Beki Grinter

Trainees? Seriously?

In academic management, research on February 2, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Female Science Professor directed my attention to the following post about what you can (as a PI) expect from your “trainees.”

I could say a lot of things about the post, but for now I want to comment on the use of the word trainees? I presume that that’s referring to students. Particularly at the Ph.D. level there is a substantial amount of apprenticeship that takes place. But, while I take mentoring seriously I’ve never once thought of my students as trainees.

Perhaps I’m mis-reading the intent of the word, but, well it was an opportunity for me to question myself.

I guess when I first work with a student I think of them as that, a student. Someone that I should guide, encourage, advise, advocate for, … mentor. Over time, I really enjoy the change. They become colleagues. Well that’s the point isn’t it. If it is an apprenticeship in research, then the objective is to help each person find their unique voice, the one that they’ll go on to become researchers using and maybe want to work with you as a colleague.

To me trainee implies a period of training, and there is no doubt that there’s a period of learning. But it’s not knowledge transfer from advisor to student, it’s also about developing that person to be able to do research that is outside of the scope of your own ability. I hope it is anyway…

Perhaps, I can’t help wondering, if the author thought of his or her students as people who deserve mentoring and may end up doing research that you could never have imagined yourself doing because you don’t have the skill set for it. Well perhaps the work that they do, and the work that only they can do, would be clearer.

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  1. I think the word “trainee” is common in the Sciences and also in some parts of Europe and Asia to refer to PhD students. Nonetheless, I agree, I prefer other words to label us. 🙂

  2. Good point… I checked in with the powers that be before writing this and they agree, no not trainees!

  3. “Trainees” covers students at both the undergrad and grad level (though mostly the latter) and postdocs. A little less cumbersome than writing it all out, no? It’s a convenient term for people at different levels who require different mentoring and different attention. Hopefully that clarifies for you.

  4. It’s pretty common in the sciences, especially those that engage in a lot of lab work in which it may be more appropriate to refer to a student in that way (training to become a lab scientist?).

  5. This is a good point. I read the article and thought that some of the expectations would be potentially different if the word trainee was considered. Isn’t all research, whether in the lab or not, creative, not completely teachable, and at best better than you the PI could have possibly conceived?

  6. Since my last comment went to moderation hell, I’ll try again. Trainees is a convenient term for the many people of different experience and academic level in a scientific lab. This includes undergraduates, graduate students and post docs. Rather than write all that out, in the case you linked to, it was easier to refer to the whole, since I don’t think anyone in the lab should be treated as though they are owned by the PI (Principal Investigator).

  7. Prof-like Substance, thank you and yes I see your point. (Both of your comments ended up in my spam filter and I apologise for the delay in retrieving them). You’ve made me reflect on my tone… I owe you an apology for that too. I guess I still prefer the word mentee if only because I think it reminds me, at least, of the obligation I owe any student.

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