The mentee manifesto: Guidance from women in STEM

It takes a village to raise a child.

So goes the age-old adage; simple and conspicuous in its meaning, yet somehow also overflowing with complexity. The individuals who partake in shaping our formative years often leave a remarkably permanent influence on the way in which we conduct ourselves and perceive the world. Ask any successful person what their secret is, and chances are, they will attribute their success to the guidance they received from their mentors.

As college students, it seems as though we are collectively invested in the process of figuring out our place in the world, like a cosmic puzzle missing the last piece — and with an internal laugh track running in the background for each time we misstep. In such a turbulent time of individual uncertainty and vulnerability, the guidance of a mentor can be invaluable to the discovery of ourselves and what we want from our futures.

Our bustling day-to-day lives make out the future to be a distant, impermeable bubble looming over us at the strangest of times. I remember thinking one night, sitting amid a group of friends chatting away heartily, that in my second year of college, I had yet to accomplish anything meaningful. It was a peculiar and particularly untruthful idea, yet the notion infected my mind within a second of its occurrence. I reflected on the enormous sacrifice my parents had made by leaving behind their families and the comfort of home in Nepal to provide me with a better future in the United States. To commemorate the immense hardships my parents faced for my education, I mulled over what I might leave to the world to make it a better place.

Then, back on Earth, in the living room of my apartment, a friend called my name and snapped me out of my trance. I fell back into the comfortable folds of socializing and compartmentalized my uncertainties. It may sound dramatic, but this is often how the future hits you — suddenly and scathingly. It is almost frighteningly easy to become immersed in the daily rush of attending events and meeting people and, most often, far too easy to lose sight of what makes us individuals.

Curiously, our society has built an institution founded on herd mentality coated with a thin veil of appreciation for individuality and creative expression. It seems as though the underlying obligation is to conform to a carefully constructed version of ourselves that adheres to societal norms. In spite of all this, we take it upon ourselves to pursue our happiness. This is why mentorship is invaluable to me — not because our mentors necessarily push us onto the ladder, climbing toward conventional measures of success — but because mentors help us embrace who we are and build a future around our dreams.

One of the most exciting aspects of college for me, as a freshman, was the opportunity to engage in research. As a premedical student today, pursuing academic research as an undergraduate has become a typical endeavor in preparation for future clinical research. Given the extent of my knowledge, the copious ingenuity and intellect among the faculty and the student body at UC Berkeley have affirmed my faith in the future of research. Before starting college, I had committed myself to the idea of pursuing research in my undergraduate years, driven by a personal connection to cancer that I will not dwell upon here. During my freshman year, I became involved in research at a chemistry lab that seeks to optimize cancer treatment. In my time there, I have extensively indulged my curiosities and expanded my knowledge immensely, all thanks to the guidance of my trusted research associate and mentor, Dahlia An.

Dahlia is a double UC Berkeley alumnus herself, having completed both her undergraduate and graduate studies here; she also taught sections for classes in the STEM field during her years as a graduate student. Her love for education has extended into her work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where she now presides over every experiment conducted within the scope of the laboratory. Despite a plethora of existing responsibilities, Dahlia also took on the challenge of mentoring a group of undergraduate research assistants, including me, for the purpose of guiding us through research and academia.

Dahlia’s intellectual prowess is continually complemented by the concise and thorough manner in which she approaches every task and her unwavering investment in our education as undergraduate students and human beings. She embodies the ideal qualities of a mentor in that she is driven, compassionate and committed to helping us grow in every way possible. Her unwavering encouragement of our cohort motivates me to take great strides toward my future in health care and beyond. I recognize these qualities to be both rare and exceptional, and I feel deeply grateful for her guidance as my mentor.

In honor of this issue’s focus on education and mentorship, such diligent effort to support undergraduate students and guide them in the pursuit of their endeavors ought to be recognized as quintessential to the figure of a mentor. Dahlia’s philosophy has always been, “If you love what you are doing, it does not feel like work.”

From Dahlia, I have learned that the pursuit of our happiness does not have to be mutually exclusive to the hard work and success we can extract from our careers — if we seek out opportunities that blend our personal interests with our professional ambitions. No matter what you choose to pursue, at the end of the day, our teachers painstakingly assist us in paving our own paths in the world, at great personal sacrifice. Thus, I raise a metaphorical glass to the teachers who spend countless hours putting together presentations and grading papers into the night and to the mentors who face their own painful mistakes in order to impart wisdom to their students; these mentors are the silent heroes upon which the future of our world relies heavily. Celebrate your mentors by consciously relishing in their resolute faith in you along your journey, and pay homage to their investment in you by going forward to become the best version of yourself that you can be.

Contact Pariswi Tewari at [email protected].