Like it or not, your mentoring behavior is intimately tied to the experiences you had as a scientific trainee. Let me rephrase that for emphasis. Tied to the way you experienced your training.
In the very general sense, if you thought something was good for you, you are going to tend to try to extend that to your trainees. And if something was bad for you, you are going to try to avoid that for your trainees.
Obviously, the ability that you have to emulate or avoid certain behaviors of your mentors-of-reference* is not going to be perfect. But let us assume for argument's sake that you can make a fair stab at mentoring the way that you would intend yourself to mentor.
This is not all that dissimilar to parenting, I find. There are obvious ways in which I think my parents did an absolutely bang up job of raising me. They set me on a path of life that is in many ways ideal. A career that is fulfilling, a political and social stance that I am proud of, a strength of will and freedom from many of the family-drama related pathologies that plague many adults. I would hope to provide this type of parenting to my own children. Absolutely.
In the same way, I received great mentoring on topics small and large from several people who were in an instructional or supervisory role over my career up to the point of being appointed Assistant Professor. And, let us face it, up to this very day. I am always learning stuff from people in my field and profession. When I recognize something good that was communicated to me by a mentor, I do try to use that in supervising my own trainees. Of course. Because I want them to be successful.
I also have several very specific things that I resent about the way I was raised. It is no coincidence that I find myself to be taking steps as a parent to avoid treating my kids that way. It helps tremendously that the financial security of my spouse and I is (I think**) greater than that of my parents when I was a kid. But even given that, I parent differently in several ways. And I can tie this directly to my perception of how I was parented. The hope is to, obviously, avoid having my children feel the same sense that they would much rather things had gone another way.
Unsurprisingly, I also have suffered under circumstances as a burgeoning academic that were less than optimal. To the extent I can do so, I try to head these off for my trainees. It should be basic. If you didn't like the effect that a mentoring move had on you, don't do it to your trainees. Right? This is not difficult.
The rub lies in those elements of your life that you see as negatives but that you also believe left you a better person for it. Adversity. Many of us have the sense that facing adversity and overcoming it has strengthened us for subsequent life events that may not be all unicorns and fairy dust. And we worry that if our children do not face and overcome adversity that they will be.....spoiled little brats unable to appreciate their considerable privileges and doomed to an inability to surmount future challenges.
This is my greatest worry as a parent.
Clearly, we spoil the ever loving crap out of our children. Compared to what we had.
It does not escape me for a second that this is a re-run of the drama that played out with my own parents. Who came from adversity greater than the environment that they were able to provide for their children. And there is zero doubt in my mind that one major area of resentment about the way my parents raised me was related to them trying to avoid spoiling the crap out of me. I still think they were wrong and I go the opposite way with my own kids. Probably way overboard the opposite way.
"Spoil" is too strong a word for trainees.
I do think, however, that undergoing adversity during academic training has left me better prepared for a career as a grant funded PI. I have said it before on these pages that I think my sole actual talent for this NIH grant game business is my ability to take a punch. That, I go on to argue, has much to do with my life experiences, most specifically the ones that occurred from graduate school through postdoctoral training.
But I would not wish one single bit of the really bad stuff that happened to me (no, I am not talking about an experiment going wrong one day) on any of my trainees. I would not prescribe any element of suffering as an experience for my trainees.
Because detrimental experiences cause detrimental effects on career.
So am I failing to instill robustness against adversity in my children and my trainees? Heck yeah. But I suppose I figure that this is not my job. Life will take care of the adversity. I prefer to work on the positive side.
I limit myself to worrying about it.
*There can be indirect mentoring lessons. Of course.
**I don't actually know in comparable real terms. Which is probably closely related to one of the issues here.