Musings on Mentorship

In addition to checking out Mendeley, I also participated in some good conversation about mentorship (#sciomentor) with folks at the #scio14 conference1. It got me thinking…

Formal/obligatory/mutualistic mentorships

This is the kind of mentor/mentee relationship that you’ll likely be looking at in grad school. You choose a mentor to study under because you are interested in their work, they accept you into their lab because your credentials look good. Your success or failure reflects upon your mentor and you get a boost to your CV.

Either good or bad, you’re likely stuck with a primary mentor throughout grad school. I can’t stress enough the importance of meeting your mentor beforehand so you can be more certain of how you’ll get along together. Ask yourself, “Disregarding their name and position in the field, can I really put up with this person for 2-6 years?

Informal mentorships: Kronos and the Unicorn

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No, nooooo! All I wanted was your letters of recommendation!
Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

 

 

a. Kronos: This mentor is very powerful and you would like nothing more than for him/her to be your mentor. Having this person guide you will be wonderful for your career, CV, networking, etc. Kronos thinks you have a lot of potential and has noticed your abilities. There’s just one problem. Kronos doesn’t want your abilities to surpass his/hers. And so does not mentor you in such a way to reach your full potential.

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My perfect Unicorn. Look, she’s reviewing my manuscript!
Image courtesy of takua770.deviantart.com

 

 

b. The Unicorn: This mentor is also powerful. They respect your abilities and potential and recognize how their standing can move you up the ladder. Instead of taking away what power you may have, the Unicorn fosters it. He/she truly wants you to succeed and will guide you appropriately whether that is by offering you advice or reviewing your manuscripts.

 

So how do you avoid Kronos and find the Unicorn? My advice is to put out your feelers. Some really long ones. Be hesitant. My guess is that there’s going to be some ego involved. This potential mentor knows they’re powerful, but what they do with that knowledge is the key. How do they act? How do they talk to you and to others? Remember: feelers. This is like dating!

 

 

Unbalanced power is inherently present in mentor/mentee relationships for obvious reasons. #scio14 on Power Boundaries in mentorships

One last note.

You can think about mentorship like you think about diddling in the stock market. Diversify your investments. You can, and should have, more than one mentor. You can, and should have, mentors in varying fields. The possibilities are endless!


  1.  Is that not SO cool to be a part of a conversation at a conference and not physically BE at the conference? Also I learned how to do footnotes in WordPress! 
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Power on, prospective ladies in science!

Late last year I was invited to Freeport, ME for the fall 2013 class Coastal Studies for Girls’ students. I really can’t express how inspirational it was to me. It made me wonder how far along I would be if I was as mentally strong at that age as they are now due to the CSG program.

This year I’ve been invited to give a talk to the spring 2014 girls about my progression through the field of marine biology over the years. It’s tomorrow, aaaaahh!

My goal is to make it fun and show them some cool stuff, but at the same time show them how important the life lessons are that they’re learning at CSG. The girls are learning poetry, leadership skills, teamwork skills, the importance of silence and reflection, and incorporating creativity into their work. This is all in addition to learning marine science. 

As I work through my presentation and look back at all my photos, it’s amazing to see for myself how I’ve changed over the years. I went to 3 undergraduate institutions in order to get the degree I wanted in a reasonable amount of time. I decided to go from general biology to marine biology after SCUBA diving in Cozumel. I went from being interested in genetics to falling in love with ecology. I had to evacuate due to a hurricane and live in a FEMA hotel to finish out school. I went from studying sea slugs to becoming increasingly interested in bryozoans. I’ve discovered animals that shouldn’t be where they are. 

Angelfish SCUBA diving in Cozumel

Angelfish SCUBA diving in Cozumel

Galveston, TX after hurricane Ike

Galveston, TX after hurricane Ike

And, just as the CSG girls are learning, I too am learning that it is so, so incredibly important to be confident in yourself and to surround yourself with people who will support you. And if you can’t avoid working around people who don’t support or respect you, definitely don’t let them bring you down; use them as a reminder that there are others who do support and respect you. At the same time, take a moment every day to reflect upon yourself. Sounds cheesy, but it’s equally important to understand your strengths and weaknesses and know what you need to work on. An added advantage is that you can truthfully answer that pesky “what is your biggest weakness?” interview question!

My strength: finding tiny, hard-to-see things

My strength: finding tiny, hard-to-see things

Over the past few years I’ve been trying to work on things that I know I’m weak at. Some I’ve gotten better with, some I haven’t. I’ve also realized there are a lot of people who don’t look into who they really are and that oftentimes they’re the people who can’t look past their own opinions and say to themselves “I wonder why they think that” and “Why do I think the way I do?” and “What if what I believe is wrong?”. These are the people that are impossible to argue with. I’ve met a lot of them…and you’ll meet a lot of them too, but don’t let that stop you from being awesome. Because you ARE awesome.

Ah, such is life. And that is what I hope to convey to the CSG girls tomorrow.