A Sense of Autonomy

Posted on October 5, 2006

Ruth M. O'Hara (bio) advocates a collaborative effort between mentor and mentee.


A huge amount of success in this field, I think, relies on a certain amount of autonomous sense that you’re going to achieve, that you’re going to do it. And I think there’s a critical juncture where you’ll need this information. You don’t have it from your mentors, but you have to have to have a certain sense of autonomy, too, and how do you balance that? Because without a sense of autonomy you won’t develop autonomy, and I really believe that’s one of the interesting issues.

We’ve never really actually gotten into it at one of the career development institutes, but you have to be careful that you’re not becoming, in a sense, a clone of your mentor and that you retain a sense of your own personal identity as an academic clinical researcher because that’s an essential component of the research track and succeeding in the research track.

So there are times when you have to have the confidence to sort of say no to your mentor. Some mentors are much more effective than others at facilitating that sense. My mentor was superb at facilitating: “Well, you know, you’re the one who has the responsibility, what do you think?” And really would be respectful of a decision, if I made it, that was different than their decision. They were very facilitating in that regard. Jerry Yesavage was tremendous.

And that’s one of the things that I think is an important balance and we don’t really talk. It’s not a question of giving yourself over, lock, stock and barrel to your mentor, to shape you as they want. This is a collaborative enterprise, in which you have to be really an active participant in many ways and also retain a sense of your own passion and independence even in the early stages when you’re getting a lot of very valuable advice.

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Excerpted from an interview with researcher at the 2006 Career Development Institute for Psychiatry in Pittsburgh, PA.


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