Nov 29, 2022

Journal Peer Review and Revision and Publication! Oh My!

Overview: For a scientific community to grow its knowledge, individual researchers need to enter a conversation with the rest of this scientific community about their newest research results, the validity of those results, and how those results fit into the existing knowledge. The peer review of manuscripts by journals, the publication of accepted articles, and then the discussions of the articles by others (citations in articles by other researchers) is one way such dialog occurs. 


Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash
We hope that the following post will help you understand the role of journals and the peer-review process in our scientific communities. As we have better understood how research studies are reviewed for publication, we have improved our own writing and internal evaluations before article submissions.  This has led to a decrease in our own frustration and quicker progress toward publication.


Post Contributor(s): Marian Kennedy and Dr. Sapna Sarupria, Associate Professor in the University of Minnesota Department of Chemistry. Professor Sarupria studies materials using computational methods (molecular modeling, simulations, and statistical mechanics) and won one of the coveted NSF CAREER awards in 2017. Her research involves developing sampling techniques in molecular simulations and applying them in understanding long-standing problems in condensed matter.


Nov 15, 2022

Advising and mentoring for those pursuing a MS or PhD degree

Overview:  Upon entering a research-based graduate program, many graduate students are asked to identify their own research advisor.  This faculty member will direct your thesis or dissertation work, help you select appropriate classes, and share their knowledge about your disciplinary field.  While it is important to select a person with the technical knowledge to guide you on a research program aligned with your research interests, there are other factors to consider.  A strong mentor-mentee relationship will provide you support beyond helping with the design and implementation of a thesis or dissertation project.  This support might include advocacy, sponsorship, and guidance on adapting to the social norms of your disciplinary community. Not having a person helping you to navigate the personal components of graduate school and to prepare for your first professional position constitutes a distinct disadvantage.   The earlier blog post related to setting expectations for advisor-advisee partnerships with Dr. Ulf Schiller was based on our lived experience as both faculty members and graduate students.  This post is based on research and it is cowritten with Dr. Aubrie Pfirman, whose doctoral dissertation focused on understanding the types of relationship formed. 
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash     


Dr. Pfirman described what students are looking for in a mentor based on her interviews with doctoral students in chemistry thus:


Students are seeking a professional and friendly mentorship from their faculty advisors. They want to feel valued in their scientific ideas and exploration and have a balance of firm guidance and critique. They want to be trusted to do their research and fulfill their roles in the laboratory yet know they can depend on their advisor to work alongside them at the bench when the occasion arises.


Dr. Pfirman provided a typology of five relationships that can occur between a graduate student and advisor during graduate school:    

  • “Mentorship” Relationship-In this situation, the graduate student is able to discuss academic, professional, and personal topics with their faculty advisor. Interaction includes formal and recurring feedback. In addition, both people have a similar enthusiasm for research in their field, learning, teaching, collaborations, and the publication progress. 
  • “Mentorship + Advocacy” Relationship-This is very similar to the “Mentorship” relationship except that the faculty member takes on the additional role of being an advocate for the graduate student.  The Cambridge dictionary defines advocating as “public support for an idea, plan, or way of doing something.”
  • “All Business” Relationship- Interaction is limited only to research and the interaction resembles that of a “boss” with their employee.  The faculty member provides direction for research and the independence of the graduate student is scaffolded as they grow in skills and confidence.  In such cases, the advisor's presence in the lab is on more of an as-needed basis than with other relationship types.  These partners typically have a shared interest in research, teaching, and collaboration.
  • “Autocracy” Relationship-In this relationship, the graduate student is provided directives for task completion that will lead to the thesis or dissertation being completed. The advisor provides the student feedback, but there is not shared agency (feeling of control) or control over the scope of the research work.  Mentor and student do not discuss the profession or personal topics. While either party or both may be passionate about research, teaching, collaboration, etc., they do not share this passion with each other.
  • “Absentee” Relationship-This type of relationship lacks many aspects found in a “Mentorship” relationship. There is no formal and recurring feedback, no scaffolding of responsibilities, and the graduate student is not helped to grow in skills and confidence and mutual enthusiasm for learning, research, etc., in this type of relationship.  


These types resonated with my experiences and observations. While I was lucky as a graduate student to have two wonderful mentors, Dr. David Bahr and Dr. Neville Moody, I saw others who have experienced less productive relationships. When you interview potential advisors, you want to look for signs that you will be able to establish a mentorship or mentorship + advocacy relationship. I spoke with Dr. Pfirman about her findings in the interview below, which I believe offers significant insight into the mentor-mentee relationship. 


Post Contributor(s): Drs. Marian Kennedy and Aubrie L. Pfirman