USC Davis School of Gerontology
Early in my career, I learned that laboratories are families in which the success of each member depends in large part upon the quality of the relationships and interactions with the other members. Graduate students form the core of this family. They generally have longer tenures than postdocs and significantly greater roles in guiding lab research directions than most other members. They bring not only energy and enthusiasm, but also a sense of continuity to the lab. Therein lies both the promise and the risk. If they are productive and collaborative scientists then the lab hums along, but if not… Thus, I see mentoring graduate students as one of the most essential and demanding roles of a principal investigator. Mentoring, like parenting, is a partnership with evolving roles. It requires consistent investment of time and energy. Initially, it involves helping guide bright, ambitious scientists as they learn how to think scientifically about topics, gain confidence in their knowledge and abilities, and recover from inevitable stumbles.
Eventually, it is a conceptual and practical give and take between true peers, the essence of collaboration.
Scientists often espouse that their legacies lie in their discoveries and research advancements. Certainly this is true. In addition, I find undeniable satisfaction and pride in the ever-expanding family tree of my lab, my former graduate students that continue to excel in life both within and outside the world of science. Recognition of my mentorship is simply an acknowledgment of their excellence.