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Science Careers Blog

February 20, 2008

Mentoring, Redux, and Some Writing Advice

We wrote a few weeks ago about mentoring. At the AAAS annual meeting this week, a panel speaker reinforced why it's so important: "In mentoring, you learn what you love in a field and you learn where you have holes in your skills," said Amy Cheng Vollmer, Ph.D., professor of biology at Swarthmore College. Vollmer suggests you should be mentoring someone right now, no matter what your career stage is, and you should have at least three mentors.

I think that's awesome advice. My former graduate adviser and mentor Barbara Gastel, an associate professor at Texas A&M University, was at this year's AAAS meeting chairing a sessions on career options in science editing and increasing global access to science. She stopped by our "Meet the Editors" session, and it was fun to introduce my mentor to my colleagues so soon after we all worked together on the mentoring feature for Science Careers.

I also did a little mentoring at the meeting, which was incredibly rewarding, mostly because it forced me to be an extrovert (not my natural inclination). The National Association of Science Writers runs a mentoring program each year at the AAAS meeting that pairs young folks interested in science journalism -- which includes everyone from people in science journalism master's programs to scientists interested in exploring science journalism/writing as a career -- with a seasoned veteran. I'm not sure I'd put myself in that latter category, but a look at my resume does indeed verify that I've been at it for more than a few years.

I had two missions as a mentor: provide the beginnings of a network for my mentee, and emphasize that no two career paths are the same. So, after exchanging pleasantries and discussing our backgrounds, my mentee and I hit the road, so to speak, and walked around and talked to people. This was great fun for me, too, because even though I had known some of the journalists for years, I didn't necessarily know how they got to where they are now. I also got asked some tough questions, which forced me to think about decisions I had made and where I want to go.

One person's advice, although directed at newbie journalists, is also relevant to those of you who may struggle to write, whether it's your thesis, a grant, or a manuscript. Remember that you're talking to someone, says Lee Hotz, of the Wall Street Journal and previously of the Los Angeles Times. Do you have trouble writing an e-mail? Probably not, because you know you're "talking" to someone, he says. Other types of writing have the same purpose, whether it's a story in the newspaper or a scientific article: You write a manuscript to communicate results to your peers, a grant application to tell a reviewing panel why the research you plan really matters, and a thesis tells to inform your committee and everyone else what you've been up to for the last several years. So if you've got writer's block, remember that you're just talking to someone. It doesn't have to be perfect on the first try. Just get the words out there and the rest will come.

So, are you mentoring someone? And do you have one or more mentors?

If you haven't already, be sure to check out our mentoring feature from earlier this month.

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