How mentoring helped me to be a better scientist

How mentoring helped me to be a better scientist

My mentor and I come from different backgrounds, yet we found common ground through mentoring. Feminism was the thing that resonated with both of us. From sharing our experience with mentoring, the conversation evolved into a lively discussion on feminism with contrast from the Czech Republic and Colombia.

Thanks to my partner, my biggest supporter, I decided to join the Femme Palette mentoring program. It is a women-led start-up that supports other women to excel in their professional careers by matching mentors with women seeking help to make the next steps in their professional life.

In my case, I was hoping to formalize the activism work that I have started a couple of years back in my home country Colombia, by building my personal brand as a scientist and feminist and creating the platforms to communicate my scientific ideas with a gender perspective. My mentor contributed to my self-discovery journey and helped me identify how to position myself within a corporation and identify what makes me stand out.

Radka, my mentor, is the co-founder of a humanitarian company that supports women in Yemen to provide food to their communities. Unlike me, she comes from international cooperation and humanitarian field but shares the social awareness and sense of justice that has driven me during my life. Therefore, our connection was instant and lasting even after finishing our mentoring journey. I got a friend.

Together, we managed to develop an interesting intercultural exchange since Radka is based in Latin America, where I am from, and I am based in Czechia, where she is from. Our conversations on how feminism work in the Czech Republic and Colombia was extremely enriching. After three years of living here, I learned how feminism works in the Czech Republic and how behind the Czech Republic is compared to South America. Throughout mentoring, we came up with many issues that Czech women face. Once you start digging deeper and bringing these topics up, you find out how many layers there are and that these topics are rarely discussed in public. Alongside the professional things, we also discussed finding my place as a feminist living in the Czech Republic.

I experienced that many Latina women are perceived as strong and independent. I hear many Czech women say, ‘yes, I know it is an issue, but there is nothing we can do.’ In Latin America, that is not how we live. For us, feminism means hope, empowerment, and community.

I liked the different perspectives Radka brings to the conversation, for example, regarding maternity leave. I have seen many shocking things in Czechia that make me feel anxious. Czech women seem okay with giving up everything during maternity leave, and I am not that kind of person. I want to navigate that part of my life in the same way, I would in Colombia. Colombian feminists are always a part of the conversation, which is not happening here in Czechia yet. Fortunately, with my mentor, we created a safe space to freely communicate our beliefs and opinions, even if they are controversial.

My mentoring journey with Radka was full of exciting moments; I have some favorite aspects of our interaction – especially the structure. I would always suggest a topic, and Radka would bring background information on it, then we would compare our experiences from the different fields – the humanitarian and the scientific sector. I realize that we have so much in common and am grateful for the opportunity that we can exchange information across industries, cultures, and feminisms.

If you are thinking of being a mentee, my recommendation is honesty. Honesty is the key – to the program and yourself as a mentee to fully understand your goal right from the start. I appreciated the space my mentor gave me for reflection and to always go back to my goals and identify how they changed.

And if you are thinking of being a mentor, my recommendation is responsibility. Mentors need to be flexible because our situations change all the time. I never realized how much a mentor could impact one’s personal life, but it’s true. So the mentors should approach mentoring responsibly and prepare well for each session. You are changing a person’s life. That is why you need to be committed and completely ready for this challenge.