As stated by Ruslan Fomenko in a mentoring blog, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself” (by Oprah Winfrey). Shandra Bellinger further elaborates that there are different types of mentors (and different circumstances merit different mentoring styles), and mentoring is also a two-way street. Not only mentees but also mentors need to understand this inter-engaging relationship for mentoring to be effective and successful.
The Respiratory and Immunology Project and Laboratory Research Team (RIPLRT) takes pride in act of mentoring, starting from our Principal Investigator (Dr. Rivera-Mariani), lab mananger, research assistants, undergraduate interns, and every member who joins the RIPLRT. Everyone in the RIPLRT engages in mentoring! Find below the areas in which the members of the RIPLRT are mentored.
Among the areas the RIPLRT address in mentoring include, but are not limited to:
- Laboratory Techniques
- Experimental Planning, Design, and Execution
- Experimental Documentation
- Project Planning and Management
- Budget and Inventory Management
- Scientific Writing
- Grant Writing
- Data Science
- Writing for Non-scientific Audience
- Team Work
- Career Planning
Laboratory Techniques. In the laboratory setting, scientific researchn employs a pletora of laboratory techniques. These techniques include routine (e.g. pipetting, preparation of solutions, environmental sample collectiona and extractions, collection of human samples, etc.) and non-routine approaches (e.g. ELISA, Western blots, DNA and protein extractions, flow cytometry, "omics" technologies, human whole blood pyrogen assay, etc.). The RIPLRT maintains Standard Operational Procedures (SOPs), and mastering these techniques and approaches are key to weekly and project-specific activities we employ. Also, veteran members (not only the PI) in the RIPLRT are eager to mentor in routine and innovative techniques.
Experimental Planning, Design, and Execution. Do to the many experiments and projects we participate throuhgout the year, planning and designing experiments is essential (see figure below). Different projects, even if they involve similar experimental techniques, need to be planned and designed. The experimental planning includes, but is not limited to identifying the availability of resources (i.e. inventory control), creating sample maps (for storage and experiments in microplates), identifying timeslots to carryout experiments, among others. The experimental design includes, but is not limited to identifying techniques suitable to address the experimental question, calculating sample sizes, determining necessary statistical methods, among others. Planning and designing experiments not only benefits time management but also helps assign tasks, intra-lab resources, and contributes to the project management (discussed below) to deliver experimental outcomes in a timely and reproducible manner. It is very rewardig to plan experiments, and even more rewarding when see the outcomes as result of the planning and designing experiments.
Experimental Documentation. To yield reproducibility, documentation throughout the different stages of an experiment is fundamental. In the RIPLRT, we have deveveloped approaches to implement rigorous and transparent experimental documentation, including electrobic notebooks, cloud storage, among others. We also implement internal audits to monitor and improve our documentation. As stated in Lab manual, meticulous documentation helps identify where a mistake was committed, learn from this mistake, and limit this mistake from happening in future instances. Furthermore, if we want others to learn from what we have done in the past, proper documentation is fundamental. Therefore, reproducibility, learning, and limiting mistakes benefits from taking great care in documenting during all stages of experiments.
Project Planning and Management. In the vast majority of cases, the experiments we implement in RIPLRT are linked to a project. Within a project, there are different tasks' epicycles (see figure below) that vary in duration, efforts, and resources. Here is were project planning and management comes into play to remain on track with deadlines, efforts, and resources we imput into a project. When a new projects is to be launched, we come together to plan, for example, which tasks are needed, allocate personnel and material resources, and determine the duration and sequence of the tasks. Unless otherwise stated, in RIPLRT we practice with hard deadlines for each tasks. As as a project moves forward, we need to keep in check that every tasks is being performed as planned, or close to planned, initially. Thereore, the project planning anad management skillset comes handy when concurrent projects are occuring in our working place and different deadlines are in agenda.
Budget and Inventory Management. How much a project will cost and impementing strategies to control how much we spend is another benefit of project planning and management (discussed above). As scientists, and pretty much in our daily lives, understanding how much needs to be spent (without under or overspending) is extremely important to carry out projects in the lab. Also, experimental planning and design helps control the inventory of consumables and specific reagents thus different areas in which we mentored benefit the handling of budgets and inventories. In RIPLRT, we are cautious with how much needs to me spend for an experiment or project, and take care of our man-hours and material resources needed without interfering with our work-life balance.
Scientific Writing. A scientific finding that is not communicated, or informed incorrectly, is a finding not discovered and one that missed the opportunity to contribute to society. In the RIPLRT, we constantly seek to find opportunities to communincate our scientific fidings (e.g. manuscripts, poster presentations at conferences, blogs, etc), and taking care to align these findings with regards to how they benefit public health and society as a whole. The scientific writing also benefits from the project planning and management (discussed above), and from the intra-collaboration (see team work below) within the RIPLRT. Becoming a good and efficient scientific writer takes a lot of work, effort, and patience -- it is rewarding when we become skillfull at communicating our science.
Grant Writing. Among the challenging skillsets as scientists is to become competitive in writing grants. The scientific aspect of grant writing involved many different phases and epicycles (see the figure below), including (but not limited to) 1) identifying an innovative and relevant idea, 2) matching this idea to approprite experimental methods, 3) elaborating how expected outcomes will benefit society, 4) discussing what will be future directions after a proposed project is completed, 5) and convince peers that your proposed project should be the one funded and that your team (or group of collabortators) is fit to carry out the project. In addition to communicate all of the above in a scientific-concise manner, budget, project planning, and other aspects (some already discussed above) come into play. Therefore, in the RIPLRT we continuously seek to identify grant opportunities and ideas that fit these funding opportunities to deploy our scientific and mentoring efforts.
Data Science. In recent years, there has been an increase scrutiny on the statistics behind scientific findings. Furthermore, many peer-reviewed journals and funding organization (both goverment and private-non-profit) seek that the statistical methods be reproducible. These two requirements benefit from implementation of computational approaches to handle, analyze, and extract meaning from datasets. In the RIPLRT, we have extensive expertise in data management and analysis, including in integrating the epicycles of data sciences (see the epicycles below). Given that this skillsets has a steep learning curve, mentoring in this area takes planning and lots of patience -- an mentees to not be affraid of errors when writing computational codes.
Writing for Non-scientific Audience. You'll be impressed with the increasing interest of society (often the one funding research through taxes) in scientific findings. However, we (as scientists) often fail in how to properly downgrading the tone and terminology to help the non-scientific audience understand the benefits and meaning of the science we do. For this reason, mentoring in RIPLRT include writing blogs for non-scientists audience in topics that are relevent to public health and which can provide insights on how to improve human health.
Peer-Review. The peer-review process in scientific research is extremely important for the following reason: subjects scholarly work and research to scrutiny of other experts to reassure its validity and suitability for publication. Although this is one of the areas of scientific research for which scientists are less rewarded, it is extremely important to move science forward. In RIPLRT, whenever the PI gets invited or identifies a peer-review opportunity, he invites members of the research team to practice peer-reviewing manuscripts and other scholarly work submitted by others.
Team Work. Science is not an individual sport, and every scientists needs to either have, be involved, or collaborate with a research team. Nowdays funding agencies and non-profit organization rarely fund scientific projects in which only one person is involved. From the beginning of the RIPLRT, we have been involved in collaborative projects, including projects addressing the respiratory health in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. As mentioned above in project planning and management, different resources of man-power within the RIPLRT are integrated into different tasks. Also, we have created an environment within RIPLRT in which collaborating is one of the key assets to be part of our research team (click here to learn more about the team work requirements within RIPLRT).
Communication. Transparency with ourselves and within the RIPLRT are among the priority of the group (click for the communication section in our lab manual). For this reason, we take great pride to have excellent lines of communication, even in today's technological area. Everyone in the RIPLRT knonws what everyone is doign, and lines of communication are open within the RIPLRT.
Leadership. In the RIPLRT, our principal investigator (Dr Rivera-Mariani) is not the only leader -- everyone is given the opportunity to showcase and polish their leadership skills. That's why among our core values in the RIPLRT are to "nourish from a culture of intra and inter motivation and inspiration."
Career Planning. To move forward in our professional and personal (yes, we must have personal) goals, we must plan the steps we take to reach those milestones. Also, our principal investigator and mentor (Dr. Rivera-Mariani) has among his priority to see each person who goes through RIPLRT, and takes advantage of the many learning and growth opportunities presented, to triump in their professional and personal endeavours. Dr. Rivera-Marian establishes periodic meetings with each member to follow upon previous discussion on career planning and to identify areas and skillsets to master. Also, within the RIPLRT we exchange experiences that could contribute to the careers of others in the research team.
In summary, mentoring is among our priorities and we take great pride in doing so in the RIPLRT.
To contact the RIPLRT,