Keep in Touch with Your Mentors. You Matter and We Care.


Keep in Touch with Your Mentors. You Matter and We Care.

—from the Lab Manager's bench

As a mentor, I don’t stop caring about a former student’s success, well-being, or happiness because they are no longer part of my research group.

I want to know about the life events that they want to share with me—professional and personal--and celebrate when they achieve milestones in either category.

Although it highlights an undergrad, the article Empty Bench Syndrome helps students understand that we mentors do miss you when you leave—even if we don’t tell you in person. And this goes for grad students, postdocs, techs, or anyone we’ve worked with and gotten to know.

I also want former students to keep in touch so it’s easier to write recommendation letters for them. Although there is a somewhat arbitrary expiration date for how many years after a student has left that my recommendation letter will still make a substantial impact, I’ve written letters for former students 2+ years after they moved on—even longer for professional researchers.

If a former student has stayed in touch, it’s much easier for me to update a letter to include details beyond what is listed on their CV. If the student gives me permission, I can include details on their growth as a person and a scientist supported by the experiences they’ve had since departing my lab. These authentic details and stories often distinguish a so-so letter from a powerful one, so keeping in touch is absolutely for your benefit as well.

If your former mentor doesn’t reach out to you, do not interpret it as anything other than their life got in the way. Contact them a couple of times per year—enough to stay in touch with life and career updates, and keep the mentoring relationship active.

Also, if you want your mentor’s advice or reassurance, reconnect and tell them what you need. As a mentor, I want to remind you that I believe in you and your ability to solve problems without my input. So I won’t be quick to offer suggestions unless I know that’s what you want. I’m happy to give advice, reassurance, or to remind you about similar situations you’ve successfully navigated.

But I’ll take my cues from you. If you don’t volunteer what you need, I’ll ask you. But one way to be an effective self-advocate is to inform your mentor of what you need—be it advice, reassurance, or just safe space to share your thoughts or feelings.

A version of this article appeared on PH Grey's Quora account.