Name: Abbey Perl
Can you provide an overview of your role and responsibilities with The Young Scientist Foundation?
As a mentor in The Young Scientist Foundation, my role is to help teach students the skills and thought processes scientists use on a day-to-day basis.
How is the mentoring process designed?
The mentoring process is designed to allow students to gain first-hand experience working in biomedical research. The students are able to gain confidence in performing scientific procedures and work towards gaining independence as scientists.
How long have you been mentoring students?
I have been mentoring students for three years.
What is the significance of having high school students in the lab? Can’t the work be carried out by lab technicians?
Allowing high school students to gain research experience at such an early age can be extremely impactful to their scientific careers. Students are able to gain an understanding of how the science they learn in school can be applied to shed insight into biology.
The summer training program lasts 10 weeks. How many hours a week do you spend mentoring a student?
Students are under my supervision for the entire training with the program.
How would you describe the level of supervision you provide to students?
As students begin their training they require much more hands-on mentoring and most of the week is spent under direct training. As students gain a better understanding of scientific procedures, they may begin to perform tasks more independently and I focus more of my efforts on consulting them. During this time of increased independence, I spend more one-on-one time mentoring students on experimental design and training them to formulate scientific questions based on the obtained results.
What is a typical day in the lab like for you? For a student you are mentoring?
Typically upon arriving, my students will begin preparing to develop western blots they had run on a previous day. This process takes about 3-4 hours, with the developing process taking about 1-1.5 hours. Simultaneously, students will be working on other tasks we have for the day, which may include checking on cells growing in cells culture, harvesting proteins from previous experiments, or setting up cells for future experiments. Each day varies a lot in what we are doing, so the students and I will begin each day going over where we left off on each experiment from the previous day or week, and the steps we need to take next to further analyze and advance our results.
What are important safety factors you keep track of to ensure the students are safe?
The most effective safety factors is making certain all students are properly trained in whatever tasks they are performing before ever being allowed to work independently. They typically watch me do a procedure several times before doing it themselves, and then will perform the task under my supervision several more times before working independently. All students are also required to get trained in laboratory safety by the university before they can be in the lab.
What are the most satisfying and challenging parts of your work with students?
The most challenging part of training students is getting them to understand the big picture questions we investigating. Many students have not covered the specific topics in high school that we focus on in the lab. However, it is the most satisfying experience when I am able to see my students piece together the results of our experiments into the big picture.
What are the things you wish the students were aware of prior to starting the program?
I think one of the things students may not fully grasp before entering the lab is that the research we are conducting here has never been done before, so we do not know what the answer will be; this is a phenomenon that is unlike anything they have previously experienced in school prior to joining the lab.
What are some of the key skills you teach in the lab?
When training my students I stress the technical aspects of performing experiments as well as emphasize the conceptual understanding of the scientific questions we are investigating.
How do you keep track of the students’ progress?
I meet and go over all experimental results with my students on a daily basis, and in these meetings discuss how they would interpret our findings. From these conversations I can see how their experiments are being performed, as well as how well they are grasping the concepts behind the experiments.
How do you ensure a student is not afraid to ask questions?
I try to ask them questions on a daily basis, and encourage talking through each step of their experiments to be sure nothing confuses them.
How do you strike a balance between being a task-oriented mentor and somebody who students enjoy being around?
By approaching tasks with a friendly manner, and being flexible by allowing students to plan their own days, I believe I was able to have productive working relationships as well as friendships.
How do you ensure the information you teach turns into applicable knowledge for students?
I aim to do so by stressing that the students understand the concepts behind the experiments being performed; this allows students to better relate the day-to-day tasks that we are performing with concepts they are taught in school. Giving students this connection to something they learned outside the lab helps students see the applications of science as well as guides them to remember what we are learning.
How do you teach autonomy and independent thinking in an environment that is team-oriented?
I do so by allowing students to interpret results of any experiments they performed, and asking them to plan an experiment that would follow up on the obtained findings. This helps students develop their own independence while thinking about the projects we are working on together.
When you became a mentor, how did you change the way you did your own work?
Becoming a mentor forced me to take a step back from my work and think about things on a more basic, building block level, in order to fully communicate the experiments to my students. Having to explain each aspect of an experiment and justify the next research steps to my students, helped keep myself focused on the big picture as well as transfer that knowledge to my students.
What’s next for you? Where would you like to see your career go?
I hope to continue pursuing research in an academic setting upon receiving my PhD. This will involve interacting with many students, both in a laboratory and classroom setting. Participating in The Young Scientist Foundation has helped me develop my own teaching style, which will be essential for my future career plans.