MENTOR S GU DE
 M E N T O R ’’S G U IID E

SCIENCE AND                        MENTORSHIP
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 The mentor’s
 for a Science Fair project
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A Science Fair is a major competition for elementary, high school and college students.
Each spring, more than 18,000 young people exhibit a science project they have developed
during the school year, in one of the following three categories: Experimentation, Design
or Study. These regional competitions, held
throughout Québec, are organized by the part-
ners of the CDLS-CLS Network, which com-
prises the Conseil de développement du loisir
scientifique (CDLS), the nine regional Conseils
du loisir scientifique (CLS) and the Educational          With good intentions and a bit
Alliance for Science & Technology (EAST).                 of free time, you will no doubt
                                                          do a fine job of mentoring. All
To develop their Science Fair projects, students          the same, this Mentor’s Guide
sometimes need specific assistance that their             provides useful information,
schools or parents cannot provide. In some                tips and advice to make your
cases, students are required to carry out their           mentorship experience, in the
project with the help of a science professional.          context of a Science Fair project,
A mentor can be an invaluable resource for a              as rewarding as possible.
mentee (student) who wishes to complete a
project in compliance with the Science Fair               After reading the guide, you
Rules, or whose project requires special assis-           are invited to register in the
tance in order to advance further. At the same            Cybermentoring – Science Fair
time, the mentee has an opportunity to further            data bank.
explore the world of science and research.
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                                                          In short, a mentor is an experienced scientist
                                                          who volunteers his or her time and skills to:

“There are many advantages to                                 spark a mentee’s interest in science;
becoming a student’s mentor. When                             help mentees bring their Science
you see how your knowledge can                                Fair projects to fruition;
contribute to the education and                               serve as role models (honesty,
intellectual enrichment of a young
                                                              rigour, patience, openness, etc.);

person, your work takes on more                               direct students toward sources of
                                                              useful information;
meaning. A scientist who super-
                                                              transfer knowledge;
vises a student also develops a
greater sense of leadership. It’s not
                                                              guide students in terms of
                                                              future studies and scientific careers.
only the students who benefit from

Gamal Baroud, Associate
                                                          The mentor/mentee relationship can take many
Professor, Biomedical Enginee-                            different forms. Conversations can be held by
ring, Université de Sherbrooke;                           e-mail, on the phone or in person. Mentees’ needs
Canada Research Chair in                                  vary, depending on the nature and complexity of
Skeletal Reconstruction                                   their Science Fair projects. Some require occasio-
                                                          nal assistance—for instance, validating their study
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  design or helping them find information on a specific topic. Others could need their mentor’s
  help for several months.

  In general, students are looking for a mentor for one or several of the following reasons:

                                                                To have their Science Fair project validated, to
                                                                obtain help with a research topic and to get
                                                                general advice;
                                                                To better understand the scientific process that
“You can support students in many                               will allow the research question to be answered;
different ways—for instance, by                                 To obtain access to a lab and specialized
answering questions or even letting                             equipment in order to conduct an experiment;

them use your lab facilities. They                              To comply with Science Fair Rules which,
                                                                depending on the project, require the
can’t exactly conduct a DNA experi-
                                                                participation of a mentor;
ment in the garage! For students, it’s
                                                                To ensure follow-up of an experimental protocol;
extremely reassuring and stimulating
                                                                To better understand a scientific discipline and
to be able to communicate with a                                studies leading to jobs in research.
                                                              Mentors can also expect to:
Marc Ouellet, Biochemist, Research                              familiarize mentees with ethics protocols
Assistant, Merck Frosst Canada;                                 (particularly when a project involves animals or
Chief Judge of the Montréal Regional                            human participants);
                                                                carry out certain procedures in order to respect
Science & Technology Fair
                                                                Science Fair Rules, which specify that such pro-
                                                                cedures must be conducted by a professional;
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  help mentees keep their research on track;
  encourage and motivate students to overcome
  hurdles and carry on with their projects;
  fill out forms confirming their participation in
  the Science Fair project.                                   Science Fair projects that stand
                                                              out all share one characteristic:
                                                              their originality. Even a project
                                                              that doesn’t yield conclusive
There are no age restrictions on becoming a mentor.
                                                          results could still do very well,
Whether you’re a 28-year-old research assistant or
                                                          provided the research process is
a 68-year-old retired researcher, the most important
                                                          original and innovative. After all,
thing is your desire to support and encourage a
                                                          not all scientific endeavours are
keen and curious student. In a similar vein, the
director of a proteomics lab won’t necessarily make
a better mentor than a plant biology technician. A
person’s position and academic background are not that important. The following qualities
and skills are, however, desirable:

• Knowing how to guide
  Mentors will have to answer a variety of questions on matters that are only indirectly
  related to their field. They must therefore have sufficiently broad-based knowledge to be
  able to steer their mentees toward the “right answers.” Mentors must also help mentees
  find answers on their own—quite a challenge!

• Knowing how to break things down
  The ability to communicate scientific concepts to non-specialists is a plus. You can
  gradually incorporate technical terms and acronyms into your discussions with men-
  tees, but don’t overload them at the beginning—they might become discouraged.
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     Can you explain your work in simple language? Can you break down complex ideas or
     explain the main aspects of your work in an engaging manner?

  • Being enthusiastic
    Teachers who are passionate about their subject are often those who leave a lasting
    impression on their students. Similarly, enthusiastic mentors are more likely to get their
    mentees interested in science and research.

                                                      • Knowing how to “decode”
                                                         Mentees don’t always have the right words to ex-
                                                         press themselves, which is quite normal, since they
                                                         are in a learning situation. Mentors must therefore
Before you embark on your                                always ask themselves, “Do I understand what my
mentoring career, you might
                                                         mentee is trying to tell me?” You have to know how
                                                         to decode needs that your mentee might not always
want to think about your own
                                                         express very well.
academic and career path. Think
about the people who got you
interested in science. Perhaps
you’ve had or mentor, or have
even participated in a Science                           For the relationship to work, you obviously need to
Fair competition? Thinking about                         be able to devote some time and energy to your
these experiences can help you                           mentee. It is important to determine how much
become the type of mentor who                            time you can give and the period during which
will inspire mentees.                                    you can provide support. These details must be
                                                         worked out from the outset, to ensure that you and
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your mentee are on the same page. A mentee who feels let down by an adult could be
adversely affected in the long term. He or she might lose trust in adults or even lose interest
in science as a potential area of study.

If you’ve agreed to meet in person, you must be there both physically and mentally. As a
mentor, you must remain focused on the meeting and not allow yourself to be distracted
by your other responsibilities. If your mentee has to be punctual, so do you!

Mentors must read the Cybermentoring – Science Fair Code of Conduct.

In the case of mentees under the age of 18, the CDLS
recommends that contact be made between the men-
tor and mentee’s parents (or guardians).
                                                                  “Students who want to be men-
                                                                  tored are often highly motivated
A mentor must let the mentee plan the meetings (if
                                                                  and very curious. In a laboratory,
necessary) and carry out all tasks, such as obser-
                                                                  they can help advance your
vation, data collection and data analysis. As far as
                                                                  research. As scientists, we’re
possible, experimental procedures should be carried
                                                                  working on very specific problems.
out by the student unless, for safety reasons or to
                                                                  A seemingly-naïve question can
comply with the Science Fair Rules, the mentor has to
                                                                  actually shed new light.”
do it (which is perfectly legitimate).

                                                                  Frédéric Charron, Director of
In other words, the mentor has to keep in mind that
                                                                  the Molecular Biology of Neural
the mentee is participating in a competition and
                                                                  Development Research Unit,
cannot enjoy any unfair advantages! If the mentor
                                                                  Institut de recherches cliniques
has to take part in the experiments, his or her contri-
                                                                  de Montréal (IRCM)
bution must be indicated clearly in the mentee’s project
and on the appropriate forms.
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A mentor must ensure the mentee’s safety at all times. This means, among other
things, ensuring that laboratory safety regulations are adhered to. Even if a mentee is keen
to carry out the handling procedures, the mentor must assess the situation and take over
any tasks considered risky.

Mentors who see that their mentees are keen on pursuing a scientific career should be
willing to talk about it, show them possible avenues, and help them narrow down their
tastes and interests. Don’t hesitate to share your own experiences, both positive and

During discussions, mentors should offer constructive feedback and encourage their
mentees by underscoring their efforts. Direct criticism without any explanation can be
discouraging. In addition, you should not delay in answering a mentee’s e-mail or voice-
mail message; he or she might be waiting for your response before proceeding further.

     Even with the best intentions on both sides, sometimes the chemistry between mentor and
     mentee just isn’t there, and the relationship needs to be called off. That’s life! You shouldn’t,
     however, come away from the experience with a bitter taste. A frank and direct conversation
     can clarify the situation. If you think it’s necessary, contact the parents to make sure every-
     thing ends on a positive note.
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                                                              Volunteer your services
“The main role of a researcher/                               Once you’re ready to become a mentor, sign up
mentor is to guide students in                                in the Cybermentoring – Science Fair section of
their research. It’s not to answer                            the Science Fair website. Mentees who are also
all students’ questions, but rather                           registered in this database will then be able to
                                                              look up your profile and contact details.
to show them possible avenues
and allow them to make their
                                                              The first call
own discoveries. Obviously, when                              To avoid wasting precious time, pay close attention
students have more difficult                                  to your first phone conversation with a prospective
questions, it is the researcher’s                             mentee. The purpose of the call is to identify the
role to answer and keep them on                               mentee’s needs. You can then decide whether or
                                                              not you can help.
the right track.”

Gamal Baroud, Associate
Professor, Biomedical Engineering,
                                                              The deal is sealed—you’re now in a mentoring re-
Université de Sherbrooke; Canada
                                                              lationship with a student. Plenty of interesting dis-
Research Chair in Skeletal                                    coveries await! To keep this relationship running
Reconstruction                                                smoothly, no matter how long it lasts, here are
                                                              some handy tips and recommendations.
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• Open-ended questions
 To properly understand your mentee’s motiva-
 tions and level of knowledge, opt for open-ended            Looking for a mentor takes a lot
 questions. For example, if you ask whether                  of courage on the part of mentees,
 your mentee knows how a magnetic resonance                  who also invest a lot of time
 imaging machine works, he or she could simply               and energy in their Science Fair
 reply in the affirmative, without knowing much              projects. Unanswered e-mails or
 about the machine at all. An open-ended ques-               phone calls can be discouraging.
 tion such as, “Explain to me how this works . . .”          As much as possible—even if
 will lead to a more informative discussion.                 you’re snowed under—take a few
                                                             minutes to reply to your mentee.
• Stay the course
 At a certain point, mentors might need to gently
 rein in mentees who are on the wrong track, contradicting themselves or constantly changing
 directions. Mentors must skilfully avoid discouraging their mentees while keeping them
 focused on the main goal.

• Positive attitude
 Some mentees need more encouragement than others. Sentences like, “I don’t understand
 anything”; or “I’ll never make it”; or “I should never have gotten myself into this!” are clear
 signs. Mentors can intervene by using humour to put things in perspective and by encouraging
 a more positive attitude. When it comes to problem-solving, two minds are better than one!

• You’re not a therapist!
  Being a good listener means trying to understand your mentee’s needs. However, he or
  she may not really be looking for a mentor, but rather a sympathetic ear or even direct
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                                                            assistance. Don’t forget that you’re not a thera-
                                                            pist, even if you have the best intentions in the
                                                            world! In such instances, contact the CDLS,
                                                            which will follow up with the mentee’s parents.
“If you have to choose among
several students, opt for those                            • Coaching your mentee
who seem the most passionate                                 If you work in a team, you might decide to del-
and engaged. We tend to look                                 egate certain tasks—lab handling procedures,
                                                             for instance—to some of your team members. It
at grades, but in the lab, it’s
                                                             can be very stimulating for a mentee to be inte-
motivation and curiosity that
                                                             grated into a team in this way. In such cases,
really count.”                                               make sure the person in charge clearly under-
                                                             stands his or her role vis-à-vis the mentee. The
Frédéric Charron, Director of                                latter should not feel “lost” within the team.
the Molecular Biology of Neural
Development Research Unit,
Institut de recherches cliniques
de Montréal (IRCM)
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Supervision: Marthe Poirier,                                 This program has been made possible through the
Science Fair Coordinator, CDLS                               financial support of the Ministère du Développement
                                                             économique, de l’Innovation et de l’Exportation, and
Text: Charles Désy
                                                             Merck Frosst.
Research: François-Nicolas Pelletier
                                                                                                                    LAYOUT: TABASKO COMMUNICATIONS

Proofreading: Daly-Dallaire                                  All CDLS programs also receive funding from the
Content editing: Jacques Yves Gauthier, Research Fellow,     Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council
Merck Frosst; Philippe Savard, high school science teacher   (NSERC) through the PromoScience program.

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