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Mentor of the Month: Dr. Joseph Ayoob

By June 19, 2019No Comments

How did you get involved with NRMN?

I am lucky to have had such great mentoring throughout my scientific career and have always been looking for ways to positively impact the next great generation of scientists to encourage and equip them for success. As a first-generation college student, whose parents didn’t even go to high school, having mentors was a critical aspect that helped me navigate the academic landscape with which my family was unfamiliar. In turn, I want to be a resource to students from similar backgrounds and to anyone who is looking for additional input or help with deciding on which way forward is best for them. The NRMN has been a great platform for this.

Which of NRMN’s program(s) have you participated in?

The MyMentor guided virtual mentoring program is the one that I’ve been the most involved in.

Describe your role in MyMentor and tell us a little about your experience in that role.

The MyMentor program matches more senior scientists up with mentees who are at different stages of their academic careers and looking for mentors to provide guidance, input, feedback, etc. For me, mentoring isn’t about telling your mentee what their best course of action is, but rather, I try to provide options, examples, ideas, and questions for the mentees to think about so they can make the best decision for themselves. The experiences that I’ve had with students have taught me a lot about mentoring, especially from a mentee’s perspective since the program fosters an active dialogue between the mentoring pair. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the students, talking to them about their questions and concerns, and helping them plot the right course for them.

Have you participated in other similar programs in the past? If so, how was your experience with NRMN different or unique?

I’ve mentored students in other online platforms including the first iteration of NRMN’s mentoring program. The structure, discussion prompts, and accountability of the MyMentor framework are all really well-composed and provide an infrastructure to raise and cover a lot of topics with your mentee. I was a little concerned that the weekly nature of the interactions wouldn’t be tenable over a longer stretch of time, but there is a low activation energy for each of the interaction prompts that streamlines the entire process and adds quite a bit of depth to the mentoring relationship.

If someone called you and asked, “Why should I become involved with NRMN?” how would you respond?

I often encourage my colleagues to get involved with mentoring to help train the next generation of scientists. I see this as one of our most important responsibilities as researchers and educators. Encouraging others to follow suit has been a priority for me in my career. Beyond this, I also tell them how NRMN and the interactions with my online mentees has made me a better mentor for all of my students. Many of the discussion prompts for my online mentees have spurred similar important discussions with my mentees at my institution. The diversity of the students who are involved with NRMN has also opened my eyes to more of the issues that students from underrepresented backgrounds face. These experiences make one a more well-rounded and relatable mentor, which benefits all students one interacts with, and in turn, makes for more productive and enriching relationships.

How has your experience with NRMN changed the way you approach your career in the sciences?

I already had a big focus on mentoring and training students at all levels. My NRMN experiences have even further solidified my commitment to these efforts.

Describe a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career.

I run an NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which brings in a host of students from diverse academic, geographic, ethnic/racial, and other backgrounds to our department each summer. There have been many students who have come into the program who were unsure of themselves, lacked confidence in their abilities, and/or didn’t set lofty goals for fear that they wouldn’t achieve them. Seeing the various aspects of the program, (e.g., tiered mentorship, numerous professional development activities, research projects that provide a pathway to independence) have a positive impact on the confidence level of these students has always been an extremely rewarding part of my career.

What makes you an ideal mentor?

In my view, an ideal mentor is someone who is more of a mirror than an encyclopedia (maybe I should say Wikipedia so I don’t date myself). They should place the focus on their mentee and resist the urge to be a fount of knowledge that their mentees should obey. While both approaches work, I think that facilitating students in finding and forging their own paths gives them more of a stake in their futures, equips them with the tools to face future questions and challenges, helps foster their independence, and sparks a spirit of mentorship in themselves. This is what I strive for as a mentor.

Each morning, what do you look most forward to in the day?

As my wife and I just had our first baby, I look forward to seeing how she will change and grow from one day to the next. It’s made me think more about the similarities between parenting and mentoring, which I think have many nice parallels.

Is there anything you’d like to share about yourself with a potential future mentee?

I will do my best to help you find the right path forward for you. Either that or maybe that my last name backwards is Booya! 😉

 What is your current position and what is your favorite aspect of it?

I wear a lot of hats in my current position. To name a few, I direct summer programs for high school and undergraduate students, run a professional development series for graduate students, and teach graduate and medical students. It is great to see students at each of these levels immersing themselves in science and making preparations for the next step in their careers.

Anything else that you would like to share?

When I look back on my career to this point, one of the things that I think about the most is the wonderful group of mentors who have supported me throughout my journey. Their input along every step of the way was invaluable to me. I would encourage everyone to think about how their mentors have impacted their careers, and in turn, think about how they can get more involved and positively impact the careers of younger scientists following in their footsteps.

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