The Fellow/Mentor Relationship – A True Partnership

One of the things that has surprised me most about the Kenan Fellows program is my relationship with my mentor.  My initial expectation was that it would be a pretty one-sided relationship.  He would do the giving – lab access, information, instructions, supervision.  I would be the taker; I’d get in the way, ask questions, take up time.  I felt, to a certain extent, as if I was going into the Fellowship blind.  There was a lot I didn’t understand about the expectations, and I assumed that my mentor would clarify those things, give me a schedule, and so forth.

As it turned out, though I certainly wouldn’t say it was an equal relationship, it was a lot closer than I had expected.  All those things that were fuzzy to me about the program expectations?  Also fuzzy to my mentor.  Initially, this was sort of terrifying.  I like order and structure.  I often affectionately refer to myself as pathologically conscientious.  How was I supposed to know if I was meeting expectations if no one knew what the expectations were?!  Ultimately, of course, we figured it out together, and that turned out to be a much better arrangement than just being told what to do.

Over the course of the summer, I found that the lack of structure allowed me freedom to work with almost every member of the lab, from undergraduates to my mentor himself, and to organize my time to best suit my curriculum development.  This was a huge benefit because everyone in the lab amazed me with both how willing they were to teach me, and how good they were at it.  When I struggled to understand something, they happily went over it time and time again, sought out other resources for me, and helped me keep a positive attitude until I got it.  In short, they confirmed for me everything I have told my students about how important communication and collaboration are in science.