The essence of education means that one tree shakes another tree, one cloud pushes another cloud, and one soul awakens another soul.

Karl Theodor Jaspers

I cherish mentoring because it is creative and meaningful. I believe the highest achievement of a mentor is to empower, inspire, and nurture self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-expression, and I strive to do so through mentoring in science.

We build our lab with 4 cornerstones to support our mentoring goals.

1. Kindness. We value the physical and mental well-being of ourselves and each other, and we will respect each other and be kind. We welcome and celebrate diversity: different experiences, perspectives, personalities, genders, beliefs, cultures, and different ways of solving problems. If all of us in our lab family can teach each other, we will open our horizons, and make our scientific process more creative and our cultural experiences richer.

2. Rigor. We aim to do science with the highest rigor. We value critical thinking, a healthy degree of skepticism, and challenging questions to ourselves and each other. We deliver these questions in the kindest way we know.

3. Creativity. Doing science is creative. Creativity calls for resourcefulness. We try to create a psychologically safe and fearless culture by encouraging lab members to freely ask questions and share half-baked ideas. We embrace the “yes, and” philosophy, and nurture the habits of careful observation and deep thinking. This way, we make our collective wisdom greater than its sum.

4. Nurturing independence and resilience. We do so by nurturing, but not forcing, autonomy and independence. I do so by encouraging self-reflection and self-awareness, in science and habits. I try to teach everybody how to fish rather than giving them the fish.  

I practice the following to achieve our mentoring goals.

  • We do science together

I teach by modeling. I will brainstorm with you, troubleshoot with you, observe, and interpret with you. I will make time to do experiments with you and do experiments myself. Through the process, I will nurture your independence with incremental challenges.

  • We reflect together

Every great organization in history has set high expectations for themselves. Our expectations are high, not set by me, but jointly by you and me. I believe that mentoring needs to be individualized and suited to each person and their developmental needs. The moment you join my lab, I am on the same team as you, working toward scientific discovery as teammates, and setting goals to help everybody fulfill their potential and discover themselves. I view my role as a mirror, reflecting to help you explore yourself, discover yourself, and see where you are, where you want to be, and where you can be. I view my role as a coach and a companion in growth, brainstorming with you on strategies to become the scientist and person you want to be.

  • We grow together

I believe we are not static and are continuous learners for life. “A true mentor is someone who has more imagination about you than you have about yourself.” I aspire to be such a mentor. Going from where one is to where one can be involves growth, and growth means being outside one’s comfort zone, which involves dedication and work. I will try to provide encouragement that helps with self-motivation and set ambitious and achievable goals with you to facilitate such growth. I also believe teaching is mutual and encourages mentoring up. We can teach and help each other grow mutually with openness and trust. We celebrate the unique experiences each person brings and together, we can sharpen our critical thinking, nurture better habits, and grow together as a lab family.

  • We value heart work

You are right: this is not a typo. We value heart work: we are doing science because we love it. When you love something, you put your heart into it, reading, discussing, doing, and thinking about it all the time. When it is heart work, it is not hard, but full of joy. The best motivation comes from within. I view my role as sustaining the heart work, helping you preserve your curiosity as you go through the ups and downs of scientific research, turning challenges into opportunities in small and big ways, and giving you the conceptual, technical, and resource freedom to pursue where your heart leads you. I will be your guide, your safety net, and your cheerleader as you deal with challenges in life and science. I will brainstorm with you on how to work effectively so that you have time to work, play, and live with your heart. You can do the same for me too.

I will put in my heart and mind to grow into the best mentor I can be for you and invite you to grow with me in this adventure.

-Dr. Yao Chen, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience

Helpful Resources on Mentorship and Doing Science