As academic careers become more competitive, junior scientists need to understand the value that mentorship brings to their success in academia. Previous research has found that, unsurprisingly, successful mentors tend to train successful students. But what characteristics of this relationship predict success, and how? We analyzed an open-access database of about 20,000 researchers who have undergone both graduate and postdoctoral training, compiled across several fields of biomedical science.
Our results show that postdoctoral mentors were more instrumental to trainees’ success compared to graduate mentors. A trainee’s success in academia was predicted by the degree of intellectual synthesis with their mentors, resulting from fusing the influence of disparate advisors. This suggests that junior scientists should have increased chances of success by training with and linking the ideas of mentors from different fields. We discuss the implications of these results for choosing mentors and determining the duration of postdoctoral training.