Committed to Mentoring
Unbeknownst to her, neuroscience student Hemalatha Muralidharan was listening to her future mentor when she heard Peter Baas, PhD, speak at a conference she attended as an undergraduate in Mumbai, India. The topic, and his way of talking about it, piqued her interest. Years later, when Hema came to the College of Medicine to pursue her PhD in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies, she visited the Baas Lab and found both a home for her research and a mentor who inspired her.
DISCOVERY AND GROWTH: HEMALATHA MURALIDHARAN
Early on, I went to other laboratories to learn some techniques and explore other available opportunities, but I was fascinated by Dr. Baas's focus on microtubule-based motor proteins (tubular structures that give shape to cells and power their movements), exploring their mechanisms and what makes these neurons special. This research can have implications for disease as we see how the proteins might be expressed in different ways. The work itself involves a lot of cell culture and microscopy, skills I've developed in the years I've been here.
GUIDANCE VS. DIRECTION
Working with Dr. Baas has been great — even though this is his laboratory, he's very hands-off in many ways and allows us to pursue our own interests. He will never shut down an idea, but he will give you helpful feedback to further focus the scope of the project. That independence has been ideal for my learning, and I don't think you get that in a lot of laboratory settings. When I first arrived, I had little background in this subject matter, and I'll admit that I had a little bit of stage fright, but the experience of working in the Baas Lab has truly built my confidence, and I'm at a point where I can now mentor junior students.
Mentee and mentor: Hema says the independence Peter Baas allows has been ideal for her learning.
VISION FOR THE FUTURE: PETER BAAS
As program director, I mentor all of the graduate neuroscience students and many faculty members as well. It's important to me to set an example of what good mentoring is, so that others can continue to carry it onward. Not every mentoring style works for every mentee, so it's really about finding a way to give people what they need. My colleagues and I believe it takes a village to raise a graduate student, so that students can have many influences and models to help shape them.
I make myself available to students as much as possible, and I try to be a calming, encouraging voice. I want them to take ownership of their work and think for themselves, which is why the students in my lab always have a project that's their own. I also help them with the other aspects of academic life — speaking, publishing, networking and finding a career that is best suited to their skills and interests. In Hema's case, it has been very rewarding to see her wonderful work unfold — she has a natural talent, she's a superb scientist, and I'm looking forward to talking with her more about what will come next and how I can help her get to where she wants to go.
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