June 2012

ASBMB’s new mentoring committee gets to work

Photo of Karen Allen  Photo of Kate Carroll  Photo of James Keen  Photo of Jon Lorsch 
Photo of Fred Maxfield  Melissa Moore  Photo of Geeta Narlikar  Photo of Melissa Starovasnik 
Maxfield Moore Narlikar Starovasnik

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has established a new committee on mentoring, which will coordinate society activities related to various aspects of mentoring both from the perspective of the mentor and the person being mentored. The committee will coordinate its activities with established committees, including the Education and Professional Development Committee and the Minority Affairs Committee.

The committee will contribute a monthly column to ASBMB Today, written either by a member of the committee or by an invited contributor. Our focus will be on career development, especially from graduate school through a first professional position in academia or elsewhere. At times we also may consider other aspects of mentoring ranging from precollege education through the later stages of a career. In addition, the committee will organize events at ASBMB annual meetings, such as roundtable discussions and workshops. We will solicit suggestions for topics to be considered at such events. Podcasts and a presence on social media sites also are being considered, although some committee members will need mentoring from junior colleagues for some of these activities.

The establishment of the committee underscores the importance of mentoring, and it also acknowledges that the nature of mentoring is changing. I feel privileged to have worked with outstanding mentors as a graduate student (Harold A. Scheraga) and as a postdoc (Ira Pastan). Each had a profound impact on my own career development. Many scientists have similar memories from their own training.

It is clear that the expectations and needs of trainees have changed significantly since my own training in the 1970s, but it is not so clear that the mentorship provided always has kept up with these changes. The availability of jobs when the research enterprise was in a period of rapid expansion meant that the main role of a mentor was to make sure that trainees would have enough publications to advance to the next stage of their careers. As the availability of research positions and the funding for these positions has been reduced, trainees have faced a greater range of career options, and they need guidance to choose among these. Additionally, changes in the larger society, such as a greater awareness of the importance of worklife balance and the recognition of the importance of diversity in the work force, add new dimensions to mentoring.

We look forward to working with members of the ASBMB to develop programs to improve mentoring as an important component of professional development. Suggestions or comments for the committee can be sent to mentoring@asbmb.org.

The members of the committee are Karen Allen (Boston University); Kate Carroll (The Scripps Research Institute, Florida); James Keen (Thomas Jefferson University); Jon Lorsch (Johns Hopkins University); Fred Maxfield (committee chairman, Weill Cornell Medical College); Melissa Moore (University of Massachusetts); Geeta Narlikar (University of California, San Francisco); and Melissa Starovasnik (Genentech Inc.).


Fred MaxfieldFred Maxfield (frmaxfie@med.cornell.edu) is a professor and chairman of the department of biochemistry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

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