Mentors, tormentors, and no mentors: mentoring scientists

Laura Gail Lunsford

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    14 Scopus citations


    Purpose – A psychosocial, developmental perspective was used to examine the mentoring experiences of scientists. Little is known about the timing of when mentors first appear, the quality of these relationships, the specific mentoring support behaviors, or how scientists typically learn to mentor. The paper aims to discuss the above issues. Design/methodology/approach – The author conducted 23, semi-structured interviews with Australian scientists. Questions focussed on mentor-like support scientists received and provided. Interviews were analyzed and themes were coded using Dedoose software. Findings – Scientists who had mentors as undergraduates were more likely to report long-lasting relationships with their mentors and more positive interactions with their protégés. Scientists reported the following career mentoring behaviors: modeling how to do science, sponsorship, collaboration, and practical supervision. Important psychosocial mentoring behaviors were being approachable, building confidence and providing encouragement. Almost half of the scientists never had a mentor. Most (n=14) scientists learned to mentor by emulating their mentors. Findings highlight the prevalence of dysfunctional behaviors, even in supportive relationships. Practical implications – The findings suggest that graduate program managers might consider investing resources to improve mentoring experiences of doctoral students as this is a critical period for their professional development. Further, activities involving collaboration deserve emphasis in mentoring relationships. Originality/value – The study identified a “window” when mentoring support is important for scientists; highlighted specific behaviors that support career development in science; and clarified how some scientists learn to mentor others. Results add to the literature on dysfunctional mentoring relationships.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)4-17
    Number of pages14
    JournalInternational Journal of Mentoring and Coaching in Education
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Feb 25 2014


    • Australia
    • Behaviors
    • Doctoral
    • Dysfunction
    • Faculty
    • Graduate students
    • Higher education
    • Mentoring
    • Qualitative
    • Science

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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