forestry sciences, post-doctorate at Harvard University (USA)
Marco Albani
'I am very indebted to my supervisors in terms of learning and understanding, but I have always been very active and sometimes made very independent choices. I prefer to speak of a mentor rather than supervisor.' 

Frances Coughlan, doctoral student in engineering at the University of Limerick (IR)
Frances Coughlan
'My doctoral supervisor does not play a decisive role in my work. He is the head of department and, therefore, very busy. I have heard complaints from some of my colleagues that the supervision is not as close as it used to be, that the master-pupil relationship is weakening. Nevertheless, it depends on the situation, the time available to supervisors and how interested they are in the particular research project.'