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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

I think that’s awesome advice. My former graduate
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
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
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.

2 comments on “Mentoring, Redux, and Some Writing Advice”

  1. vandenberg says:

    I am looking for mentors in science writing or associations for anglophone science writers in Europe (I am currently in Paris, France). Any advice?

  2. Kate Travis says:

    Thanks for your comment! The science journalist organization I’m most familiar with in Europe is the Association of British Science Writers ( If you’re planning on being in Europe for a while, you might make a note of next year’s World Conference of Science Journalists, which will be held in London in June 2009 ( Finally, for a comprehensive guide to science journalism programs and organizations across Europe, check out this guide, prepared by the European Commission: Hope this helps!

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