Creating a Culture of Mentorship
The Englander Institute for Precision Medicine (EIPM) is proud of its track record in creating opportunities for students at every level to learn about the promise and potential of precision medicine to create breakthroughs and improve patient outcomes. The EIPM takes mentoring very seriously, recognizing that inspiring the next generation of investigators is critically important.
“I really enjoy mentoring students of all ages and encouraging them to consider a professional career in science, health and medicine,” said EIPM Director Olivier Elemento, Ph.D. “We have so much to offer to the next generation of investigators, from working with cutting-edge technology and collaborative projects with leading researchers, to making the connections that will help guide them throughout their career. I encourage my colleagues at the EIPM to continue making mentoring a priority and opening the door to promising students from a wide range of backgrounds.”
In recognition of January’s designation as National Mentoring Month, we asked former mentees about their time with Dr. Elemento and the EIPM’s Director of Informatics and Computational Biology Andrea Sboner, Ph.D.
EIPM’s mentees are usually college graduates or post-grads, but sometimes they come to us while still in college. Princesca Dorsaint is currently a Bioinformatics Analyst at the EIPM and met Dr. Elemento while still in college.
“Olivier Elemento was my mentor during my internship at the EIPM,” said Ms. Dorsaint. “He was a great mentor! We met once a week to follow-up on the status of my project. He made suggestions during these meetings and did a wonderful job in guiding me throughout the completion of my project.”
She’s been able to become a mentor herself since joining the EIPM. “I’ve had the opportunity to provide mentorship to an intern here at the EIPM. It was a brief mentorship, but I enjoyed it very much. It was great to share my knowledge on certain aspects of bioinformatics with a student who was eager to learn.”
It’s especially rewarding when a mentor’s career really takes off.
“Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without Olivier’s mentorship,” said Neel Madhukar, Ph.D., CEO and Founder of OneThree Biotech. “When I first met Olivier eight years ago, I was still struggling to figure out what I wanted to pursue. I knew I was interested in medical research, but by working with Olivier I found my interest in computational biology, specifically around using it for precision medicine. Additionally Olivier’s mentorship was invaluable as I was considering starting OneThree Biotech. He provided both assistance and knowledge, but also gave me the independence to try my own ideas/theories – which created the entrepreneurial environment that allowed me to build OneThree.”
Mentorship seems to work best when everyone contributes, learns and supports each other. “As a mentee, I think you have an opportunity to learn from experience and forge strong connections that could be helpful as you grow personally and professionally,” said Dr. Madhukar. “And as a mentor, I think teaching younger people helps you learn so much about yourself. Even now at OneThree, I think I’ve grown tremendously by working with young scientists and investigators.”
Ken Eng spent eight years at the EIPM, his first job outside of college. The experience was a profound one for him and one he fondly remembers. “I found fantastic mentors in Drs. Olivier Elemento and and Andrea Sboner,” said Mr. Eng. “They really helped support me when the department was so new and there were just a few employees. There was a lot of responsibility on our shoulders, and they helped every step of the way from motivating with praise to the challenges of building and scaling the projects that would help make the department a success.”
The historic role of a mentor isn’t new. In fact, mentors have played a key role in the personal and professional development of young people for thousands of years. “Mentor means ‘wise advisor,’ and originates from the Greek story ‘Homer’s Odyssey,’ according to Eugenia Giannopoulou, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Biological Sciences Department at the New York City College of Technology (CityTech) of the City University of New York (CUNY). “Mentor is a friend of Odysseus and adviser of his son Telemachus. While Odysseus, king of Ithaca, fights in the Trojan War he entrusts Mentor with the responsibility of teaching Telemachus.”
A mentor can sometimes provide support and guidance in ways that are not immediately obvious, but that can be beneficial in myriad ways for years to come.
“Under Olivier’s mentorship and guidance I matured scholarly and academically, but most importantly cultivated my soft skills,” added Dr. Giannopoulou. “I learned how to adapt when circumstances are unknown, how to communicate in interdisciplinary teams, and how to be assertive. I find assertiveness one of the greatest skills I have acquired since; it has made me a more confident person, colleague, scientist, and instructor, especially in environments in which women were underrepresented.”
Finding the right mentor can be a journey, and mentees often need to ask a lot of questions from a range of people whose opinion they value before they find the right one.
“When you apply for an internship, a job opportunity, or any position that entails mentorship it is often unclear if you will be successfully mentored and advised,” observed Dr. Giannopoulou. “My suggestion would be to ask colleagues and older lab members about qualities you look for in a mentor. I would look for someone who is knowledgeable, available and approachable, values diversity, and encourages their mentees to move upwards and onwards. These are the qualities that I admired in Olivier, and I try to replicate as a mentor myself.”
Perhaps the greatest reward of mentoring is discovering that your mentee is paying the experience forward by advising students themselves. “Being a mentor to my students, I now appreciate all the time, trust, empowerment and motivation I was given as a student by charismatic mentors like Dr. Elemento,” said Dr. Giannopoulou.
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