Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Mentoring Each Other

Found on Hippie Hill in Golden Gate Park, 9/24/07
Just got back from a large audience interview with the UCSF Chancellor, J. Michael Bishop, author of an autobiography entitled, "How to Win a Nobel Prize." A nice lady interviewed and asked him questions in the newly renovated Cole Hall, and Dr. Bishop seemed to be a fairly charming and thoughtful guy.
Some excerpts (not verbatim, paraphrased loosely):
Bishop: "How many of you here are from dental [some cheers], medicine [few cheers], nursing [few cheers], or pharmacy [big cheer]. Great, we'll allot funding accordingly."
Bishop: "Cancer research progresses so quickly; being in the field is like driving a speeding race car."
Bishop: "I had never heard of the word 'tag line' until two years ago. Anyway, our new UCSF tag line is 'Advancing Health Worldwide.' Which is much better than Johns Hopkins tag line: 'Imagine.'"
Interviewer: "If you had another 40 years to do research --"
Bishop: [in utter mock astonishment] "You mean I DON'T??"
Interviewer: [polite brush off]"If you had another 40 years to do research, what would you work on?"
Bishop: "I wrote a paper during my third year at Harvard Medical School about two medical illnesses that I would like to see elucidated. One of them was cancer, which I have spent my career on, and the other is schizophrenia. Unfortunately, I don't think that I will see the latter elucidated in my lifetime."
Bishop: "In college, there was a physics professor whom I idolized. He said that I was bright and asked me why I was going into medicine, since doctors are just well-trained plumbers."
Anyway, those are the quotes that caught my memory. Another interesting topic that Dr. Bishop spent a lot of time talking about was the concept of mentorship and how important it is. Mentoring is more than giving advice, it's about believing in someone else and advocating for the advancement of that person's career. And, even more interestingly, Dr. Bishop brought up the idea that the most important mentorships occur not between student and teacher, but rather between peers, and that he learned so much more from his peers at HMS than he did from the faculty. He recalls sitting in back while his classmates critiqued the lesson, and how their involvement in research led to his initiation into the world of academic research.
It really touched me, because I feel like I have been very lucky to have so many people in my life who have fostered my growth. And I also realized that my friends in medical school have become some of my most valued mentors.
Obviously, I would never have survived beyond infancy without the love and support of my father and mother, who still sends me newspaper clippings to read and taught me to value creativity and really believed that I could do great things...her nurturing helped my brain make it to Harvard and everything that I do in the future will be thanks to her. In college, I didn't really have a Mentor with a capital M, but there were definitely several professors, teaching fellows (TA's in normalspeak), and classmates who changed the way that I think and encouraged me to continue writing and dreaming. At Stanford, I realized the value of a real mentor, and it saved my life in many respects. Almost unconsciously, also, the attitudes and skills that I learned at Stanford...the expression of "unconditional positive regard" that FPC likes to coin, became part of my outlook and I realized that taking pride in other people's accomplishments and encouraging their potential -- in short, seeing others succeed -- is an amazing high.
Perhaps more on this later.

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