Mentoring relationships between doctoral students and postdocs in the lab sciences

Jennifer M. Blaney, Jina Kang, Annie M. Wofford, David F. Feldon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Purpose: This study aims to examine how science, technology, engineering, and mathematics doctoral students interact with postdocs within the research laboratory, identifying the nature and potential impacts of student–postdoc mentoring relationships. Design/methodology/approach: Using a sample of 53 doctoral students in the biological sciences, this study uses a sequential mixed-methods design. More specifically, a phenomenological approach enabled the authors to identify how doctoral students make meaning of their interactions with postdocs and other research staff. Descriptive statistics are used to examine how emergent themes might differ as a product of gender and race/ethnicity and the extent to which emergent themes may relate to key doctoral student socialization outcomes. Findings: This study reveals six emergent themes, which primarily focus on how doctoral students receive instrumental and psychosocial support from postdocs in their labs. The most frequent emergent theme captures the unique ways in which postdocs provide ongoing, hands-on support and troubleshooting at the lab bench. When examining how this theme plays a role in socialization outcomes, the results suggest that doctoral students who described this type of support from postdocs had more positive mental health outcomes than those who did not describe this type of hands-on support. Originality/value: Literature on graduate student mentorship has focused primarily on the impact of advisors, despite recent empirical evidence of a “cascading mentorship” model, in which senior students and staff also play a key mentoring role. This study provides new insights into the unique mentoring role of postdocs, focusing on the nature and potential impacts of student–postdoc interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)263-279
Number of pages17
JournalStudies in Graduate and Postdoctoral Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Doctoral education
  • Mentorship
  • STEM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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