We're a little crazy, about science!

The connections we make

Networking. It’s all we ever hear about. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Maybe it’s not even so much about who you know, but how you approach people. I know if it were not for the people I’ve reached out to, I would not be where I am today. In fact, I can think of at least a handful of people whom I’ve reached out to only to have them change the course of my life for the better. Yesterday I got the chance to do the same for someone else.

It is yet another busy day, so I’m writing this the day prior to posting! It seemed to work well for the last post, so why not? Today we “only” have three experiments, not quite the four we had yesterday (talking like this is killing me FYI since I’m writing this the same day). The good news is that yesterday was a success on all fronts and I have a fun story that I get to share about being able to help someone make a connection that may be just as important as some of the connections I’ve made.

Here’s the thing. I’ve reached out blindly to some important people in high places. I’ve literally cold emailed someone working at DARPA because I was a newly disabled veteran who had no idea what to do with his life. The crazy thing is the people I’ve reached out to responded. Established people, people who are doing and have done amazing things that I could only dream of doing. They took time out of their life’s not just to help me, but to steer me in the right direction.

I’ve been lucky, if it hadn’t been for that support and guidance I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere. I would probably be in a completely different situation and honestly I would probably be far worse off. I don’t even like thinking about it because there are just so many times where things could’ve gone wrong, but some how didn’t. Which brings us to the story for the day.

As you all know I am a proud mentor to several students. Most of the time my relationship with a student is short, a few months or a year at most. I think I’ve mentored in a serious fashion (very regular meetings for more than a few weeks) at least a dozen or more students over the last five years, probably more. On average those relationships tend to last roughly 6 months depending on the context of the mentorship. Currently I’m working with one summer intern who will be with us for three months (the one I mentioned here), two undergrad students and both of them I’ve been working with long term, and one undergrad whom I just started working with before the term ended.

One of the people I mentor I’ve been working with for two years now and I will be working with her until she graduates this next year. I’m excited for her to take the next step and I brag about working with her every chance I get since I am proud of the progress she’s made. We meet regularly once a week to cover how things are going and usually to help remind her that if she’s going to do a PhD it would help to figure out what area she wants to study.

Well she finally narrowed it down to motor control and movement disorders and it just so happened the person that we were collaborating with these two days works in that same field. So I asked if he was looking for students, he said yes, and I quickly arranged for my mentee to come watch how we do what we do. She got to spend the full day with us and the collaborator who was visiting was polite enough to take a lot of time out of his busy time with us to answer her questions, talk about what he did, and he gave her some advice about how she should go about applying to programs.

This was an extreme case of right place, right time, since a lot of things had to happen for her to be able to attend the experiments. I wish I could say I planed this, but it didn’t occur to me to do it until we had our meeting and she told me she had narrowed down her focus somewhat. Only then did I put the pieces together and rapidly try to arrange all this, but it all worked out!

In the end she got the chance to see the type of research I do first hand, the difference between clinical research and research in an institution, and she got to speak with multiple people about her options for the future. I’m super excited for her and what she will do, just like I’m excited for all the people I mentor. This case is special because we’ve worked together so long and I get to see her off to her next stage in her career which makes me excited. I haven’t had that type of experience before since most of the mentees I’ve taken on were short term with a specific school related goal in mind (IE a project they were working towards).

This will be the first time I’ve got to watch someone go from basically just starting undergrad to starting their PhD so it was a fun experience and am excited about what the next year will look like as she gets ready for that transition. I never forgot the people who helped guide me and I feel like I really had a chance to pay it forward finally. I hope I get to work with some other students in this type of long-term capacity because I really enjoy it.

Today will probably just be busy (haha), but the work we’re doing is incredibly exciting and I got to share that with someone who’s still trying to figure things out. It was as much fun for me as it was for her. I love the work I do and I’m always happy to get the chance to show it off to people who may want to step into the field.

Yep, yesterday was a good day.


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