The expertise I have gained in integrated assessment modeling and in climate impacts modeling draws me to mentoring the next generation of climate scientists and Earth system modelers. At the same time, my experience working alongside economists and policy experts compels me to bring an interdisciplinary mindset to my research group and to bridge the gap between natural science and social science. To me, mentoring is not limited to passing on my knowledge about climate research to mentees, helping them establish a network of mentors and collaborators, and training them in the skills required for a successful career. Mentoring is also to support the intellectual and emotional growth of mentees and to share with them my passion for seeking new challenges, solving complex puzzles and making an impact on society.
Aligning expectations –At the center of my mentoring philosophy lies the need to align expectations between mentee and mentor. I start every new academic year with asking mentees to complete a questionnaire aimed to ensure that we have an understanding of each expectation in our mentee/mentor relationship. For example, do mentees require close supervision and guidance with regular meetings, or do they prioritize freedom and independence to explore and learn for themselves? Since each mentee is different and expectations evolve, this exercise is important to ensure that I listen to and understand their needs and that they are clear about what I expect from them over the course of their studies. I am dedicated to tailoring my mentoring to each mentee’s career goals with an open mind but while keeping strict requirements and expectations of deliverables.
Maintaining effective communication – I believe that failure to communicate and miscommunication are the roots of most mentee/mentor issues. For that reason, I aim to quickly establish how I communicate with mentees. I set rules for how and when communication should take place. For example, while I may send messages to mentees after work hours or during week-ends, I do not expect them to respond until work hours have resumed. I prefer using Slack over email, as I tend to receive too many emails to keep up with. I set up weekly time slots for one-on-one meetings with each mentee, but they decide if they want to have a meeting and if so, they prepare the meeting agenda and are responsible for taking notes in one document for record. Having clear meeting notes ensures there are no miscommunications. We also have a weekly group meeting where each mentee is expected to provide an update of their week. One of the goals of the weekly meetings is to encourage participation and progress, cohesion and collaboration and questions, and to process issues.
Addressing equity and inclusion – I believe diversity in our research group is essential to foster a vibrant intellectual environment. At the same time, I stay mindful that implicit bias can impact mentee/mentor interactions and that, thus, with diversity must also come equity and inclusion. I make sure every mentee has opportunities to share their identities, experiences and values with our group and how these have impacted them. I often share my experience being part of a multicultural family. During my interactions with mentees, I make sure to ask what they think before sharing my thoughts and opinions. Similarly, we start each weekly group meeting with mentees sharing one positive experience, one negative experience, and one new goal or insight for the week. I have found that this exercise results in a more cohesive group, but also provides each mentee with a sense of belonging.
Supporting mentor and mentee well-being – With the recent pandemic, and my own experience with depression, I am well aware that managing work, self-care and personal responsibilities can take a toll on anyone. I strongly believe that mentors must play an important role in supporting the well-being of their mentees through “soft” contributions (doing the right thing) like listening actively to mentees, respecting a clear separation between work hours and personal time, and engaging with mentees without judgment. At the same, I believe it is crucial that mentors also support the well-being of mentees through “hard” contributions. For example, I make it clear to mentees they can share their personal issues with me, if they want to. I actively work with them to identify potential sources of stress and develop appropriate strategies to cope. I regularly inquire about their mental health, share with them my own challenges with depression, and remind them of all available resources on campus.
Promoting research self-efficacy – One of the main goals of my mentoring is to ensure that once mentees leave our research group, they are able to conduct research independently with confidence and success. To ensure mentees develop the confidence in their ability to perform research, I start each mentee with small tasks contributing to a more senior mentee’ research. This way, they work with a peer, feel less pressure than if they were responsible for their own entire project, and get the reward of a co-authorship on a publication early on. I provide additional opportunities to master various experiences, like contributing to a grant proposal or presenting their research during our weekly group meeting in front of a friendly and supportive audience. This way, mentees also regularly see their peers present successfully. I often use our weekly group meetings to prepare mentees for difficult situations, like rehearsing their Qualifying Exam presentation, because they can count on the support of their peers, in addition to my support. While I believe that only through experience can a mentee develop self-efficacy, I also believe these experiences can be made more enjoyable.