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Posted on 14 July 2022 by Hanna Kurlanda-Witek

Mentoring, Publishing Results, and Communication in Science – Workshops on the Lindau Guidelines and the Lindau Mentoring Hub

#LINO22 was partly hybrid, here with Elizabeth H. Blackburn online

During #LINO22, two workshops were dedicated to initiatives of the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings that were launched in 2020: the Lindau Guidelines and the Lindau Mentoring Hub. What progress has been made by these two recent projects and what do young scientists think about the future directions of these initiatives?

In 2018, Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn gave a lecture on the place of science in society; how science can inform policy, and the use of scientific evidence, which grew into the “The Lindau Guidelines 2020”, a project that aims to “develop and support a new approach for global, sustainable and cooperative open science”. As Blackburn said, “the idea coalesced into something better than I described.”

The panel of the workshop on Lindau Guidelines included Elizabeth Blackburn and recent PhD graduate Christian Schumacher, and was moderated by Wolfgang Huang, Director of the Lindau Executive Secretariat.

“Competition can go too far”

The discussion quickly focused on the value of communication in science, and how sharing research results according to the framework of the Lindau Guidelines can only benefit the scientific community. “You want your competitors to thrive because that’s good for science,” said Blackburn. The young scientists in the audience added that there should be more ways of publishing negative results, such as failed chemical reactions. “It saves the field from going down avenues where a lot of time and effort (of young scientists) can be saved from being wasted,” agreed Blackburn.

“I went into science because I want to do something good”

The problem of the lack of open access publishing was addressed during various panels at #LINO22 and was put forward by the participants of this workshop as well, with scientists pointing out the difficulties of accessing subscription-based journals, which slows down research. While there are no easy answers to this topic, Blackburn brought up the advantage of publishing preprints online, such as medRxiv or chemRxiv (pronounced “med-archive”, “chem-archive”), which provide complete but unpublished manuscripts, many of which are then submitted to journals.

The discussion also touched on the pressures faced by young scientists, particularly where more focus is placed on publications than on the science itself, as well as the public’s diminishing trust in science, triggered by the pandemic.

“Without Mentors a Lot of Talent Will Not Grow”

The second workshop of the #LINO22 programme on mentoring featured a lot of discussion on what exactly mentoring is and whether it’s really that important. Nobel Laureate in Physics Sir Konstantin Novoselov Ben Nelson, the chairman and founder of Minerva University; as well as Michael Mărgineanu and Iris Odstrcil, two members of the Lindau Mentoring Hub team, were part of the panel, moderated by Karan Khemka.

Everyone agreed that mentoring is essential, with all the panelists saying that they had excellent mentors. “A great mentor is someone who enables you to perform at your peak level,” said Nelson. And it doesn’t have to be someone from your lab. “With internet and technology, we don’t rely on proximity anymore to find people who will help us grow,” noted Odstrcil. But whatever the connection, a mentor shouldn’t be the one you turn to for praise. “What’s inherent in great mentorship is deep criticism. A mentor shouldn’t pat you on the back,” said Nelson, “That’s a cheerleader.”

“The Best Mentorships Would Be Senior PhD Students or Postdocs”

Novoselov expressed concern that mentorship was occurring outside of a young scientist’s work group, raising the issue that something must be wrong with the system if there’s a lack of mentorship among colleagues. “Your professor should be your mentor,” he said. Also, science careers are difficult and, while someone may have been taught a lot of biology, physics or chemistry at school, science is usually learned “on the job”. “Science is new knowledge, so mentoring should also be observing professors doing good science,” said Novoselov.

“Diversity Matters…”

Sir Konstantin Novoselov during the Workshop on Mentoring

A survey conducted during the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting concluded that women and ethnic minorities studying abroad lack good mentorship. This is of course a broad statement. Mărgineanu noted that this isn’t the case at the medical school where he works in Romania, as most of the students are female. Nelson attributed this decline in mentorship in the U.S. to “a strong disincentive” to meet with students alone or outside of working hours, which makes it particularly hard to help students from different cultures adapt. “Something’s lost,” he said, also underlining that we have to think about what universities have become and how this shift will impact students.

“You Have to Learn From the Best”

One of the panel’s last remarks were on mentoring in career development. Mărgineanu said there are few platforms dedicated to this element, and that peer-to-peer mentoring in this case is necessary. A career in research isn’t for everyone. “Universities are realizing that they have to provide more information about all these exciting career paths,” remarked Odstrcil. “There are other career opportunities,” agreed Novoselov, “ but the best help is if you can develop (students’) talents.”

Hanna Kurlanda-Witek

Hanna Kurlanda-Witek is a science writer and environmental consultant, based in Warsaw, Poland. She has a PhD in geosciences from the University of Edinburgh, where she spent a lot of time in the lab. As someone familiar with both worlds of research and industry, she enjoys simplifying science communication across the divide.