By Viviane Tenorio, March 2023
Science is tough. Dealing with variables and unknowns every day can be exhausting. Moreover, the social demands involved in research can be a challenge – especially for women.
I was fortunate to grow up in a household in which women outnumbered men and my value there has never been questioned. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been true since my first poster presentation as an undergrad in 2012. Even so, I always had the privilege of being mentored by great allies who helped me navigate through undergrad and masters.
My PhD, however, has been an experience like no other. I felt alone. I felt insecure. I felt like all of that only happened to me, that I didn’t belong and didn’t deserve to be here.
Recently I heard from another PhD fellow the sentence “Passion is not a replacement for mentorship”. And it strikes me like thunder. It is SO true. I wasn’t lacking passion, worth or strength, I was lacking mentorship. I actively looked for it everywhere.
And then, NU Women came along. I thought to myself: “Why not? Let’s give it a go.” I signed up and weeks later got the matching email.
I didn’t know what to expect: “Wait” What? Are you telling me you found someone who could give me their hand (and their time) amid all this mess?” Even though I was feeling hopeless, I showed up to our first meeting: my mentor and me.
She listened to me, took notes(!) and carefully went back to all the points I mentioned were important to me. And she started helping me: one by one. Not because she is the same as me. We do have different backgrounds, nationalities, career paths and even fields of study. She didn’t live through the same things I did. But she cared.
She is also passionate. She also had setbacks. And we both believe we can make something good; we can make a difference.
In our first session, we talked a lot but there was really an exchange there: she taught me about communication and navigating a demanding PhD, but I was happy to share my passion for all the ups and downs of startups as she endeavours her own.
I was taught that as a mentee I should ask myself the question: “What do I want to change in my life with this experience?” There’s no point in doing a mentorship and not embracing the changes it might open to you.
It has only been one meeting this far, but we already have the next one scheduled. I’m grateful she came along. I’m not the same as I was before meeting her. And that’s everything, that’s mentorship.