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Honours and prizes


The student-mentor relationship
Avrion Mitchison Scientist
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Do you think that there is ever a conflict between the mentor and the student in post-doc in the sense that you want to set the student in post-doc free to make their own discoveries but the mentor has to get their grants, as you've just said, and therefore they need a project to move along lines proposed in a grant?
Yes, I think there is- I think that- that sort of constructive tension is inescapable. It is to do with, as you say, with resources, finding resources. A student who doesn't notice that and isn't aware of that and doesn't make allowances for that, is a second-rate student. Any competent student knows about those problems and makes allowances, I think.
What about the mentor giving the student freedom to make their own discoveries?
Well, there is a balance, I absolutely agree, and there- that balance, no doubt like all balances, there's a sort of perfect equilibrium, and in real life we aren't- we aren't at that point. Perhaps sometimes students are left on their own too much, perhaps sometimes they- they're are pushed too hard. Well, what can I say about myself?
I think it's clear that from the discussion which I have been having, that I take a fairly rosy view of my own life, I don't feel now that, you know, that there was a black period when I was lost for something to do or our resources just weren't there to do something that I wanted to do passionately, or I'd been let down by people, I just- I don't have that. And I don't actually think that's got much to do with the realities of my life, it's certainly got a lot to do with, you know, what sort of person you are, some people are a bit more pessimistic than others and sometimes with very good reason. So I can't recall an occasion in my own life where I think a student has been badly mistreated. Funny, working with my very good friend Järgen Roes, I observed students being very badly treated, and I cringe inside, but I think that sometimes the things which make me cringe I realise a week or two later, that's a matter of style, not of reality.
Do you think you can motivate a student or post-doc that's not internally motivated?
No, I don't think so. I'm just wondering what kind of motivation they could be plied with- wine, women, song? None of them seem quite- quite the right thing. Money? No.

Avrion Mitchison, the British zoologist, is currently Professor Emeritus at University College London and is best known for his work demonstrating the role of lymphocytes in tumour rejection and for the separate and cooperative roles of T- and B-lymphocytes in this and other processes.

Listeners: Martin Raff

Martin Raff is a Canadian-born neurologist and research biologist who has made important contributions to immunology and cell development. He has a special interest in apoptosis, the phenomenon of cell death.



Listen to Martin Raff at Web of Stories



Duration: 3 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2004

Date story went live: 29 September 2010