Monday, July 5, 2010

Mentoring or Slavery?

When I read about this letter (Figure 1) I felt the chills all over, once again. It wasn't the first time I heard that students were treated like slaves but this poor guy was a postdoc and the letter was an official one.

Signed by Erick Carreira (then at Caltech but now at ETH Zürich), this piece of paper is a rock solid evidence of how much a "mentor" can take advantage of his/her flock. And none can do anything about it. Hats off to Guido Koch for his courage to get this published.

The horror stories of E. J. Corey (see the late Jason Altom for example) are still in the minds of many but what troubles me is these people are still freely walking among us.

Some would think that if one enters to these hell-labs on his/her own will, they deserve to be treated this way, but in most cases I encountered you don't know the persona of the boss unless you are in his/her group. Even then, it may take time to see the real face of the monster. There are no websites or forums available to learn about the professors' characters. Nobody seems to be willing to speak openly either. This is a true vicious cycle and in the end some even gets away with a murder.

There is a guide to mentors at Nature and three items are highlighted for a balanced mentoring: "Accessibility, optimism, guided independence". Maybe someone should create a "Mentor Index" based on these scoring advisors by their treatment of students. This would make being a graduate student a much less riskier (or fatal) profession.


  1. I absolutely agree with this. Because of few professors like this, the psychological gap between the professors and the graduate students/postdocs will increase. This is highly detrimental to the research work which has to be done as a group. At least in this case the person has a written evidence to show that the professor is doing like this, in many cases people wont even believe if you say the professor is treating his group member like this.

    My case is still worst. I have finished my PhD in 2005. But still i am not getting postdoc anywhere since by phd mentor is not sending reference letters to whomever ask for it. I know the reference letters are not going, but i dont have the evidence to show. The professors with whom i am applying are not going to tell me that my mentor has not sent the letters, since reference letters are confidential.

    Still I got post-doc in two places without reference and those places i was treated like less than a lab assistant and was given psychological pressure. Of course i was not able to continue in those places more than two months.

  2. I'm sad to hear your story Sara. At times like this personal contacts do matter. I would suggest you work them out. I'm sure there are others out there who was hurt from your phd advisor.

  3. Bad advisors can often get away with anything and everything. I've just made a website for students and postdocs to rate their research advisors, so that both good and bad ones can be made known to everyone: