Always rushing, never celebrating

One of the most discomfiting moments of last semester came in my lab meeting in late November. I’d just submitted a big grant and we had gotten past a conference where my students presented preliminary results and research plans. I felt like celebrating. But we were also in the throes of the end of semester craziness. I asked the students to go around the table and tell the group what they’d accomplished during the semester and what they still wanted to get done. The first student quickly listed off about 5 things she wanted to accomplish before the end of the term. There was a long pause and then she managed to articulate one thing she’d accomplish already. I gently reminded her about the poster she’d presented only the week before. There was an “Oh yeah, there was that.” And what about the fellowship application she’d submitted a week before that? “Right, that too.” We moved on to the next student. She listed close to 10 things she wanted to get done before the term ended in 3 weeks. And then she tried to pass off to the next student. “But what did you accomplish?”, I queried. She said that she’d made a poster, but had to be prompted before she’d include instrumenting a field site and beginning data collection (a massive undertaking) in her list of things she’d achieved during the semester. We moved onto the third student…and the same thing happened. Even having watched me prompt her colleagues for their achievements, she still focused on the to-do list. And so it went.

Those few minutes have stuck with me, because I’m tremendously proud of what my students have gotten done in the few short months they’ve been in graduate school, but I’m also worried that I’m setting the wrong tone for them. Continue reading

What kind of a mentor do I want to be?

Remember those teenaged fights with your parents that inevitably ended with some iteration of “I will never forget what it’s like to be a teenager when I’m an adult!”? In spite of our best intentions, I think we are doomed to forget, to some extent. Now, as I prepare to start my first faculty position, I find myself trying to remember all of those things I promised myself during the struggles of graduate school, when I fantasized about what kind of mentor I wanted to be one day.

I count myself lucky to have had a fantastic mentor. He remembered to praise (a rare trait), gave good feedback, and was supportive. I was able to talk to him about my  family troubles, or a problem with my health (perhaps that is as much a testament to my being an over-sharer as it is to his emotional intelligence). We had open discussions about my anxieties or fears. He always listened, gave me constructive feedback, offered validation when I needed it, and pushed me to do better.

Our lab group was close. Continue reading