Until this point, I experienced my education more or less like a one-way street, whereby professors, postdocs and higher trained students were teaching me science. But this is no longer true for my PhD. Now it’s about being supervised by someone and being someone’s supervisor. The role of the student was familiar to me, but being the mentor for someone else was completely new. Hence, I would like to share this experience with you in the following few lines.
Currently, I have the pleasure to attend a young, motivated student inside and outside the lab. Her name is Catarina and she joined our lab around two months ago to perform her master thesis abroad from her home university in Lisbon, Portugal. Together with my professor, we separated a small part of my PhD topic and formed a reasonable master project out of it. Before Catarina started, I thought about all the supervisors I met in my scientific career so far and what were their personal properties as well as teaching skills that helped me the most to develop myself. I picked the ones which I though were the right characteristics to become a supportive, inspiring advisor. Next, I defined a clear workflow containing small milestones for the master project, designed and ordered all the necessary reagents to get started in the lab and arranged everything that was needed to give the new master student a good take-off point. After Catarina joined our lab, I introduced the project to her, provided literature and information and started to teach the protocols and experiments that are established in-house. Here I have to admit that I looked up many of the basics to be able to give proper, understandable explanations for what we are doing and why are we doing what we are doing. This helped both of us, not only the student but also me in terms of refreshing my knowledge in molecular biology and cell cultivation. The first few weeks I really tried to be supportive until I had the feeling that Catarina arrived in the topic. For me working independent in the lab and while planning experiments and future steps is one of the most important things I want to mediate through my way of teaching. Thus, I’m attempting to find the right balance between control and freedom to give the student a chance to create their own strategies, implement ideas or even make mistakes. And I already know this is going to be a long process which will not end with my PhD degree.
In the end my major goal as supervisor is to initiate knowledge, interest and valuable output for the master student. Therefore, influencing the career of an even earlier scientist in a positive way.
Written by: Valerie Schmieder