As a young girl growing up in Trinidad, it was easy to fall through the cracks. At a time when boys were encouraged to pursue science and girls were politely pushed in other directions, I could have easily missed out on my scientific career path without the influence of my high school chemistry teacher. He was a true mentor, encouraging me, showing me that I was good at science and helping me believe that there were no limits.
That was my first brush with having a great mentor, but certainly not my last. When I was at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, there was a professor who was in charge of one small aspect of a project I was working on. Like my high school teacher, he inspired me to strive for more. I went on to work with him in Tanzania, where we continued one-on-one training and transfer of knowledge. We became part of one another’s family and he continued his role as a wise and trusted advisor far beyond the time that we worked together.
Then came Steve Reed, IDRI’s founder and now president and CEO. As a graduate student, I had a bioengineering fellowship at the University of Washington and asked Steve to be my research mentor. I told him that I wouldn’t cost him a lot because of my fellowship; in turn, he told me exactly how much I would cost if I messed up an experiment! That sparked a conversation about my interest in science, his expectations of academic excellence and productivity in the lab, and the rest is history. I’ve been working with Steve for 20 years now.
A strong mentor can inspire, build confidence and show you a world of possibilities. I’ve been so fortunate to have long-term mentoring relationships that span decades. That’s why I feel it’s important to mentor the next generation of infectious disease scientists and global health enthusiasts.
Because of IDRI’s affiliation with the University of Washington, which allows several of us IDRI scientists to serve on faculty, UW grad students come to IDRI for hands-on training. Having students here is a good deal of effort, but it is well worth it. How else will we be able to develop the cures we need without more brain power from young scientists who often think out of the box and look at new approaches?
I’m pleased to have served as a mentor, providing support towards achieving their goals to three grad students and seven postdoctoral fellows; all have gone on to bigger and better things in the world of health. And, my latest student – Emily Gage, who is doing her dissertation work at the University of Washington – just made IDRI very proud. She won first place in a scientific poster contest that showcased her research on understanding how pre-existing immunity to flu affects subsequent vaccination.
At IDRI, we’re committed to provide the professional training ground for graduate students, and I’m happy to be able to follow in the footsteps of those who mentored me.