The importance of mentorship from the perspective of a young mentee
I have been extremely lucky to have found wonderful mentors to my scientific career and my life in general. From my high school chemistry teacher to my PI, friends and colleagues in the plant sciences currently, this network of mentors has helped me more than I could have imagined, in both my professional and personal life.
In high school, I had a chemistry teacher who helped me design an experiment which tested the respiration rate of germinating peas. All these years later I remember what it felt like to carry out a hands-on project with plants. It was empowering to be able to set up trials of a semi-independent project, and interpret complicated results. Some of the specifics of the experiment I don’t recall, but I do remember my teacher sitting with me for hours after school and showing me how to balance the chemical equation and guiding me through experimental design. He spent so much extra time showing me how to properly conduct a reproducible experiment, with patience and stamina. This was my first exposure to the scientific method, especially in relation to plants.
In my undergrad, I continued to pursue plant sciences, and I joined the lab I currently occupy. At the time, I was just eager to get involved with real research, and I didn’t dedicate much thought to the people I would be working with or the mentorship I would receive. Luckily for me, I had found an environment of unparalleled support. From the postdocs who tirelessly explained their research, to the PhD candidates excitedly showing me new lab techniques, I had a small but tightknit community which inspired and supported me. Perhaps more important than the scientific training I learned from my colleagues, they gave me confidence in myself. They reassured me when I made mistakes, and celebrated my successes. The emotional support my mentors have given me has been invigorating and extremely important. When experiments went wrong, it took a huge emotional toll on me at first, and my PI was phenomenal in reassuring me that it was normal to struggle in science. When I was battling with my mental health and other exhausting personal problems, my PI gave me a space to vent and shed tears. She didn’t just mentor me as a scientist, but the whole person that I am.
As a first generation college student, my mentors have been invaluable to my growth as a person and a scientist. No one in my family or social sphere where I grew up is science-literate, and my mentors therefore provide a unique perspective and support system for me. My mentors have given me fuel and purpose for my inquisitiveness, and provided direction and encouragement in a way that no one else in my life could have. I am endlessly thankful for the emotional support that my lab was able to provide me. At times, I was struggling a lot and if I hadn’t gotten help from them, I might not have gotten to where I am right now.
Of course mentorship is important for most people, but I believe it is especially important for first generation college students like myself. It can feel really isolating and scary to not know what to expect from college, and not have anyone to give advice on applications or resumes or even general professionalism. It was especially hard for me to navigate, as I had a very turbulent and volatile relationship with my family, and received next to no support from them. Although my mentors may not have realized it at the time, they gave me some much-needed love, and took on roles which transcended the strictly-business mold of co-workers. I hope that the experiences I have shared here can serve as an example of the important job that mentoring is, and how much mentorship affects a young scientist’s life.