Left to right: Roxana Taginya, Chad McCormick, Rachel Zemel, and Monil Ghodasra
Have you ever wanted to hear your mentor’s thoughts? Understand what drives his or her passion for mentoring? Well, so did we. And whose better mind to peek into than the 2015 Fellow Mentor of the Year, Dr. Chad McCormick, postdoctoral fellow in the Zimmerberg lab. Dr. McCormick studies Type II Diabetes, specifically how insulin resistance develops in human and mouse fat cells. While he develops new microscopy methods to study adipose tissue, he also finds time to be an exemplary mentor. Dr. McCormick was gracious enough to steal a few more minutes of his time to offer his mentoring perspectives in a Q&A with The NICHD Connection:
In one or two sentences, can you sum up your mentoring philosophy?
Every mentee’s needs are different, so understanding his or her needs is a crucial part of the mentoring process. As a mentor, my job is to give the mentee every opportunity to thrive and share with him or her the excitement I bring to my work.
What motivates you to be an active mentor?
As a first generation college graduate, I believe a strong influence for me was the interaction with numerous mentors in the past and present. I used to pride myself on the fact that I “did it all on my own” until I realized the impact that parents, family, friends, advisors, and colleagues had on my career. I am also passionate about teaching and addicted to seeing mentees connect the dots on observations based off of their hypotheses.
How do you keep trainees excited and on track with their research, even during data ruts?
Every failure brings us one step closer to success. Having had data ruts in the past (a prerequisite for obtaining a PhD, I believe), I knew it was all about attitude and the long objective. I remind the mentee about the big picture and how important his or her input is to the final goal of the project.
How do you balance the time between research, writing, service, and mentoring activities?
I can honestly say that I don’t. This is why I have built a support network during my time at NIH to try to better balance all these activities. This network includes, but is not limited to: my wife Kelly and our kids Connor and Caleb, my advisor Joshua Zimmerberg, my “professional mentor” Staff Scientist Paul Blank, my collaborators, my labmates, and my friends. I used to forgo sleep to try to balance these things until I realized an important fact of life: “good enough and completed” always beats “perfect and incomplete.”
What’s the hardest part about being a good mentor? How do you overcome it?
Mentee apathy. We all remember being teenagers and going through a phase where we couldn’t care less about X or Y. But everyone cares about “something.” I try to find that “something” as a bridge to sharing what gets me excited about science/research and what good we can do for a lot of people if we work together.
Tell us about a time when a mentor helped you.
I can’t tell you the number of times I have called Paul Blank at around 10 PM to ask practical questions about “what is the next step I should take on this experiment given surprising result X.” Everyone deserves a Paul in his or her life--someone who has gone above and beyond to help mentees for so long that it becomes a reflex. I hope that years of active mentoring will help me to be able to mentor so naturally and effectively that the process becomes a reflex.
If you could give one piece of advice to other mentors, what would it be?
Equality is not fairness. Equality of opportunity is. Meet every mentee at his or her level and provide an environment to let him or her shine.
On the flip side, if you could give one piece of advice to mentees, what would it be?
Be greedy. Get input from as many mentors as possible. The recommendations I give to mentees are based on my personal bias about the importance of the biological and biophysical sciences in and out of the clinic. As an example, I was privileged to have a student this summer who was not sure if he wanted to pursue biomedical engineering or medicine in the future. I am not an engineer, nor am I a medical doctor, so I made sure to develop connections with people on campus that fit the student’s criteria, to allow him the opportunity to hear and experience firsthand what made him passionate about science. It NEVER hurts to ask someone you admire for a few minutes of his or her time; that person’s experiences can help guide you in your career decisions. That, and if you are in NICHD, talk with Yvette Pittman. She is amazing at her job and will help guide you through career options better than anyone I have ever met!