Why every scientist is a mentor

Mentorship in the sciences is one of those thankless gray areas. You don't get offered jobs exclusively to mentor students, or judge science fairs. You get offered a job so that you can do some science. Fortunately, we live in a world where mentorship is a duty, even informally, to most scientists.

Mentorship is important, and it's important from the beginning. When you're in your undergraduate program, you should be helping those younger than you: volunteering with science fairs, helping your peers pass their exams. This not only helps them, but it also helps you: it teaches you through doing, it helps you give back, and it looks good on your resume.

When you're a graduate student, you should be mentoring undergraduates in your lab, undergraduates in your classes, and kids in science fairs and outreach programs. It looks great on a resume, it gets you out of the lab, and it helps you remember how to speak to “normal” people.

When you have a Ph.D., you need to mentor. As much as you can. You need to write those blog posts, help those graduate students in your lab and NOT in your lab, and you need to talk to the public. You need to serve as an interpreter for the science of today. Because the language isn't always easy to understand, but teaching “the public” how to understand science breeds a better society. It creates a society where science is supported and anti-science sentiments are laughed right out of the public eye. It supports your job, and your future job. It invites people to step into the circle, get some training, and become scientists themselves. Mentoring in science pushes you forward and pushes society forward into the next century. Mentoring in science benefits everyone.

So put down that pipette, step away from that computer, and reach out. Talk to some schools about bringing some bugs to their classroom. Start an afterschool program. Hell, reach out to the neighbor's kid and inspire a love of science that won't be forgotten. It is your duty, and your pleasure, to do so. If you spend your entire life wrapped up in the miniscule, you'll retire without anyone to take up that torch, and your work will lay on a dusty shelf undiscovered. Get out there.

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