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The Idea of Mentorship

The role of a mentor has had an evolving existence in my life. Before I got to high school, I don’t even remember having a mentor, let alone knowing what kind of influence a person of that caliber could have on my life. As a high school student, the first exposure I had to mentorship was when I started conducting science research in a university physics lab. Excited about the prospects of investigating an alternative energy source in the form of crystals, I worked late nights in the lab. However, my enthusiasm quickly turned into doubt when a professor on the same floor revealed flaws in my experimental design with probing questions about my experimental design and data collection. Although humiliated at first, I took his criticisms with stride and spent weeks hard at work revamping my experiments. When I showed him my progress, the professor was pleased and gave me more feedback. That day was the start of our brand-new relationship. Over the course of several months, he became an important mentor to me both in science and in life. He taught me more about physics than any high school class ever could, and pushed me to critically analyze science and the world around me, leaving me to be more curious and passionate about research than I was before. A particularly fulfilling moment for both the professor and me was when I received the bronze medal at the international science fair for that very project two years later. And today, as a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, a premiere research institute, I am conducting cutting- edge research on kidney development and will be presenting at the world’s largest kidney conference in November.

Joining the HERlead network during my junior year of high school was the first time I gained female mentors and since that day, I have just accumulated a sisterhood of incredibly passionate, driven women. The mentors I am privileged to know are doing remarkable non-profit and social-organizing work all over the world, ranging from running for public office to creating documentaries on social injustices to starting entrepreneurial projects. While it may seem intimidating to have mentors who are that accomplished, these women have only expressed utmost humbleness when discussing their passions, and have poured their expertise and unwavering support into not only my passions, but also those of the other HERlead fellows. One of the most refreshing aspects of having female mentors is that they are not shy about discussing their paths to success, and are brutally honest about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome and the setbacks they’ve faced. This kind of transparency is not only greatly appreciated, but also rather unheard of because it reveals vulnerabilities in powerful social figures, thus humanizing them. What I’ve gained from this kind of female mentorship is more confidence in myself; confidence that will not only push me to carry out my passion for breaking the glass ceiling in male dominated spheres of chess and science, but also confidence that  will enable me to bounce back from setbacks.

Now, as I am on the brink of adulthood, finishing off my last year of college and preparing for the real world, I am taking on more mentorship positions, both formal and informal. I’ve always looked up to my mentors as beacons of light, illuminating the unknown and making my path of ambiguity more certain. So you can imagine how daunting the prospect of being a mentor for those around me might be. However, in my experience so far in the role of a mentor, I’ve realized that I do have more wisdom to impart on those seeking my advice than I thought. While I certainly don’t see myself as a beacon of light, I realize that sharing stories of my trials and tribulations are extremely helpful because they prevent someone else from making the same mistakes that I made. Moreover, I’ve found that mentorship is a two-way street. I learn everyday from my mentees and grow with them as they face challenges and overcome them to achieve more than they thought they could. While I am still figuring out how to be the best mentor for those who look up to me, I’m comforted by a Buddhist proverb that reconciles my gratitude for the wonderful mentors I’ve had in my life and my budding role as a mentor: “If you light a lamp for someone it will also brighten your own path.”