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MENTOR S GU DE M E N T O R ’’S G U IID E SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a The mentor’s for a Science Fair project SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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. SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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 mentoring!” 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 SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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. scientist.” 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; SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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 successful! 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. SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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 SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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. SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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 negative. 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. SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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. SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a • 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 SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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) SCIENCE AND MENTORSHIP w w w. e x p o s c i e n c e s b e l l . q c . c a 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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