Category Archives: mentorship

The empty bottles in my office

Images: The bottles in question (© S Heard CC BY 4.0); and the video screen that sparked the question (© Alex Smith).

 Warning: might be considered navel-gazing.

If you’ve ever seen my office, you’ll know that it’s a disaster zone.  Piles of books, unruly sheaves of paper, empty binders and full ones, cases and boxes of pinned insects, and sometimes my lunch – all strewn wildly across every horizontal surface. I’ve long since stopped pretending this is a temporary condition (except, of course, for the lunch).  I do still find myself apologizing for it – most recently two weeks ago when I skyped into a class at the University of Guelph to talk with the students about scientific writing.  Turns out they didn’t even notice the heaping mounds of detritus (or at least, they were polite enough to pretend they didn’t); but they were curious about the long row of empty champagne bottles above my bookshelves, just at the top edge of the video frame.  So I explained. Continue reading

Supervisory inflation and “value-added” mentoring

Photos: “Mentor”, from my cherished Oxford Universal Dictionary (1933; 1955 reprint). As a very small child, I sat on this dictionary at my grandmother’s dinner table. When I no longer needed a boost in height, it provided a boost to my vocabulary instead. Yes, I’m a nerd. Longtail widowbird: Public Domain by Mohanr53 via wikimedia.org.

It’s grant reviewing season*, and that’s gotten me thinking about mentorship. NSERC (Canada’s main basic-science granting agency) refers to the students and employees a PI supervises as HQP (for highly qualified personnel), and weights both past HQP training record and future HQP training plan very heavily in its deliberations**. Although NSERC funding rates are relatively high (and the grants correspondingly small, and that’s good), they’ve been tightening somewhat, and this seems to be driving some remarkable supervisory inflation.

What do I mean by “supervisory inflation”? Continue reading