Find yourself a mentor-or two-or three…

I was sitting in a meeting a few weeks ago in a very frustrated state of mind. Something good for students was being proposed, and the negativity of the response just reinforced the need for the proposed change! I raised my hand repeatedly to no avail, wanting to point out the irony. I was not acknowledged to speak. (Next time, I’ll just talk anyway, but that’s another blog.) Although I don’t usually text during meetings, I knew I needed some help to deal in the present situation, and I knew just whom to contact. My PhD advisor, Jim Maki, is one of the most diplomatic and calm people I know. His advice, “Angry people don’t think,” has been stuck in my head for years now. I shot off a frustrated text and got a calm response full of perspective and good advice. He got me through the meeting as a learning experience, rather than a useless exercise in frustration.
Of course, Jim isn’t the only mentor I’ve had in my career. This fall I celebrated 15 years of mentoring relationship with Pete Milligan, my undergraduate research mentor and advisor. He deserves a medal for his listening skills and advice. I’ll admit I found his repeated asking “What do you want to be when you grow up?” extremely annoying at first, but the question pushed me to set goals and make plans. I keep asking myself that, even now. And I ask my own students the same question.
I’ve been more lucky than most in my mentors, I know. Jim and Pete aren’t the only great people who have helped me to find my way. Others have walked alongside me as I learned to teach, learned to parent, and learned to be a woman in science.
The opportunity to give some of this great mentoring back has been a gift. I do experiments and learn with a 13-year old girl who loves science perhaps even more than I do. I have my own students, undergraduate and graduate.
The value of mentoring relationships cannot be overstated. Get a mentor and be a mentor. We need each other.