Resistance to Mentoring…is futile? or too easy?

  • Faculty often complain that graduate students are unwilling to take their advice, are passive-aggressive, or otherwise exhibit “resistance to mentoring”.   This is often interpreted in the sense of  “resistance to being mentored”, as meaning the student “doesn’t care”, and is the source of disappointment and resentment on part of the faculty member.
  • Resistance to being mentored might have many explanations, including genuine lack of interest.  Stereotype threat is a well-documented process that might make students distrustful of their research advisors, but there could well be other psychosocial mechanisms that induce resistance to being mentored.
  • But the other sense is “resistance to mentoring others”, in which the might-be mentor actually resists mentoring the protege, or sees mentoring in a very narrow way that inhibits or precludes effective mentoring.

Stephen Stearns, PhD, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University writes Modest Advice for Graduate Students including these headings:

    [proceed as if] nobody cares for you

    Know why YOUR work is important to you

    watch out for psychological traps

    avoid lecture courses

    write a research or fellowship proposal ASAP

    learn to manage your Research Advisors

    publish early

    don’t look down on the master’s thesis

    publish regularly, but not too often

    Comments: Some of Stearn’s comments will seem a bit off the mark to students working in laboratories funded by high pressure grants such as from the N.I.H., especially the notion that a student can develop their own thesis project.
    Thanks to JL for pointing Stearn’s essay out to me!- JR


Jorge Cham’s view of the social network of graduate students

Jorge Cham is an scientist-artist who draws pointed and too-true comics about the life of the PhD student.

Jorge Cham at

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