Mentorship and Supervision

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a faculty member, industry partner, or community leader whose role is to provide support and guidance to the postdoctoral scholars in achieving their career goals successfully. These mentors differ from the postdoc supervisors in that they might not be directly involved with the postdocs’ research and performance.

Supervision and Mentoring: Key Differences




Key Goals

To improve performance, and impart skills that the postdoctoral fellow needs .

To support and guide personal and professional growth of the mentee.

Initiative for Mentoring

The supervisor directs the learning and instruction.

The mentored person is in charge of his or her learning.


Through the postdoc’s agreement to accept supervision is essential, it is not necessarily voluntary.

Both mentor and mentee participate as volunteers.


Immediate problems and learning opportunities.

Long-term personal career development.


Heavy on telling with appropriate feedback.

Heavy on listening, providing a role model, and making suggestions and connections.


Usually concentrates on short-term needs. Administered intermittently on an “as-needed” basis.



The postdoc reports directly to his supervisor.

Most experts insist that the mentor not be in other person’s chain of command.

The Benefits of Mentorship

Effective mentoring is critical to the success of postdocs and to their career development. Mentoring entails an institutional commitment by Western towards a meaningful postdoctoral training experience, towards a high quality of that training that entails mentoring opportunities and sufficient breadth of experiences to allow for preparation and exposure to a variety of career choices.

Characteristics of Effective Mentors

A study conducted by Harvard professor Linda Hill pointed to three characteristics:
  • They set high standards.
  • They make themselves available to their mentees – in other words, they are willing to invest the time and effort required for good mentoring.
  • They orchestrate developmental experiences for those they counsel. This is accomplished by steering mentees into important projects, teams and into challenging jobs.
These are important characteristics, but there are others – effective mentors also:
  • Are successful and respected citizens of their organizations.
  • Demonstrate good people-development skills – that is, they are good listeners, know how to empathize with others, and have personalities that make counseling and nurturing genuinely satisfying.
  • Understand how their mentees learn best – for example, through discussion, direct experience, and other methods.
  • Have access to information and people who can help others in their careers.

Meetings with your Mentorship Team

Regular meetings are strongly recommended activities that postdocs and mentors are encouraged to do. These meetings should be arranged by the postdoctoral scholar and should only require an hour. This process ensures that a face to face dialogue in areas other than regular research discussions between the postdoc and mentor takes place, and serves as an opportunity to discuss the postdoc's professional development.

The following is a proposed mentoring and supervising program for Western Postdoctoral Scholars that is aimed at providing a foundation for the policies and guidelines that would define a Western Postdoctoral mentoring and supervising program:

The First Six Months

Within the first month after arriving in London to begin a Postdoctoral period, the Postdoctoral Scholar will begin to assemble his or her mentorship committee with potential mentors. The committee will consist of the primary supervisor and at least one additional faculty member, scientist/clinician from outside the University, or other individual in the private or public sector. The Associate Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in the home faculty will be assigned as a temporary mentor and should be consulted if there are difficulties forming the committee. The School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will maintain a centralized “bank” of mentors. Although committees should not normally comprise more than three individuals, a larger committee may be accommodated as requested by either the Postdoctoral Scholar or primary supervisor. The Postdoctoral Scholar should meet with the potential mentor(s) to review the expectations of both the Postdoctoral Scholar and the primary supervisor as outlined in the individual development plan. The discussion should include a clear indication of the expectations, early indications of career goals and directions, and desired skill development areas during the postdoctoral period.

The mentorship committee will meet with the Postdoctoral Scholar six months into the program or earlier by request. The primary purpose of this meeting will be for the Postdoctoral Scholar to present a detailed individual professional development plan to the committee for their review and input. Other informal, ad-hoc meetings can be scheduled individually or with all the members of the committee.

Years 1 - 3

It is proposed that the mentorship committee will meet again at the conclusion of the Postdoctoral scholar`s first year. It is also proposed that beyond the first year, the mentorship committee will meet at least on an annual basis to ensure goals and objectives are being met. It is implicit that, if necessary, additional meetings can be called by either the Postdoctoral Scholar or the Primary supervisor at any time during the Postdoctoral period.

Beyond Year 3

It is not unusual for a Western Postdoctoral period to extend beyond a 3-year period. However, the guiding principle underlying a Western Postdoctoral Scholar`s tenure is that it is a relatively short intensive period of and not a career position. Planning for extension of a Postdoctoral period beyond an initial 3-year appointment should occur at the beginning of year 3 of the program. This is a joint process through which the Postdoctoral Scholar, the principal investigator, and the mentorship committee must reach consensus.

Once a decision is made by the supervisor and the postdoctoral scholars that an extension of the Postdoctoral training period beyond 3 years is feasible and mutually beneficial, greater attention must be directed towards establishing a clear set of career progression goals and directions beyond the Postdoctoral training period by the Postdoctoral Scholar and the mentorship committee.

Exit Interview

A discussion at the end of your appointment to address future career trajectories; and possible opportunities or plans for collaboration or future mentoring.