Empowering Women through Mentoring
I still remember my first time in a lab. I was doing my last year of college and I got a fellowship to collaborate for a few hours a day in a research lab. It was an old and rusty lab, and my PI was in the first steps of her career, trying to get tenure, taking care of her kids and teaching at the same time. Now I appreciate her effort more, but at that time I was disappointed she did not spend more time with me. However, I ended up in good hands. The grad student in the lab took good care of me and, although I drove her crazy all the time (I still have that effect on some people, I usually embrace it), she was extremely patient with me and taught me really well.
There was another lab across the hallway. Another PI, an Assistant Professor and a grad student. In the middle of that year, another undergrad student arrived to join the neighbor lab and spice things up a little. These women took the new student and me under their wing. They guided us in every single experiment and troubleshot with us to infinity and beyond. They made us the scientists we are today. They have been part of my life since then and, even after almost 10 years, there is not big decision where I do not consult with them, my señoras. Despite the fact I did not know what a mentor was back then, they were my first. We were all women and for me (naive) there was not doubt that science was feminine. They taught me the scientific method, but also kindness, respect, rigor, perseverance and the meaning of community.
The year passed and I had to move to another lab, far away. We will call it Mordor. In this lab, the ratio of men vs. women was really close, but still we were a predominantly female lab. My former PI was a senior Professor with great responsibilities. He was always available 24/7 through email but not at the bench. Thus, my peers were my mentors and as soon as someone learned something, they shared it with me. That is how I was able to become more independent and survive two internships in US, and all the resultant paperwork. We grew together, but they were one step ahead. They were my peer mentorship network and I knew I could rely on them to get through grad school safe and sound.
In this process of growing up as a scientist, new students came to the lab and I started to help them as part of my training. I shared with them the unsaid rules to survive grad school that I had already mastered. It was so fun, that I did not realize I was giving back all the advice I got before. I was transforming myself from student to teacher, from mentee to mentor. Again, most of these students were amazing women, with a mix of curiosity, fear, and dreams, and they were not sure what they were getting into. We figured it out together.
Now that I am in my scientific adulthood (HA!), far away from home, even further away from Mordor, beyond the Grey Mountains (some people call them the Cascades here), I still have and need a mentor, or three, but I wanted to continue giving back. For that, when my former labmate, mentor, peer mentor and overall friend asked me to join her in an international mentorship program, I did not doubt saying “Hell Yeah!” I was sure that I would probably receive more myself that I could show to these students. That turned out to be true.
How great it has been to see my mentees bloom in front of my eyes, become leaders, science communicators, finish their degrees and travel around the world. How satisfying it is and how proud they make me every day. In the past three years these young and brave students have taught me to trust and to be humble. They force me to keep going to become the role model they say I am. But what they do not know is, they are my role models, with that energy and proactivity, keeping me always on my toes, inspiring me to be a better scientist.
For the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I wanted to recognize the value of all the strong women scientists of my life. The ones that made me as I am, the ones that support me along the way and the ones that make me wake up really early every Saturday to answer all the questions. Thank you for teaming up with me to create a more diverse world full of Women in Science.