Mentoring Compacts Can Be Useful Tools for Research Supervisors

Argonne’s Postdoctoral Mentoring Program is unique in that postdoctoral researchers report to a supervisor or line manager for their research and employment functions, and have a third party mentor outside of line management. This structure is to ensure that every postdoc has the opportunity to gain additional insight and advice and to help grow their network at the lab. We have talked before about key elements, resources and tools for maintaining good mentoring relationships. These concepts can apply to supervisory relationships as well.

One such tool is the mentoring compact, also called mentoring agreements or contracts. What is a mentoring compact? It is a document that establishes guidelines for both the mentor and mentee so each are clear on what they are committing to and what they can expect from each other. There are examples of compacts available online. Let’s walk through a few key elements of a compact’s content and use.

What information should you include?

From the perspective of a supervisor, think about what you want new members to your group to know about the work culture, expectations for team participation, and maintaining open communication channels on research progress. Some questions to ask yourself include but are not limited to:

  • How often do you expect to meet with your direct reports? What should they bring with them to guide the discussions?
  • What are the preferred communication channels?
  • What is the timeline for research deliverables?
  • What feedback can your postdocs expect of you?
  • How does your group manage data, including ownership of data, hand-off of projects and publication authorship?
  • What are you prepared to offer to support professional development and career readiness for your postdocs?
  • What are the expectations for maintaining a positive, professional and ethical working environment?

As a postdoc or mentee, you will want to echo understanding of the above and consider what you are prepared to commit to. Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you understand the dynamics of your new group and how you can contribute to team success?
  • Do you understand the expectations for being a good lab/group citizen and how to address issues that arise?
  • Have you articulated your professional development needs with your supervisor and are you prepared to take ownership for your development?
  • Are the expectations for authorship clear and do you agree with the strategy for publishing results?
  • How will you communicate progress on your research? What feedback do you need? Have you made that clear?

How should you use a mentoring compact?

Consider a compact to be a living document. When a new member joins your group, provide the compact to them and then schedule a follow-up meeting to discuss it. You may wish to customize it further based on your discussion. New postdocs and supervisors are expected to have an initial discussion to cover research and career objectives. That would be a good time to go over the compact.

Don’t toss it in a drawer after that! Review it together periodically, especially when it comes time to follow through on deliverables and professional development activities, or when communication issues arise. What did you both agree to? Are expectations being followed?

Where can you learn more about mentoring compacts?

The University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ISTCR) has a nice checklist of suggestions for what to cover in a mentoring compact. They also have ready-made examples for compacts between individuals, for teams or for developing compacts based on key questions.

The Association of American Medical Colleges Graduate Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT Group) has a good framework for developing and using mentoring compacts, complete with a mentoring compact available for download that has common expectations for postdocs and mentors.

I encourage you to check out the resources linked above. While written from the perspective of biomedical researchers, they are perfectly adaptable to any discipline. Don’t reinvent the wheel!


About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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