We're a little crazy, about science!

Day 261: On Being a Mentor


One of the many hats I wear as a PhD candidate is my mentor hat. It’s probably one of my favorite jobs and I get to work with some truly brilliant people from all types of backgrounds. I’ve had the chance to mentor a small handful of people and I always look forward to learning from them and through our interactions, in that sense, it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

While doing the last year of my undergrad degree I got my first chance to mentor another student. They had just started their undergrad program, so it was more about teaching them how the university worked than anything about the lab itself. The lab I worked in was just starting out, I was the first student, and I managed basically everything for the lab from the website to ordering the equipment and supplies. I mention this because there were very few projects at the time, so we had to make a project. Overall it was a good experience, but I was just as new at being a mentor as they were at being a mentee.

It was a learning experience for me and as time went on I like to think I’ve gotten better at it. I would go on to mentoring six more students in that lab over the course of the two years I was there. Engineering has a problem with being a male dominated field, this is intentional unfortunately. I’m doing my best to make sure that isn’t the case, I try to help plug the “leaky pipeline.” Overwhelmingly I get to work with early career engineering students who happen to be women. I’ve also come across some very interesting problems along the way with how they are treated. Not always, but when it happens it’s still just as shocking to me as the first time it happened.

These days I give a little speech about it. I don’t have a lot of power in those situations, but I will fight for you to the detriment of my career if needed. Unfortunately, I’m yet another guy in engineering  and there is only so much you can relate. I do my best being a mentor so that they will hopefully go on to mentor others. It’s important for people coming into the program to see women making it in engineering despite all the traps and pitfalls setup for them to fail along the way.

I like to think I’m helping. I want all the people I mentor to have a great experience. Since I started my PhD, I’ve had the chance to mentor three undergrad students very closely. These days I’m only mentoring one person, which is nice since I can focus on helping that person exclusively. Balancing multiple students isn’t too tough, but it’s nice to have an open schedule. One of my favorite things about mentoring is that they are usually just so excited to be there in the lab and doing something new and hands on. It makes me more excited about the work I do and reminds me that I am allowed to be excited too.

I cannot gush too much about my current student, since she reads my blog (hi K!), but she is very talented and I’m lucky to get to work with her. To be perfectly frank, I’m lucky to get to be working with all the students I’ve mentored over the years. I’ve learned so much from each of them, I couldn’t list it all here. I don’t really want to go into academia when I finish my degree, I would rather keep up with my super small startup business and make really cool prosthetics full time, maybe expand and help more people. I’m not doing this to make money, just to make a living and to help people. Unfortunately, if I went that route, I would really miss being a mentor.

Luckily in my case I have three more years before I finish my degree (two if I go with the schedule my PI offered). So, I still have some time to think about it.



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