In graduate school you have to be your own advocate; you have to be able to ‘mentor yourself’ to get what you want out of your degree. Dr. Carolee Bull, who recently joined the Penn State family as head of the Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology department, led a little over thirty graduate students and post-docs through her “How to be Your Own Best Mentor” workshop on Saturday, the 27th of February. I will admit that I was a bit nervous coming into this workshop, would the advice be overly simplified and cheesy? Or unrealistic (because, come on, you know there are certain people whose toes you just can’t step on)?
As it turns out, Dr. Bull cares deeply about helping others, especially students, learn how to live the life that is best for them, and her unique blend of approachability, enthusiasm, and candor make her an excellent leader for a workshop like this one. Her personal mission statement includes the concept of Ubuntu, meaning you do not diminish yourself by lifting others up, and it is obviously something she lives by. I love that idea, by the way. I think I need to incorporate it into my own personal mission statement.
I did not have a personal mission statement before Saturday, and if you had asked me to craft one, I can only imagine the side-eye you would have received. But, as it turns out, personal mission statements aren’t reserved for the rich and famous, the self-important, and the philanthropists of this world. As I learned from Dr. Bull last Saturday, personal mission statements are a way to capture the pursuits, values, and aspirations closest to your heart and formalize them into a phrase that you can use to inform your life path. If you want to be able to mentor yourself and guide yourself through life, you have to understand your goals and motivations. Creating a personal mission statement is the first step.
We did a lot of brainstorming during the workshop; don’t worry, we had plenty of coffee and treats to sustain us. Dr. Bull led us as we each individually listed the things that we love most in life and the things that drive us. I listed thirty-eight things, not one of which is performing colorimetric analyses (shhh, don’t tell my advisers). Later, we collectively brainstormed what qualities make a good mentor and performed self-assessments to identify which qualities we have yet to possess. I loved the framework Dr. Bull introduced us to: as graduate students, we are in training for our next career position, be that post-doc or otherwise. And throughout our professional career, we can think of each position as a training opportunity for the next position we aspire to attain. Therefore the question we should be asking of ourselves is, “What do I need to learn in the position I’m in to get me to the next level?”
That’s the crux of what ‘mentoring yourself’ is: figuring out what it is that you want, identifying the skills needed to be successful, and of those, identifying which you still need to develop so you can focus on honing those skills. The logic in consciously enumerating your goals is obvious. You will be more efficient at attaining your goals if you know what those goals are and what you need to do to get there. Dr. Carolee Bull will be hosting several more “How to be Your Own Best Mentor” workshops this summer. They are the first in a series in mentorship workshops that will aid in your career, goal-setting, and managerial skills.