My mentoring approach combines effective communication, excellence in scientific performance, and creating an inclusive and diverse environment to foster a collegial and collaborative atmosphere for all lab members. Before we dive into the different aspects and details of my mentoring strategy, it is essential to understand each one’s primary responsibilities:

My responsibility is to motivate and train my mentees to be the best scientists they can. At the same time, I provide as many opportunities as possible for them to pursue their scientific and professional goals, whatever those may be. 

My mentees’ responsibility is to be present, proactive, and curious, act with rigor, integrity, and humility while being kind to themselves and respectful to all lab members.

Career Development:

When does it start? On the day of the interview, I make an attempted effort to ensure that the pairing will be favorable to both parties and will ultimately result in a relationship founded on mutual respect. During the interview and discussing scientific interests, the mentees must show curiosity and enthusiasm for the lab’s research. The potential projects should be exciting, enable them to acquire the skill sets necessary for their future objectives while essential for research and discovery. There is flexibility to adjust these projects further and ensure that everyone’s motivation and enthusiasm are well aligned.

Upon arrival at the lab: Because every student has different goals, interests, and challenges, an individual development plan (IDP) is structured for each mentee. From the first day in the lab, the mentee should take advantage of the following opportunities:

  • Meetings: Mentoring in the lab occurs in the form of mandatory individual meetings and sub-group meetings of teams working on related projects. Individual meetings can be multiple weekly meetings for trainees that work better on a tight schedule or weekly meetings for others who work best with increased independence. These meetings aim at discussing experimental design, findings, and interpretations, and the trainees must prepare and think about the results and future directions of the project before the meeting. When we meet, I provide honest feedback concerning whatever topic we will discuss. I will also push in new directions. At the end of the individual meetings, the trainees must have a clear plan regarding the next steps. Individual meetings are also safe moments for mentees to share concerns. Weekly lab meetings allow each mentee to present data for the entire group to provide feedback on the analyses. At lab meetings, one person might also give a detailed update on a specific project. Journal Clubs/Discussion Meetings are every other week and they allow for presentations of papers of their choice or a study that interests the entire lab. These meetings intend to discuss science and have discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion and how we can better perform as a team. Annual meetings are dedicated to discussing performance, motivation, and career goals. We reevaluate the mentee’s IDP and my performance as a mentor. Non-regular meetings can be set up via email/Slack message or at any time my office door is open. Departmental Seminars are highly recommended for all mentees. 
  • Technical, communication, and mentoring skills: Each project in the lab requires that mentees develop specific technical competencies. They need to know how to design an experiment, collect, analyze, and interpret data. Additionally, they should keep meticulous records documenting their work and meeting regulatory requirements. They then need to communicate their research in the form of formal presentations and written work, as well as during less formal conversations. I understand that mentees might not excel in all these areas. I will therefore commit time and energy to perceive their individual struggles and give thoughtful and thorough training and advice. My mentees serve as mentors to less experienced trainees in ways that foster their mentoring and listening experiences. Discussion sessions will then ensure that these mentor-mentee relationships are effective for both parties.
  • Scientific writing: I will encourage my mentees to write scientific papers, present their work in conferences, participate in training courses, and apply for fellowships and awards. I will be delighted to provide recommendation letters, discuss specific aims for proposals, and help find the best resources to write effectively. If sent well enough in advance, I will give detailed and honest feedback to any writing piece. I also reinforce that my trainees utilize their peers to ask for feedback when preparing a grant/paper or preparing for a presentation. As projects evolve and the research ideas take shape, the possibility of drafting parts of a grant proposal is discussed with the trainees to support part or all of their work. 
  • Independence: The individual meetings are tailored to encourage their identity and creativity as scientists, independent critical thinking, and project ownership. To promote their independence, they are also introduced to resources that might be helpful in the process. Additionally, I will provide opportunities for networking or collaboration, arranging an introduction if necessary.
  • Scientific integrity and humility: I train and work continuously with my mentees to maintain awareness for policies, procedures, and practices that address scientific integrity in the lab. Recognition of ignorance requires humility. It is the first step in creating opportunities for learning and promoting scientific growth! My mentees must understand that I do not have all the answers in the research projects they are leading and not in mentoring. On the other hand, as my mentees grow into tomorrow’s scientists, they must recognize, with humility, their ignorance and failures in the process. 
  • Celebration: Every individual achievement in the lab is celebrated by all members of the lab! Social events in the lab are as simple as a cake, ethnic dinners, celebrating every birthday, picnics, biking or hiking trips.

When does it end? Mentoring for me does not end because the mentee leaves the lab. I maintain connections with students once they transfer campus or institutions. I do my best to help them navigate their future careers and continue to advocate for them.

Work-life balance:

I believe that a good work-life balance and healthy relationships outside of the laboratory contribute to everyone’s success in the lab. They are very important for mental health and sanity. Productivity is more important (and very different) than the number of working hours. I respect that every mentee might have different work habits and understand that the projects go through phases depending on experiments, deadlines, and commitments. I will never plan for my mentees to work late or during the weekend time. Still, if we face a short deadline, it will be their choice whether working late is a possible solution. On the other hand, I encourage everyone to be around during work hours (roughly 9 AM to 5 PM or slightly shifted according to preferences and experimental designs) so they can all learn from each other, collaborate, attend meetings, and participate in scientific discussions. While trainees plan for their daily tasks in the lab, good time-management and strategic thinking are encouraged. Although I am very tolerant with mentees working away from the office while analyzing data or writing, I will require an update on the progress, meetings in person when needed while being flexible in meeting electronically when appropriate. With that said, time off and holidays are highly encouraged. However, to be sure it does not interfere with the laboratory activities and proposal deadlines, I should be aware of the days a mentee intends to be out of the lab.

In summary, my mentoring was built in my experiences spanning several countries (Portugal, Germany, and United States), having many gender-diverse role models and mentees. I work to create a research laboratory that combines performance and moral character in an inclusive and diverse environment. I truly believe that diversity of experiences results in diversity of ideas, which contributes to better science. I work with each mentee to set specific individual goals, measure accomplishments, and establish a culture in the laboratory that encourages and empowers them to seek whatever they need to excel. My major approach to motivate students has been to help them answer three important questions “what are you passionate about?”, “how can you improve?”, “what can I do to help you?” as they decide what to do with the next years of their lives.

This document is being continuously updated based on feedback obtained from my mentees. 

References:

Lee A., Dennis C., Campbell P. Nature’s guide for mentors. Nature, 447, 791–797, 2007.

Colón-Ramos D.A. Statements of Mentorship. eNeuro, 5, 0411-18, 2018.

Making the right move. A practical guide to scientific management for postdocs and new faculty. Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Second Edition