Action Potential

Career Development Topics: How to Meet a Mentor

This is a guest post in our #NPGsfn11 blog series and posted on behalf of Paola Giusti Rodríguez.

As the majority of the 30,000+ attendees of the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) 2011 meeting scurried off to all numerous satellite events and social gatherings, a few hundred mobilized on Saturday night towards Hall E at the Washington Convention Center for the “Career Development Topics: A Mentoring and Networking Event”. The event was organized by the Society’s Professional Development Committee to provide mentoring opportunities and professional guidance to neuroscientists across all educational levels.

Meeting a mentor among the 30,000+ attendees may seem daunting, especially for younger attendees, so accessibility is key at this event. Participants were welcomed by 40+ enthusiastic mentors spread out amongst 24 topic-based tables, covering diverse topics centered around research (from getting a postdoc, to setting up your own lab, and developing collaborations), funding (grants and fellowships), careers (alternative careers, career transitions and networking), and service, as well as other topics (science policy, work-life issues, science writing, etc.) Attendees were encouraged to visit multiple tables during the two-hour event to maximize their experience. This type of event, which is complimentary in many ways to the mentor matching service offered by the Society, allows its participants direct and unencumbered access to multiple mentors in a short amount of time in a somewhat familiar setting (i.e. Neuroscience 2011); a sort of career speed-dating, if you will.


The mentoring event was well attended (not an easy task considering that it took place on a Saturday night) and interest seemed to be wide-ranging, as revealed by the mostly full tables. At table #19, where I sat as one of two mentors on the “Science Policy: Fellowships, Careers and Advocacy” sub-topic, we had a good showing. It was evident there was a great deal of interest in science policy among our table hoppers, and that many had already heard about some of the most well-known science policy fellowship programs, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science & Technology Policy Fellowships and the National Academies’ Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship. Primarily these students and postdocs were interested in figuring out what was science policy, who were some of the key organizations offering opportunities for science Ph.D.s, and what credentials were necessary to pursue some of these opportunities. Naturally, many were curious about our backgrounds, day-to-day activities and responsibilities in this new setting, as well as ways in which neuroscience could be applied to science policy.

This experience brought me back to the AAAS meeting in 2008, which I attended out of mere curiosity for the AAAS organization and the networking opportunities. There, at a AAAS fellows reception, I stumbled upon two neuroscientists who had made the transition to science policy and were eager to share their experiences. Making these seemingly random connections provided me with role models who have inspired me and with whom I have remained in contact. The Professional Development Committee needs to be commended for organizing such a diverse mentoring event, which should hopefully yield new connections and collaborations.

Paola Giusti Rodriguez completed her PhD at Harvard University in the Spring of 2011. Paola’s graduate research focused on studying the functions of a protein kinase in neurodegeneration and synaptic plasticity, through the use of several mouse models. She is currently a Christine Mirzayan Science & Technology Policy fellow at the National Academy of Sciences.

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