My first science mentor was probably my junior high science teacher. Ms M was a fantastic teacher. She was new at our school that year (1994) and organized a science fair. My project sucked a bit, but I still got an honourable mention. And she made science fun. A year after that, Mr L became my next favourite teacher. He taught us about dinosaurs, reading maps, the Earth, the universe and when graduation came, he put on my science medal and had watery eyes. I'd never seen a man with watery eyes before and I still treasure that memory and his "I'm so proud of you" comment.
When I started college in 1999 my favourite class was Bio 101 for Bio majors (we had a bio class for bio majors and a bio class for everyone else). My professor was so fantastic that (somewhat sadly) very few classes were more interesting than hers during the rest of my undergrad (except cell bio and biochemistry). Professor O was very driven and passionate and I still carry with me some of her handouts with notes scribbled all over because her class was that helpful.
Eventually, I decided to listen to my profs and give undegrad research a try. My first mentor was a guy in Jersey that I learned to dislike a lot (summer internship away from school). He wasn't a horrible mentor, but he had no time to show me the ropes, so he dumped me and my project on a poor postdoc. The poor postdoc could barely speak English, and between drawings, the Molecular Cloning handbook and broken English we managed. But it was very frustrating as I had very little idea of what I was doing (I still don't have an idea of WTH the project was about). I didn't get anything impressive accomplished, and I felt like a failure. I didn't want to do science after that. My impression was that if PhD/postdoc mentors were so detached and uninterested, then I didn't want to go to grad school.
Upon returning to my home institution that fall, I decided to give science another try and joined a lab in the department of Chemistry. The projects in my home department seemed too (classical) biology oriented (describe species Y, swim with dolphins there, go to that swamp an study this really weird lizard) and I didn't find the topics appealing (even though I was a freakin' bio major, WTF???). Instead, I wanted to do more molecular stuff (less cloning, more proteining, ha! I just made that up) and I found a prof to help me with that. Her lab was huge, and occasionally she'd show up and ask how I was doing. She gave me a project that eventually became pure cloning (I hated it) and I got a poster and a few reports out of it. She had a huge lab, and was known to have a temper ... so sadly I judged her as bitch (very classy of me). I swore I'd never have another female mentor, ever again (horrible, misguided judgment of an undergrad). I did ask for letters of recommendation for grad school from her, and she obliged (only if I promised to work on the stupid clones, which I did). Later on, as I learned about some of the crap that all profs (but sometimes women, more than men) have to take from higher ups, it became clear that she was doing the best she could with the limited resources she had. We haven't spoken for a while, but she does refer to me and my success in school as an example to her new students (yes, I do feel like crap).
My next mentor was a year before I entered grad school. He was very engaged in my understanding of the field and what I was doing and truly treated me as a member of his lab. We had regular lab meetings, regular one-on-one meetings, and he was an amazing guy. Because of him I learned about advances in one of the structural biology fields I worked on in grad school. Because of him and the papers he asked me to read and digest, I became enamored with one of my favourite scientists (I got to finally meet last year (and yes, he's even more awesome than what I imagined)). This person apparently liked me enough that his letter of recommendation for grad school was mentioned by the head honcho of the program I applied for during my interview. This person said that my last undergrad mentor was very fond of me and my work and his letter was amazing. After entering grad school I wrote to him a few times. I asked for his help with a question for my qualifying exam, and he was more than happy when I said, "hey Prof R, I joined a lab that uses XYZ to study ABC and it's even more awesome than you said it was." In a way (a very big way), I owe him loving science once again, going to grad school, and joining my PhD lab. He restored my faith in science.
In grad school I did a few rotations and chose a lab. And guess what ... my PhD mentor was/is a woman! Yes, a woman! One of those creatures I swore to never, ever again have as a mentor. EVER!!!111!! My PhD was by no means all happy and pretty every day. I did have some bad moments. I also had some pretty awesome moments. But it wasn't because of her, it was all school and occasionally project related, she was a wonderful mentor. I truly enjoyed my time in the lab and I miss it every day. I miss my mentor; I miss having a PI like her. My PI (98.5% of the time) had a smile on her face, she was always upbeat, always excited about learning and science. We had more one-on-one meetings than lab meetings. She'd call me with ideas at the end of the day and we'd try them the next day. I think I flourished under her guidance. And we swore to email regularly after my defense .... but eventually our emails became sporadic and short. And like Gerty, I felt as if my PI was breaking up with me. I think I went through some sort of withdrawal. We still talk, but I feel like something's missing. Of course my PhD mentor wrote a letter of recommendation for my postdoc. And of course she did write one for my current position. I have to say, that even with the distance (my PhD mentor is very protective of her lab, findings and projects), she's probably the person I have the closest mentor-mentee relationship with. And hon says that out of all the mentors he's met, she's WAY above everyone else.
My postdoc mentor .... well .... I should probably leave that to an entry on its own. Our relationship is almost non-existent. It's not that we had a horrible fall out ... but more that I was so depressed in his lab that I really didn't (and still don't) want to go there. I promise to write a whole entry about it. I really need to deal with that.
How are your relationships with your previous mentor(s)? What are some of the most valuable lessons you've learned and share with your trainees or labmates? Any fallouts? How do you feel as a mentor to your students? Anyone ever professed their undying love for you, your lab and/or your science?