Name: Peronne Joseph
Can you provide an overview of your role and responsibilities with the Young Scientist Foundation?
As a senior Research Assistant in Dr. Analisa DiFeo’s laboratory in the Young Scientist Foundation, I am responsible for training high school students in the basic technical tools used in translational biomedical research while developing their exploratory and critical thinking skills, which are crucial for successful research.
How is the mentoring process designed?
The mentoring process is quite flexible and this actually allows for a more tailor-designed, personalized approach to meet students’ goals and maximize their learning experience. However, customarily, I aim to provide one-on-one training and guidance, managing projects on a daily basis and fostering self-initiative and independence.
How long have you been mentoring students?
I have been mentoring Young Scientist students for two years now.
Why is mentorship important to you?
I look at mentorship as an essential key to success. Unconsciously, co-workers, peers and interdisciplinary teams through casual sharing and formal collaborations are constantly mentoring and shaping each other. It is important to instill and continue this culture among the younger scientists as more success can be achieved this way.
The summer training program lasts 10 weeks. How many hours a week do you spend mentoring a student?
An average, I spend 30-40 hours mentoring a student.
How would you describe the level of supervision you provide to students?
I provide a very hands-on, close level of training and supervision.
What is a typical day in the lab like for you? For a student you are mentoring?
A typical day depends on the student’s background and understanding of tasks and project at hand. If a student is less experienced at performing a task, I provide visual, written, verbal teaching aids and supervise every task until they are ready for independent work. Once at a comfortable level, I provide a written daily plan of tasks to accomplish which is verbally overviewed with the student at the beginning of the day. Throughout the day, I ensure that students are comfortable doing their tasks and understand the overarching goal of performing them. At the end of the day, we review the results, discuss how they relate to the project goals and create a plan for the next day.
What are important safety factors you keep track of to ensure the students are safe?
I ensure that students are first and foremost safe by implementing the safety guidelines for working in the lab that they were trained in, such as always wearing personal protective equipment and using engineered safety equipment when appropriate. Beyond that, I supervise students throughout a protocol until they are comfortable and can perform it accurately before leaving them to conduct independent work. Additionally, I ensure that no student is working in the lab without senior lab personnel supervision.
What are the most satisfying and challenging parts of your work with students?
The most challenging part of working with high school students is initially getting a true sense of what their knowledge and skill level. Early in training students tend to be more reserved and less confident in asking questions or signifying they not fully understand something. But once they relax and become more engaged, it is very rewarding to see them independently analyze their results and relate them to the the big picture of helping patients. Seeing students nurture their own internal drive, interest and confidence is extremely satisfying to witness.
What are some of the key skills you teach in the lab?
I teach both practical and personal skills with a key focus on promoting autonomy. Some key skills include pipetting, buffer solution preparation, SDS-PAGE, independent study, scientific review and design, critical thinking, time management, project management, communication and presentation, and data analysis.
How do you keep track of the students’ progress?
I keep track of individual progress by supervising daily tasks and frequently interrogating students about their level of understanding both the technique and overarching goal of an experiment. I may also encourage students to explain in their own words, what they are doing, reasons behind it and applications of the results they obtain.
How do you strike a balance between being a task-oriented mentor and somebody who students enjoy being around?
I try to be an easy-going, understanding and flexible mentor while emphasizing that research is result-driven.
How do you ensure the information you teach turns into applicable knowledge for students?
In the lab, all our understanding is based on tested information and applied knowledge. However, the underlying skill in applied knowledge is analysis and evaluation; these are vital skills I focus on conveying. Should students elect to continue a scientific career path, the technical skills can be applied in other lab environments. Additionally, personal skills such as critical thinking, curiosity and tenacity are applicable and highly valuable beyond the research lab setting.
How do you teach autonomy and independent thinking in an environment that is team-oriented?
I teach independent thinking by giving students various teaching materials to compliment their learning style and arm them with information to bolster their confidence. I also encourage them to attempt tasks with minimal involvement from myself even when they are doubt their own abilities. It also helps to throw in a spontaneous pop quiz while teaching to encourage critical thinking and personal drive.
How do you give credit when credit is due?
In the moment, I tend to give verbal praises and high-fives when a student is successful. Additionally, I share a student’s achievements with peers, other lab members and the research community and ensure recognition though poster presentations and publications.
When you became a mentor, how did it change the way you perform your own job?
Becoming a mentor forced me to be more clear and comprehensive in communication with others.
What’s next for you? Where would you like to see your career go?
I am currently a senior research assistant / lab manager and I have experienced both traditional and non-traditional science careers. Yet, only research in an academic setting sustains my love for hands-on research while allowing continued growth and exploration of a variety of parallel research fields. Additionally, cancer research intrigues me, so I would ultimately like to continue cancer research in an academic setting. However, given that there are so many diseases and disorders that are underserved in research and that there are always new questions to answer and problems to solve, I would probably be fulfilled in any translational research laboratory.