"I am motivated by solving challenging problems as well as by the possibility of discovering new and unexpected things that are outside of the original problem that my group was trying to solve,” Melanie says. “I am also motivated by working with and training highly energetic and motivated undergraduates, graduate students, and post-docs and seeing them learn and progress as scientists."
Melanie sees mentoring as a crucial part of her role.
"Figuring out the most effective ways to mentor, advise, and motivate young researchers has been my biggest challenge as a faculty member," Melanie says.
"This is not something that you receive any training in before you start as a professor. And honestly, it is the most important thing that you do, as it is critical for both the trajectory of your research program and for the careers of the researchers that work with you. It is especially challenging because every student is different (with different background, motivations, interests and career goals), so determining how to balance individualized mentoring with group expectations is extremely challenging."
Mentoring, as we explore next, is not only an effective way to foster leadership talent, it can help researchers throughout their career.
The leader as mentor
Some of the world’s most prominent business leaders have gone on the record to extol the importance of mentorship. Sir Richard Branson once said, "It's always good to have a helping hand at the start. I wouldn't have got anywhere in the airline industry without the mentorship of Sir Freddie Laker" (of Laker Airways).
The business of leadership is widely debated within the commercial sector, not least because there’s no consensus on exactly what makes a great leader.
A CEO, most certainly, needs to have a vision that inspires and motivates others. They need courage and confidence. They must drive a culture that attracts and retains the best talent. They must anticipate and mitigate potential crises. They must create value for their shareholders and investors. The breadth of a leader’s responsibility is vast.
This characterisation of leadership applies to Principal Investigators (PIs) in a research setting too. However, leadership attributes and skills are often not part of traditional academic career development. It stands to reason then that mentoring fills a knowledge support gap. For some mentees, it has had a profound and long-lasting effect.