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By Megan Cooley

Megan CooleyI recently attended two women’s leadership conferences where topics ranged from work-life balance to body language. I’m not really sure I understand the latter at this point, but it might make more sense given some more time. Probably not. Just put your hand out and don’t overthink it. Both conferences had panels of professional women, physicians, scientists, and lawyers present to talk about topics that attendees felt were critical to women’s professional development. One of the recurrent topics that was addressed both directly and indirectly was mentoring.

In one of my previous posts I mentioned that organizational support was imperative to professional development. I criticized the idea of Lean In, created by Sheryl Sandberg. However, I was looking at the program from a superficial perspective. Really, Lean In is about establishing a small network of people that you count on when you encounter bumps in your career and even your life, for that matter.

Part of this network may include your mentor. This person, at least for young professionals and those in sciences in particular, is your thesis advisor or perhaps your manager. In science there is tremendous pressure to obtain grants and publish papers. Not an easy feat for anyone. The stress of these expectations—sometimes brought on by the mentor—can be a lot to handle and, unfortunately, can end up negatively impacting students or employees. Mentoring is not something that is learned in school. Instead, it’s on the fly and something that comes with experience.

But the approach to communicating with mentees can be learned over time. Advice that one of the panelists put forth, but I had never heard before, was the approach of “it’s not about you.” This makes sense; however, in situations when emotions or tempers are running high, it’s not likely your mentor is going reassure you using those words. The panelist went on to say that the reaction is really about the science. I think that this approach is quite helpful for young professionals. If a mentor or manager is expressing frustration, anger, or disappointment, we tend to think that it must be about us. What if it’s not? And, even if it is, what if you just approach it as “it’s not about me.” This allows intense situations to not become personal.

In science, mentors and mentees are vested in a common goal. They believe in the science they are doing. So, let it be about the science and nothing more. I would have liked to hear this advice years ago, but it’s still quite relevant to me and many of my peers.

Megan Cooley is not authorized to speak on behalf of MRIGlobal, and the opinions expressed are my personal opinions and not those of MRIGlobal.

Megan Cooley, Ph.D., is a Staff Scientist at MRIGlobal. Her work is focused on analytical method development and analysis of biological samples as a part of the Product Development and Repository Management Division.