W. Martin Kast

Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography
Photo by: Ziva Santop/ Steve Cohn Photography

Keck School of Medicine of USC

As a Scoutmaster I teach my Scouts: “Be prepared.” As a lab mentor of so far 53 graduate students in my career, I do the same thing. I make sure that they are prepared for the next phase in their career, whether it is in academics, in biotechnology, in the pharmaceutical industry or in other scientific career directions ranging from technology transfer to grant writing or to science journal editing.

This preparation is not by holding their hands, but by training them to think for themselves and by not being afraid to disagree with me when they think that the science is backing up what they say. It is also by allowing them to come up with their own scientific ideas and pursuing them when they make sense. In addition it is by allowing them to train undergraduate and (foreign) visiting students themselves so that they know what it is to be a mentor. Mentoring a graduate student is not just for the period that they are in your lab. It is for life. Many years after they have left your lab they will ask you for reference letters and what a joy it is to hear from them again and to hear how they are doing. Sometimes you collaborate with them decades after they have left your lab or they send you their own graduate students for a few months as they know you will mentor and train them well.

You meet up with your former graduate students at scientific conferences and you hear them confidently present the most intriguing research they are working on. They are your scientific sons and daughters and forever will be part of your family, however far away they will go. There is nothing more valuable in creating a scientific legacy than by mentoring your graduate students.