KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How to Be a Good Mentor

I've mentored many editors, including generalists and medical editors, over the years and have developed mentoring practices that work well. The practices that Kelleen Flaherty,* a fellow member of the American Medical Writers Association, described for mentoring medical writers in a recent article in the AMWA Journal are in line with what I do. If you mentor colleagues, consider adapting her practices to your situation:

  1. Provide general, concrete guidelines to a mentee. No details, just generalities.
  2. Never tell your mentee what to do. Guide them to finding it out on their own.
  3. Provide structure without specifics. If you edit excessively, they will not develop the critical thinking skills essential to being a good medical writer. Circle something and say “style,” not “You need a comma here and this is a compound modifier that requires a hyphen.” Use “clarity,” “organization,” and “grammar” as general prompts—do not provide corrections. Provide deadlines, guidelines, and examples, and let them fill in the blanks.
  4. When your mentee hits a wall, that’s good. There is no better learning experience. You must convince your mentee that it’s good to have had that experience. This is not a platitude; it is a solid truth. Real science works this way, real life works this way, real jobs work this way. Nothing works perfectly. Nothing. Your survey doesn’t always work. The editor of a journal doesn’t always want to publish your manuscript. Good! Get rejected! Now you know how to get rejected! This person knows more about the industry than someone who has never hit a bump.
  5. When a mentee hits a bump, assess your substrate. How do you assist the mentee over the bump? Different substrates require different assists. “Man up” works for some, “Step away from it for a few days and go camping” works for others, while still others might need a 2-hour you-can-do-it-I-have-faith-in-you phone call.
  6. Understand your mentee’s limitations. Some have some significant ones. Age, maybe, fear, mental challenges (attention deficit disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, autism spectrum, etc), physical disorders, or family issues. When you’re a mentor, you’re going to get more confessions than any other teacher is going to get. It’s private and absolutely none of your business and you’d never ask, but when the information is offered, it helps you understand more about where your student is coming from.
  7. How do I get a job? That’s a major fear with new medical writers—it’s a major fear with experienced jobless medical writers. Counsel them in job-hunting, cold-calling, networking, working with recruiters, and listing themselves on job sites; review their writing tests if they get them, and review their résumés or [curricula vitae]; write recommendations for them or otherwise serve as [a reference].
  8. Do not lie. If they have limitations, as a mentor, you are ethically obliged to make them aware of them. This is tough. There are always positives (“You really know your reg guidelines”), and you should start with those. If their organization, clarity, or grammar is compromised, you need to let them know. This does not mean they are unfit medical writers, only that they have limitations. With the structure of a particular job environment, you never know how they’ll do.
  9. Provide the basic mechanics of professional guidelines. How do you write emails? Answer job posts? Engage in professional organizational discussion boards? Create a Web page? Work on social media? Hook them up with the right professionals in the field for advice (and hook them up with AMWA as soon as they start their studies. I’m not shilling here; this is just a fact). 
  10. ... [C]are deeply about your charges, and let it show. Let them know they can talk to you. Respect them. And of course, you should have every expectation that the respect is reciprocal.

Watch for my own article on how to treat your mentor in the August–September 2016 issue of Copyediting newsletter, available through a paid subscription.

Flaherty is an adjunct assistant professor in the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia Graduate Biomedical Writing Programs, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have reprinted a segment of her article from the AMWA Journal with her permission. The full article is available online only to AMWA members: Flaherty K. Mentoring new medical writers [in the column Commonplaces]. AMWA Journal. 2016;31(2):64–67.

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