A fruitful research mentoring experience is produced with common points that allow for flexibility and translate across the diversity of individual mentee needs. First, every mentee will advance towards conducting independent scientific research. Second, every mentee will think critically. And, third, every mentee will adhere to the highest standards of research ethics.
Every mentee will advance in both technical and theoretical understanding. Some mentees may learn to use a pipette and autoclave for the first time. To others, it may be pioneering a new technique. I will not criticize a mentee for lack of experience; science should be available to anyone who wishes to explore the natural world, and it is my job as a research mentor to ensure that the mentee gains the skills necessary to advance as a scientist. Every mentee should gain confidence to work independently. To this end, I will cultivate a mentoring experience that is both challenging and rewarding. Conducting biological engineering research is difficult, and failed experiments are part of the experience. It is important that we learn from mistakes and move on.
Mentees will be required to think critically. While not every mentee will ultimately become a research scientist, every mentee will need to think critically as they progress through whatever career they choose. The problems encountered while conducting research are similar to problems encountered across the engineering profession: open-ended problems with more than one solution. By learning to consider the facts (usually an incomplete set of facts), make an informed decision, and execute a plan in a timely manner, mentees will learn to solve complex problems that will help them address emerging environmental challenges that they will face outside the lab.
High ethical standards are paramount, not only to conducting scientific research, but also to the engineering profession as a whole. Mentees will have likely taken a course related to engineering-ethics, but the research experience offers an opportunity to consider ethical questions and to investigate one’s own values. While it is obvious that data should never be falsified, I will ask mentees to consider more subtle ethical questions as they grow as researchers. For example, I will ask graduate students to consider who should be included as co-authors on papers. I will also ask students to consider ethics related to peer review of manuscripts prepared by others. Further, I will assist mentees in formalizing their commitment to the engineering profession by pursuing certification as an EIT/EI and ultimately licensure as a Professional Engineer. For students not pursuing a career in engineering, I will also introduce them to the ethical standards of their chosen field.