This past weekend was the 8th Annual Yale Bouchet Conference on Diversity in Graduate Education. (This conference serves to honor Dr. Edward Alexander Bouchet, who was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. in any discipline. I really admire him because of this and also because he got his Ph.D. in Physics. To me, that equals hard core!) It was such a pleasure to serve on the committee for this conference this year. I served as a coordinator for the 1st conference, and it was so nice to see how far the conference has come.
This year, our keynote speaker was Dr. John Ruffin, who is the director of the national center of minority health and health disparities at the NIH. He didn’t talk about the work he did or really go into what impact he has made on health disparities research; he talked about something more that resonated with the audience–the importance of mentoring. He talked about key mentors in his life and how they have shaped him into the person he is. He also talked about the importance of us (as future leaders) to reach back and mentor.
It made me think about all of the mentors that I have had in my life and how they have influenced me over the years:
1. Ms. Fisher: In high school, I enrolled in AP Biology on a whim and because of Ms. Fisher, I ended up being a Biology major in college rather than a History major. Ms. Fisher did an excellent job of making science fun and always encouraged us to do our best. I remember when we took our AP exam, she had prepared food for us and gave us stress balls and candy. I credit her with starting me on the path to being a scientist.
2. Ms. Martin: My high school guidance counselor. She told me about Virginia Union University and the Minority Access to Research Careers Program. She told me about her son that went there and how that program helped him develop his love of science. Because of her, I attended Virginia Union University.
3. Dr. Madu: From my freshman year of college(and currently) he has mentored me, served as a sounding board to all of my crazy ideas, as well as given me tough love when I need it. He helped me explore research and medicine, but at the end of the day, helped me to become the Microbiologist that I am today as well as encouraged me to apply to Yale.
3. Dr. Cariaga-lo: She has served as a mentor to me from the time I entered Yale as a scared graduate student (and still is mentoring the graduate). She always had her door open to me and other diverse students and was there to help us to adjust to the ivy league. There were many times when I cried and thought that I couldn’t do it, but because of her, I did.
4. My sistah-friends (you know who you are): They are a group of women who are all older(though they probably will not like me calling them older…lol) and wiser than me and have helped me through many seasons of my life. They were there through breakups, times I wanted to quit graduate school, and just family issues. They are my mentor friends and I truly look up to them. I am thankful that they are in my life.
We all have mentors that have been there for us, whether it is for a season, reason, or lifetime. They help shape us so that we can become all that God wants us to be. I think of them as our angels on Earth. As I reminisce on my mentors, I definitely accept the charge that Dr. Ruffin laid on us–to serve as mentors to those that are coming up under us. I love mentoring and I am always so happy when my mentees succeed. I look forward to seeing the directions their lives will take and I am looking forward to mentoring additional mentees that will come my way. I feel it is my duty to mentor because I definitely would not be a “PhDiva” today if it wasn’t for mentoring. And I can’t think of any greater reward than knowing that I have impacted someone else’s life in the way that my mentors have impacted mine.