In my last blog article I touched on what mentors should be teaching everyone within their laboratory. I would like to expand on this subject as I feel the mentor/mentee relationship is a wonderful thing, when it is done correctly.
Some adjectives to describe a good mentor are enthusiastic, encouraging, motivating, unselfish, and understanding. They are aware that they are not in competition with the mentee and are able to provide assistance without creating an awful competitive environment or by making comparisons to others. I have heard and witnessed the opposite at times, and it is cringe worthy. Not only do you empathize with the trainee who is frankly being harassed by someone with poor leadership and mentoring skills, but you can also feel sorry for the mentor who doesn’t appreciate their own flaws.
I was extremely fortunate that my first mentor was very experienced and had supervised many graduate students before I joined his group. He had therefore refined his mentor skills and was able to guide me through the many obstacles in my path with great skill.
One of his approaches was to ask for reviews on various aspects of my research project, which took lots of time in my first two years. However, when it came to writing up my thesis introduction, I already had the majority of it written because of the reviews. With his guidance, I submitted my thesis within 3 years of stepping foot in his lab, a feat many people still comment on to this day.
I can honestly say that if I had not been fortunate enough to enter that particular lab, I probably would have taken as long as my other colleagues, which was around 4 years. To this day, he remains a mentor I can always turn to and is never too busy to help. The relationship we began 10 years ago is still strong, and I treasure it. The one great thing he also did was share his network of colleagues with me. I was introduced to everyone at conferences and local speaking events. I have yet to meet another PI who is as generous with their contacts.
Another of my mentors was a wonderful lady who demonstrated exactly the qualities which I would hope to emulate one day. She had great responsibility and was ridiculously busy, but was approachable at all times. She was always very polite, friendly, graceful, and feminine while maintaining authority, something I have never witnessed performed better by anyone else.
I have mentored both graduate and high school students. I take great pleasure from watching their improvement and, once they move on, from their future successes. I would hope that my mentors feel the same way about me. I was so proud when a high school student I mentored over the summer was accepted into medical school. He wishes to become a “triple threat,” a practicing medical doctor, a lecturer and also a researcher. I would like to think that the summer he had with me might have helped with this third ambition.
Mentors don’t have to be people you work with or for, but can be people you admire. You are not limited with how many mentors you have. As long as you foster your relationship with that person, and they are willing to advise you, they could perform that role for many years. The mentor/mentee relationship is something to nurture and cherish, as when it is developed well, it is golden.