On being a mentor

Inspired by this prompt

When I was in grad school, I worked in a middle school classroom for a year as  a “scientist in the classroom.”  It was a program developed and funded by NSF (The National Science Foundation) to improve the science communication of graduate students, as well as get students engaged and thinking differently about science.  This experience was probably one of the highlights of my graduate school career (well, it’s a toss up between that and walking on the ice in the Bering Sea (scroll through that post if you want to know more about that)).

I have always loved teaching people, and being in a classroom was such an inspiring experience.  I also developed a stronger appreciation of teachers and all that they do- teaching and engaging your students is HARD and it is very draining to be “on” all the time.  I am all the more grateful for all the amazing teachers I have had and known- you guys do AMAZING work.

While I’m not cut out for full time teaching, I do still enjoy teaching when I can, especially when it involves science and kids!  For the past three years, I have been involved in a mentor program in a middle school in Arizona.  I am a mentor to one student each year, usually an eighth grader, and it is SO much fun.  The student is responsible for getting to know their mentor and learning about their research- I love getting to know the student (communication mainly through email) and helping them understand what it is that I do.  Explaining what you do as a scientist to someone with a science background that only extends through the eighth grader is a great way to work on your communication skills- I can’t just ramble off the following to my mentee:

“we are currently working on a triple oxygen high vacuum extraction line and I am testing an IRMS (isotope ratio mass spectrometer) to see if it can give us the amount of precision we need for our analysis.”

Well…I could…but then my mentee would probably never want to talk to me again. I have to think of a way to phrase my research so that they can understand what it is we are doing- and to be honest with you, I am still working on how to phrase what I do so other people can understand it!  Ha.  Sometimes I just stick to the easier things like softshell clams, which was our previous research project.

My favorite part of the whole experience is getting to skype with the class of students that my mentee is in.  That is a blast.  Kids ask some awesome questions and it is just so much fun talking with all of them!!  I’m really looking forward to doing that again this year.

I’ve really enjoyed my three years as a mentor, and I’m hoping the program that I’m participating in continues for a long time.  I also hope my mentee gets as much (or more!) out of me mentoring them as I do!

Do you mentor (or have you ever mentored) someone?

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