Written by Gaoyuan Liu
NRMN invites you to start off the New Year by considering how effective mentorship can help you reach your career goals and achieve your scientific potential. Just as mentors choose varying styles and methods of teaching, mentees have their own vastly different preferences for mentorship. A major key to maintaining a successful mentor-mentee relationship involves deciding exactly what type of mentorship dynamic suits you the best, by reflecting on personalities, experience, and goals.
Here are a few different perspectives on mentorship as shared by undergraduate students from Boston College:
- Achievement-Oriented Mentorship
Rafael Torres, a fourth-year student studying Sociology, believes the most important thing a mentor can do is to help a mentee reach immediate goals. He spoke about two influential mentors dating back to high school, a college advisor and a teacher, both of whom focused on the single goal of pushing low-income, minority students to graduate and enter higher education. Julio Regas, his college advisor, took time to understand the unique needs of the high school students, many of whom would be first-generation college students. In addition, a high school teacher of Torres was a Boston College alumnus, and took a group of mentees to go on college visits every year.
“Both of my mentors were very empathetic to what we [their mentees] experienced, while at the same time always focusing the direct possibilities in front of us. They made me see that college is a real possibility in front of me, and then pushed me as hard as they could to get there,” says Torres. “Mentoring is about getting people to where they want to go.”
- Translating the Love for Science
Ernesto Barbosa, a third-year Biology major, talked about the origins of his passion for science:
“I had a chemistry professor in high school that would narrate every part of the class with enthusiasm, humor, and just great story-telling. He shared amazing stories from his own career as a chemical engineer, some that made us do a double take, some that made us laugh. He always made it interesting, and most importantly, he translated his interest to me.”
Since arriving at Boston College, Barbosa has pursued interests in Chemistry and Biology. Currently, he conducts drug research at a neuroscience lab at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he says he enjoys the practical and clinical application of scientific concepts. Previously majoring in Chemistry, Barbosa credits two physicians he accompanied on a service trip for inspiring his passion in Medicinal Science, and for his subsequent shift to Biology.
“Sometimes in science, the atmosphere can be so calculated, [competitive], and professional that it’s hard to see people’s more casual, human sides. Dr. [Thomas] Nary and his son were down to earth while still having such deep knowledge of their field. Seeing someone so successful while still being relatable is a huge motivator for me.”
- Mutual-Respect and Constructive Critique
Eric Jinsuk Lee, a fourth year Biochemistry major, says his most significant influence is the PI of his lab, Dr. Laura Anne Lowery, who has acted as his scientific lead and mentor for several years. Lee says his started off in Dr. Lowery’s lab with little to no experience, and according to him, “…no coursework can prepare you for actual research.”
“I think I was very fortunate to meet Dr. Lowery, since it’s rare to have such a good fostering environment where there is a big focus on developing students’ research skills,” says Lee. “No question feels stupid to ask with Dr. Lowery. That’s the way she carries herself.”
Lee recalls his discomfort the first time he presented at a lab meeting, which was soothed by Dr. Lowery’s demeanor and ease at connecting with her students. At the same time, Lee appreciates her honest critique. “She makes it very clear that she expects highly of us, and also that she always means well. At times, she’s not afraid to sound harsh to help us learn, while being very friendly at other times asking us to ask stupid questions. She trusts her students to know that it’s all about improving at the end of the day. And I really respect that.”
Following graduation, Lee plans to enroll in a graduate program, where he hopes to have a similar sense of support in research. Although he suspects that he “…might have been very spoiled by [his] current lab,” he seeks to prioritize programs with a nurturing environment.
“Research is a time of [ups and downs]. Fortunately, those ups can be very satisfying and intellectually rewarding. That’s why having a strong mentor is so important—to encourage you to persevere, even when you think you can’t.”
For more information and resources on science mentorship, visit NRMNet.net. Join NRMN for mentor-mentee pairing and professional development programs designed to hone your practices and deepen your connection to the scientific community.