Sunday, March 21, 2010

On mentoring

In general, I think Crazy Man is a pretty good mentor. In general, he has a pretty good idea of how each of us operates. He usually knows when to push us and when to give us a pep talk or just say nothing at all. He also does an excellent job of helping us understand how to write and review both grants and papers, which I really appreciate (even though I think I’m the only one). He’s a little off his rocker sometimes, but aren’t we all?

I’ve been thinking about mentoring a lot the past few weeks, particularly with respect to the Ducklings. I realized that I’m not just training them. I’m not just teaching them the nuts and bolts of our systems and how to physically do the experiments our lab does. I’m also teaching them all kinds of intangible things that I don’t even realize.

This realization has pushed me to think more about being a mentor than a mentee. Both the Ducklings are struggling a bit right now, with both lab and non-lab issues. They’re both stressed because they’re dealing with their classes and their upcoming student seminar talks and qualifying exams. It’s a stressful time in their careers. And I don’t feel like either of them is coping particularly well.

Duckling 1 and I had a talk last week because she had basically convinced herself that she was completely incompetent and therefore couldn’t show any of her own data for her talk. Of course she’s not incompetent, and I hope I managed to convince her of that. Over the course of our conversation, it became clear that she felt like her recent lack of data production has been letting me down. ME! I was flabbergasted. I tried to reassure her that I haven’t even been close to upset with her, and that I appreciate the issues she’s been having aren’t her fault.

Needless to say, that was really an eye-opening conversation for me. My Ducklings look up to me. They see me as a role model. I’ll be honest. That freaks me out just a little. They also worry about my expectations of them, which had never occurred to me.

I talked for a long time with TM about some of the issues that this conversation raised, and I think I’m going to talk to Crazy Man some about it too. I think our situation gives both the Ducklings and me an opportunity to learn a lot. I have a lot to learn about mentoring and encouraging and the Ducklings are learning who they are and who they are becoming. Although it’s much more in my safety zone to just bury my head in the sand, I think it’s time for me to start putting myself out there a little bit. Project Feed the Ducklings begins now!

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