June 23, 2006

Postdoc program aims to enhance mentoring

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Husband-and-wife postdocs Martin and Amy Moore lead a question-and-answer session about Vanderbilt’s Individual Development Plan for postdoctoral fellows.
Photo by Anne Rayner

Postdoc program aims to enhance mentoring

Vanderbilt University is among the first institutions in the nation to implement the Individual Development Plan (IDP) for postdoctoral fellows.

The IDP is a communication tool aimed at improving the mentoring relationship between postdocs and their faculty advisors.

“Concern about the quality of mentoring for postdocs is a theme that has emerged in both national surveys and internal Vanderbilt surveys,” said Amy Moore, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biochemistry and president of the Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association.

To address the issue, Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, appointed and chaired a Mentoring Committee comprised of graduate students, postdocs, faculty and senior administration officials. The committee developed guidelines, including the adoption of an IDP, to improve the quality of mentoring of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

The IDP is a document, completed by the postdoctoral fellow and reviewed with his or her faculty mentor, that defines both short- and long-term goals and how to achieve them.

It is intended to cover not just scientific goals, but also career development, Moore said.

“We hope that this will lead our postdocs to become more proactive in their own career development,” she said.

In a question-and-answer session held last week, Martin Moore, Ph.D., a research fellow in the Department of Medicine, discussed the value of thinking about career objectives as early as possible.

“Simply put, there are not enough tenure-track academic positions for the available pool of biomedical researchers,” Moore said, citing an article on the Web site ScienceCareers.org. “Your career path is your responsibility, not your PI's.”

“Having an IDP to fill out will help start the conversation for those postdocs who may have been hesitant to discuss career objectives, especially concerning careers outside of the traditional realm of academia,” Amy Moore said.

“Vanderbilt is really taking the lead in trying to institutionalize a form of IDP,” she added. “The support of Dean Gabbe and the department chairs for this effort has been critical.”

The VUMC IDP is based on a model proposed by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

Each newly appointed postdoctoral fellow will be expected to complete an initial IDP within six months of appointment. Current postdoctoral fellows will be required to file an IDP by Jan. 1, 2007. After that date, IDP submission will be mandatory as part of each fellow's annual reappointment process. VUMC employs approximately 500 postdoctoral fellows.

The IDP will be used to monitor and document faculty mentoring performance and will be considered in tenure review for principal investigators.

Vanderbilt University ranked 15th this year in the Best Places to Work for Postdocs survey conducted by The Scientist, a magazine for life science professionals. Among the rated items, quality of mentoring received the lowest marks from Vanderbilt respondents.

“We're optimistic that the IDP will improve the quality of mentoring for postdocs,” Amy Moore said. “We believe that postdocs who have open lines of communication and more structured plans will be happier and more productive. This will benefit everyone, including VUMC.”

Another Q&A session about the IDP will be held Monday, June 26, from 9 to 11 a.m. in 512 Light Hall. The IDP form is online at https://medschool.mc.vanderbilt.edu/mentor/.