January is NOT National Ionic Bonding Month, but it IS National Mentoring Month. And the relationship between a mentor and protégé is just like (well … sort of like) the relationship between an anion and a cation in an ionic bond. (You’ll have to use your “chemagination” to fully appreciate this metaphor.)
One member of the relationship—the mentor or anion—has something to give or share. The mentor has plenty of experience, wisdom, and contacts. The anion has plenty of electrons. See where I’m going with this?
Mentoring is one of the building blocks of career success in chemistry, just as it is in almost every other area of life. The website for National Mentoring Month offers a long list of celebrities talking about who mentored them and helped them achieve success.
It’s a shame they haven’t included a celebrity chemist or scientist on the list, because that would make it a more useful and inspirational list for you and me. I’d love to know more about the mentors for some of today’s leading chemists. (If you want to nominate some celebrity-chemists and their mentors for such a list, just use the “Comment” link at the end of this article.)
One goal of National Mentoring Month is to encourage each of us to become a mentor in our community. If you want to be a mentor in the chemistry community, there are plenty of ways to get involved. Here are three places to start:
1) Project SEED
This American Chemical Society program, now in its 41st year, opens new doors for economically disadvantaged students to experience what it’s like to be a chemist. You’ll want to watch the short video about Project SEED, which can be found on the program’s website. (When you watch the video, you might want to have a Kleenex or Kimwipe handy. When I watched it, I displayed some lachrymal behavior.) If you want to mentor a Project Seed student, please contact ACS at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202) 872-4380.
This organization, established in 1997, hosts an E-Mentoring Program that’s designed to meet the mentoring needs of young scientists and engineers—from college students to untenured faculty members. Through careful assessment, protégés are matched with mentors who have work experience. Currently, mentors from more than 1200 companies participate in MentorNet’s programs. One active chemistry-related company, 3M, has over 120 mentor volunteers involved. Although the program’s original focus was on diversity issues in science and engineering, it’s open to both women and men of all backgrounds. To get involved, go to http://www.mentornet.net.
3) Articles and books about mentoring
Here are links to some publications you might find helpful:
- “The Meaning of Mentoring” (Today’s Chemist at Work, March, 2003)
- Creating Successful Mentoring Programs: A Catalyst Guide (Catalyst, Inc., 2002)
- Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering (National Academy Press, 1997)
Give mentoring a try. Whether you’re the mentor or protégé—the anion or the cation—you’ll find the relationship rewarding. Whoever said that “mentors are the salt of the earth” truly understood the ionic nature of this important career tool.
Randy Wedin blogs from Wayzata, MN. After spending a decade working for the ACS and as a Congressional Science fellow, he launched a freelance science writing business, Wedin Communications (www.wedincommunications.com), in 1992. His blog, “The Alchemist in the Minivan” (www.alchemist.pro), looks at the intersection of science, parenting, and daily life.