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Describe one quality of a mentor you’ve had that you will try to emulate when you become a mentor yourself


In her Working Life, “Paying it forward as a mentor” (3 August, p. 522), B. Abderrahman describes how a mentor’s encouragement can help shape a career. She then explains how her positive mentorship experience inspired her to mentor others. We asked young scientists to describe one quality of a mentor you’ve had that you will try to emulate when you become a mentor yourself. Respondents from around the world wrote in appreciation of their patient, honest, humble, and supportive role models.

Individualized support

My mentor, like myself, is a first-generation graduate student. She had to pave her way through academia and fight for the projects she knew had value. In a male-dominated field, my mentor had to speak up when she was being overlooked. By creating a path for herself, she taught me how to advocate for science, for others, and for myself. – Lauren Segal

About the author

Office of Technology Management, University of Illinois-Chicago, Chicago, IL 60626, USA.

Good mentors should work to identify their mentees’ interests, even when it means stepping out of their own comfort zone. My mentor has spent countless hours guiding me on problems at the intersection of math, philosophy, statistics, and biology, solely because of my interest in them. – Divyansh Agarwal

About the author

Department of Statistics, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.

When I told my professor that I was planning to commit the cardinal sin (leaving academia for industry), he didn’t sour and inform me that scientists can only be successful as professors. Instead, he immediately began searching for industry collaborations and potential internship opportunities, and he suggested that I attend industry-focused conferences. He was mindful of my situation and sought to help, not impede, my career goals. – Kyle J. Isaacson

About the author

Department of Bioengineering, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84108, USA

Academic excellence

My mentors instilled in me discipline in research, strict observance of regulations to prevent lab accidents, and adherence to project timelines. Their lab meetings helped me assess my progress, solve problems, and properly document results, and regular paper presentations kept me up to date with the latest research and helped me incorporate new ideas. – Brijesh Kumar

About the author

Dr. Sneh Lata Singla-Pareek’s Lab, Plant Stress Biology Group, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, New Delhi 110067, India

Humility and empathy

It is empowering to work with a mentor who is open to learning from his or her mentees. I will always strive to be the kind of mentor who never pretends to have all the answers. – Joseph Michael Cusimano

About the author

Department of Pharmacy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.

Collaboration and networking

During my training as a biomedical engineer, I was sometimes reluctant to let others work on my project. My professor’s open attitude and confidence convinced me to explore collaborations and made me realize that including others in my work not only is personally rewarding but also leads to better and faster scientific accomplishments. – Adrianus J. Bakermans

About the author

Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, Amsterdam UMC, University of Amsterdam, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Impartial advice

When my family or colleagues give me advice, it is biased, unintentionally, by their own interests. In contrast, my mentor helps me to look at problems from a global perspective. He tries to ensure my future success without worrying that a decision may take me far from home or mean leaving my current company. – Carmen Romero-Molina

About the author

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Seville, 41012 Seville, Spain.

Respect and trust

My scientific mentors were always honest and positive, which helped me to develop resilience. Even in the face of terrible results, they would provide constructive comments. Especially at this moment in Brazil, where the conditions are not favorable for science, I will be forever grateful to them. – Guilherme Martins Santos

About the author

Laboratório de Farmacologia Molecular, Department of Pharmacy, University of Brasilia, Brasilia, Distrito Federal, 70910-900, Brazil.

Honesty and open communication

My preceptor in my medical course fostered an open environment—a safe place where students could share their thoughts without feeling judged. He was open about personal and uncomfortable topics, such as social anxiety, and offered insight about how to deal with the many challenges I faced. – Sun Ae Kim

About the author

University of Central Florida College of Medicine, Orlando, FL 32827, USA.

Patience and freedom to explore

As the boss of a trainee, a mentor needs to provide clear instructions, guidance, and rules. As a senior colleague, the mentor needs to give the junior academic space and opportunities to develop his or her own ideas. A good academic mentor can switch between these two hats and establish a dynamic balance. – Beat A. Schwendimann

About the author

Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.