Friday marked the launch of the CAASTRO Mentoring Program, in which we have each been paired with at least one other person (more junior or more senior than ourselves) for a low-intensity, positive-sum mentorship arrangement. The goal is to meet with our mentor or mentee once every few months, and face-to-face at least once a year, to see how we can move forward with personal goals for career development.
In the telecon, Bryan Gaensler mentioned a specific Facebook thread posted by a disgruntled young astronomer who opined that astronomy is “a brutal place where dreams come to die”. This person largely faults a lack of early-career guidance in subsequent frustrations in the field. I can’t link to this since the original post is in a closed Facebook group, but other astronomers will know where to find it. Anyway, suffice it to say that we all want to do what we can to leave people with a more positive impression of our field, even (nay, especially) if they eventually leave to do something else. There were a bunch of good comments, including one from Nick Suntzeff (a supernova observer and member of Brian’s Nobel-Prize-winning dark energy team, and also one who has done time as a public policy fellow in Washington) who suggested that the American Astronomical Society (AAS) could be doing more both to provide mentorship for young astronomers and to smooth future transitions in their careers, both in academia and outside it.
I’m definitely all in favor of this, since more attention to the plight of young scientists and especially the casualization of the workforce is sorely needed. While AAS-wide mentorship can be provided on a one-off basis at AAS meetings, I still think there is no substitute for being in a supportive department or institute, where everyone helps look out periodically for one or more people junior to themselves. And while research supervisors are expected to provide at least some mentorship, they have vested interests in the success of the project (which may not always be seen to coincide with the success of the young researchers working on it) and may or may not make good mentors. Young researchers should be well aware that they need to seek their own mentorship relationships (plural!) proactively, as needed; but this is a lot easier to do within the context of departments, institutes, and fields which already have a culture of looking out for their own.
So if you’re reading this, maybe consider having a chat to someone junior than you a few times a year; see how they’re doing, whether they’re getting what they need out of their experience in your workplace. You could make a world of difference.