September 2011

The importance of mentorship


The following comment was appended below on behalf of a reader: 

I cannot agree more regarding the importance of mentoring; in fact, I personally believe that it is the most important component of education, and not just in the sciences. I only wish it was valued more by academia so that more academicians would commit to doing it, and doing it well, i.e. the satisfaction from good mentoring usually comes from personal values assigned to it rather than rewards through the system, e.g. bonuses, release time, etc.  

The value of mentoring is even more important for those that are under represented in science, e.g. ethnic minorities, an excellent example of which was the recent report on how Blacks are less likely to receive NIH funding. And, this is not limited to funding but we see similar effects in the number of faculty members from under represented minority groups, health professionals, e.g. MD, DDS, etc. and, of course, in the graduate and professional schools. Increased, and improved, mentoring cannot solve this problem of under representation but it certainly can help. 

Also, as stated in the article, different mentors with different perspectives are important. In fact, one of my most important mentors was not a scientist but rather an educator who was intricately involved in Civil Rights in the 60’s, who sought me out after I became active in working for equality. His mentorship was invaluable and like none that I had ever received from my science mentors throughout graduate and postdoctoral training. I still use today much of what I learned from him as I teach and mentor. 

With this background and experience, while all the time recognizing the importance of mentoring, I wrote a book on Mentoring and Diversity (Springer 2009), with a focus on developing and maintaining a diverse scientific community, hoping to help emphasize the importance on mentoring overall but particularly for those who are underrepresented. 

Unquestionably, mentoring will continue to critical to the future of science as well as academia and society, in general, as we move through this century, especially with the changing demographics. Successfully addressing this issue that will be the “thank you” that mentors will receive! 

-- Thomas Landefeld, PhD  

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To read a response/comment from Thomas Landefeld, Ph.D., please see the third page of this article or visit



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