My best mentor
This year has been the fastest year ever. I can't believe it's almost Thanksgiving.
I've mentioned before that my best mentors were not in science. I'm going to keep this short, with no details. I'm especially missing this person lately, and having crossed paths is one of the things I'm most thankful for.
She's about ten years older than me, and probably the most thoughtful teacher I've ever met. She's the kind of person who watches her students like a hawk, and then goes home and thinks incessantly about what they need to learn and how to teach it. She'll go out of her way to learn new things herself so that she can help her students with whatever they need. No one asks her to do this, and no one told her this was part of her job. This dedication really makes her outstanding.
Some days are better than others, but no one ever doubts that she loves her work and that this is the best way for her make the world a better place.
She leaves her crap, as they say, outside the door. And she expects her students to do the same. If she's not feeling up to the task, or is otherwise distracted, she'll have someone else take over her responsibilities, rather than flaking out or doing a half-assed job.
She expects the best from everyone, and accepts no excuses, while still being genuinely concerned and supportive.
She's ambitious, and sometimes works a little too hard. While I can see her struggling to learn how to be patient with herself, she's always infinitely patient with her students.
She knows who she is, and has her priorities straight, but she's not going to impose them on anyone else.
All of this, and she's not at all self-conscious despite being in a very visible position. She exudes a kind of confident calm that puts everyone around her at ease.
She makes everyone feel like we're each her favorite student, while giving everyone enough attention and encouragement that there's no jealousy at all.
Looking back over this list of warm fuzziness, I still think one of the critical problems in science is the central conflict of interest built into the assumption of a mentoring relationship with the PI of the lab.
The best mentors I've had were always people whose own careers did not depend at all on my accomplishments.
All they asked of me was my continued effort.
And we knew that I was free to leave at any time. But I didn't want to, because they were awesome.
What I got from them in return for my hard work was a generosity of spirit that I think is impossible in a system where the PI's success rests far too heavily on the shoulders of the mentee, who in turn is shackled to the PI even if they're not getting what they need to make progress.
I miss my best mentor, and think of her often.