Biology (Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior) Graduate Student
Mentoring an undergraduate researcher through the IE program provided a unique enhancement to my graduate experience. As a biology graduate student, my time is divided between classroom teaching, graduate coursework, and thesis-related research. While each of these activities requires initiative, they are also each overseen by more seasoned biologists -by my advisor, thesis committee, home department, and course instructors.
My work with IE Pre Grad intern Ashley Chattle was different, because I found myself wholly responsible for the outcomes of our time use. Mentoring proved a steep but useful learning curve for me, and the skills I obtained will be tremendously helpful in advising future researchers at the undergraduate or graduate level. I am now more comfortable cultivating every component of a research project, from inspiring questions to devising experiments and analyses to answer them.
To give Ashley the room she needed to find her own research question, I also had to avoid over-managing her research project, allowing her to find her own unique questions to ask within my study system. My research focuses on the causes and consequences of female color variation in a damselfly model. Because I've spent four years thinking about this topic, I needed to be patient with Ashley as she came up to speed on the background literature and relevant methodology for field and lab study. In time though, giving Ashley space to learn these things first-hand paid off tremendously. Discussions with Ashley have raised many new, testable, and interesting questions that we continue to pursue together, which would not have happened if I had simply told her 'what to do.'
For me, mentoring was not easy. In the end there are many things I would have done differently. But I'm grateful to Ashley and the IE program for allowing me to make these 'mistakes' before I have graduate students of my own! And I'm doubly thankful that Ashley is enthusiastic about continuing to work with me. I think we are proceeding in exciting directions, and that I will continue to learn and take joy from my experience as a mentor.