New Workshop Alert: Teaching trainees how to have a career conversation with their research mentor

image of two smiling peopleEveryone says it - students and postdocs should be having career conversations with their research mentor/PI. The challenge for students and postdocs is figuring out how best to bring up the topic and facilitate this important convesation.

One of our latest workshops Having a Career Conversation with your Research Mentor, is based on the book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most (Stone, Patton, Heen and Fisher). Our goal is to teach students and postdoc how to effectively prepare for, and have, important professional conversations. 

The first thing that is helpful when preparing for a difficult conversation is to just reflect on what aspects make a particular conversation feel fraught. From our 1:1 counseling appointments with students and postdocs, we've identified five:

  • First, since biomedical students and postdocs work in their research mentor's lab, a 'career conversation' is actually a combination of a mentoring interaction and a negotiation. It can bring big issues to the table, such as what time and support one might need to explore or pursue a career path, or what work someone might be able to take with them.
  • Second, not every student or postdoc is clear about the structure, timeline or even who is responsible for initiating the conversation. 
  • Third, every research mentor has their own preference about when and how to have such a conversation with trainees.
  • Fourth, not every research mentor clearly articulates what that preference is, leaving students and postdocs guessing about the appropriate etiquette.
  • Fifth, the research mentor has a significant amount of power over a student or postdoc's career path.

Lack of experience, lack of clarity, and high stakes are factors that would give anyone pause, not just students or postdocs who describe themselves as 'conflict avoidant'. It would also be regrettable if research mentors took their trainee's delay as an example that they are unwilling to take the initiative'. 

In our workshop, students and postdocs go through the steps of preparing for a negotiation (including identifying conversational goals and concerns about the conversation, assessing their research mentor's position and preferences, etc.), brainstorm different conversational tactics for each stage of a negotiation (including opening the conversation, negotiating different issues, coming to agreement and ending a conversation) and consider steps post-conversation. We also cover how to troubleshoot issues when a negotiation has taken unexpected turns.

Our additional hope is that working through this process with fellow students and postdocs will also normalize concerns and encourage peer mentorship and support both during and after the session. 

This workshop is part of our Manage-Up Series, which focuses on teaching UCSF trainees how to navigate power differentials in professional relationships skilfully. Learn more about the series at 

register for this workshop in Eventbrite

Having a Career Conversation With Your Research Mentor
Friday, Jan. 24, 2020
10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Helen Diller Building, Mission Bay

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