Our country invests billions of dollars each year in the scientific enterprise that includes research, innovation, health care treatments, and related technologies designed to improve life or performance. In addition, our nation is somewhat unique globally in its level of entrepreneurial opportunities and training programs aimed to foster discovery and innovation. To continue as leaders in innovations that improve life and health, I believe we need scientists to be mentors and teachers to train the next generation about how to think logically, how science is done, and what are the benefits (and limitations) derived from science. I am committed to being one of these mentors, training both future scientists and non-scientists in both the classroom and the lab. As an educator, I will have a unique opportunity to teach future educated voters, decision makers, and scientists about “real” science and the creativity behind making discoveries. As a research scientist and professor, I will have a duty to train students and postdocs in strong experimental science skills, to think logically, to answer hypothesis-driven questions using evidence-based approaches, to understand why they are doing the research they are, and to have a love for scientific discovery. As a teacher I aim to engage those I train by (1) creating a comfortable learning environment, (2) engaging individuals, (3) mentoring for professional success, and (4) fostering diversity to improve creativity and discoveries.
Creating a comfortable learning environment
As a mentor and teacher, I create a comfortable learning environment that optimizes the students’ abilities to ask questions so that my students really understand the material and are able to apply the knowledge in the future. I teach with patience and encourage persistence. In each of the small group sections I taught, I met with students outside of class if their answers on problem sets revealed incomplete understanding of the material covered. An integral part of my instruction is an early focus on leading students to resources that will help them achieve success. As an undergraduate, one of my professors met with each student each semester, and I remember these meetings as important times in which I had to articulate my goals and get advice from my professor. When realistically possible, I would like to do the same for my students. Many students miss out on such mentoring opportunities, which can be critical in fostering academic or personal success.
When I mentor and teach, I keep the individual student in mind. Different individuals learn in different ways, so I tailor my methods of engaging learners to each individual. For example, with every person I’ve mentored in the lab, I have selected effective ways to engage them in discussion to ensure that they understand the big picture and details of why they do the experiments we choose. One student learned best through discussion. We regularly met to discuss upcoming experiments and to go over past ones. I also mentored him on how to find and apply to the right graduate school. Another student learned better when I gave him handouts to read and follow and then asked him questions afterwards to reinforce the material.
Mentoring for professional success
I know firsthand that good mentors make the difference in achieving success. I want to help others navigate their own careers by helping them identify appropriate mentors, define dreams, learn skills necessary to achieve success, and accomplish goals. To mentor even more students, I have written newsletter articles and led presentations and career discussions at the ASCB Annual Meeting, Harvard, and UCSF on topics such as how to obtain a postdoc position, how to have an effective postdoctoral experience, and how to find the right mentors. When I have my own students and postdocs, I will give them many opportunities to present their work at conferences, take courses that will help them with their science or job hunting skills, and have them write drafts of their own papers on their research. I hope that every student I teach, mentor, or train achieves success in their training and careers.
Scientific creativity and discoveries flow best when people from both traditional and nontraditional paths engage in the process and bring their unique perspectives to the experimental design or analysis. When designing or interpreting an experiment, sometimes it is hard to recognize that personal background actually shapes our interpretations of even analytical observations or experimental design. I am committed to facilitating opportunities that move towards a level playing field for underrepresented voices to be trained and achieve success. I already advocate for the advancement of women in science. Nationally I have served on the Women in Cell Biology (WICB) Committee of the American Society for Cell Biology for six years. I redesigned the WICB website so that it became a good resource to women in science. As a postdoc, I have been a leader in promoting and developing mentoring opportunities for students and postdocs at UCSF. I designed, distributed, and analyzed a survey on the climate of mentorship for students and postdocs, and I helped organize a now regular mentoring event aimed to help students and postdocs identify mentors. I have mentored my peers as they came to me with problems in their career paths. In addition, I served on the UCSF Chancellor’s Child Care Committee and seek opportunities to expand child care options for the UCSF community and identify ways to help parents successfully work and have a family life.
I see teaching and mentoring as a privilege—an opportunity to help students and trainees learn and discover while also helping them in choosing their career paths and gaining skills that will help them in the future. I look forward to continuing to have more opportunities to train future scientists as well as those who choose other careers, both in the lab and in the classroom.