The Value of Mentorship
Mentorship provides for students a way to stand out and excel in their academic fields.
By Dr. Laura Bridgewater
Personalized mentoring provides a significant advantage to BYU students who are fortunate enough to receive it, propelling their careers in a way classroom learning never could. Allow me to share my story. As an undergraduate student at BYU many years ago, Dr. Robert E. Seegmiller hired me to work in his research laboratory in the Department of Zoology, performing a study on cleft palate in mice. He trained me to do histology, to photograph the results through a microscope, to develop the film in tubs of developer and fixative solutions, to measure and analyze the results, and to assemble them into publication- quality figures. Then he asked me to write up the findings in the format of a scientific manuscript. Never having seen a scientific manuscript before, I went to the library to figure out what that meant and then gave it my best shot. Dr. Seegmiller congratulated me on the quality of the draft, then proceeded to spend hours with me rewriting it word by word until it was acceptable—work he could no doubt have accomplished much more rapidly without my help. We submitted the manuscript for publication with me as first author, and it was accepted.
The effect of that personalized mentoring on my future opportunities was astounding. People assume that someone who authors a research publication as an undergraduate student must be extraordinary, and they eagerly provide additional opportunities. I received a generous fellowship at the graduate school of my choice. I was accepted into a research lab where my advisor not only provided excellent research opportunities and mentorship, but also tolerated my giving birth to four children during my graduate program. I got a post-doctoral position in the lab of a well-respected scientist and received prestigious research fellowship funding through a national foundation. Each opportunity led to the next, and in 1999 I returned to BYU as an assistant professor.
"Each opportunity led to the next . . . "
Since returning to BYU, my top priority has been to provide similar personalized mentoring and research opportunities to undergraduate students. I came to appreciate Dr. Seegmiller even more as I realized how costly it is in time, wages, and research supplies to train and mentor an undergraduate student. I was fortunate in my early years as a BYU professor to receive a large donation from philanthropists Ira and Mary Lou Fulton, which made it possible for me to mentor dozens of undergraduate students in my research lab. Since that time, BYU has recognized the value of such personalized mentoring and initiated the Mentoring Environment Grants (MEG) program and other programs to support it. In the MEG program, professors write grant proposals that detail the research to be performed and the ways undergraduate students will be trained in laboratory techniques, guided in reading and evaluating scientific literature, and taught to present their work in written and oral format. Student-authored publications are the goal of every MEG proposal. The demand for MEG funding exceeds the supply, so many meritorious MEG grant proposals don’t receive funding. But those that do allow professors to provide the kind of life-changing, personalized mentoring that I received to hundreds of students throughout the College of Life Sciences. I encourage people who are looking for a way to give back to BYU, or provide a boost to capable and deserving BYU students, to consider making a donation to the College of Life Sciences MEG program. It’s a program with a proven return on investment—one that opens doors and launches careers.
Dr. Bridgewater mentors a student in her lab, circa 2005.