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Mentoring relationships between doctoral students and postdocs in the lab sciences

Jennifer M. Blaney (Department of Educational Leadership, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona, USA)
Jina Kang (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)
Annie M. Wofford (Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA)
David F. Feldon (Department of Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah, USA)

Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education

ISSN: 2398-4686

Article publication date: 17 August 2020

Issue publication date: 1 December 2020

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to examine how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics doctoral students interact with postdocs within the research laboratory, identifying the nature and potential impacts of student–postdoc mentoring relationships.

Design/methodology/approach

Using a sample of 53 doctoral students in the biological sciences, this study uses a sequential mixed-methods design. More specifically, a phenomenological approach enabled the authors to identify how doctoral students make meaning of their interactions with postdocs and other research staff. Descriptive statistics are used to examine how emergent themes might differ as a product of gender and race/ethnicity and the extent to which emergent themes may relate to key doctoral student socialization outcomes.

Findings

This study reveals six emergent themes, which primarily focus on how doctoral students receive instrumental and psychosocial support from postdocs in their labs. The most frequent emergent theme captures the unique ways in which postdocs provide ongoing, hands-on support and troubleshooting at the lab bench. When examining how this theme plays a role in socialization outcomes, the results suggest that doctoral students who described this type of support from postdocs had more positive mental health outcomes than those who did not describe this type of hands-on support.

Originality/value

Literature on graduate student mentorship has focused primarily on the impact of advisors, despite recent empirical evidence of a “cascading mentorship” model, in which senior students and staff also play a key mentoring role. This study provides new insights into the unique mentoring role of postdocs, focusing on the nature and potential impacts of student–postdoc interactions.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the National Science Foundation. This material is based upon work supported under Awards 1431234 and 1760894. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Citation

Blaney, J.M., Kang, J., Wofford, A.M. and Feldon, D.F. (2020), "Mentoring relationships between doctoral students and postdocs in the lab sciences", Studies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education, Vol. 11 No. 3, pp. 263-279. https://doi.org/10.1108/SGPE-08-2019-0071

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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