Saturday, May 31, 2014

On mentoring: reflections on an empty nest

My first employee has left the lab. It was planned and expected. She pledged to work with me and
move from Boston to DC to help set up the lab. I pledged to do my best to get her into a wonderful graduate program, preferably in sunny California. We both held up our ends of the bargain.

She leaves for an exciting adventure and I stay to watch the lab change and move on. This is new for me. As a student and postdoc you see people leave and you imagine your own departure. As a professor you stay and worry a bit how the dynamics will change, especially if an important person in the culture you have created is gone. You worry about experiments getting done, about transitioning new people. At the same time you are happy and proud to send your mentee into the world.

I wonder whether this feeling is a fraction of what parents feel when their children leave. While I do not advocate treating lab people like your children and in fact tend to prefer formal and professional behavior instead of the TMI environment of millenials, having had multiple mentors throughout my career I realized something that they don't really tell you in grad school. A good mentor is forever! They will cheer you and support you, they will write letters for decades after you have left their labs, they will promote your work and they will be there to discuss your doubts. I always tell students you need at least one mentor like that in your life or you will have a much harder time.

So I have not lost my tech, since there will still be work to do until she has to find a postdoc or the next job. The reward of mentoring and I guess the reason why we wanted to be in academic science in the first place is to see these young people move on to bigger and better things. But still it may take a while to get used to this.

1 comment:

  1. Chiara, wonderful...I completely agree and have shared the feeling more than once (although I can tell from experience that it is different from when your children leave)…I also totally agree that a good mentor is forever, and surely it makes a difference!