The Power of Mentorship

As many of us are finalizing our application for fellowship this summer, it’s also a wonderful time to reflect on the journeys that brought us here. It’s no small feat to complete undergraduate training, medical school, and internal medicine residency and have all of that hard work culminate in this application for cardiovascular fellowship training. I’m excited and often blown away by the creativity and successes of my fellow applicants.

One aspect of this journey I’ve reflected on most deeply has been mentorship. I cannot state how important it is to find the right mentors in a process like this one. There is no one-size-fits-all, as we are all unique personalities with individual interests and aspirations. For those hoping to apply in the future, what I found to be most important is finding people you want to model yourself after.

A difficult part of this process can be the first step! How do you approach those you might be interested in working with? I met my research mentor prior to starting my residency, via Twitter. I was looking up people involved in women’s cardiovascular disease at my new institution, and a few names quickly rose on the list. My mentor had posted on Twitter recently about the importance of women in cardiology and creating an inclusive and equitable environment moving forward. Her studies span women’s cardiovascular disease but also advocate for women in research and the academic sphere. I knew this was someone I wanted to work with. I messaged her on Twitter and was met with the warmest welcome. I share this story to encourage young trainees to be proactive in searching for mentors. Take that first step, send that email, and explain why you want to work with them. My research mentor is a fierce advocate for young women trainees. At a recent CV conference in Chicago, I experienced first-hand how she uplifted medical students, residents, postdocs and made us all feel like we belonged in this space. I’m certainly grateful for trailblazers like her who are changing the face of cardiology.

You will also find wonderful mentors via clinical rotations! As an intern in the CCU, I was blown away by our CCU director. He is the kind of teacher you want to show up for. It’s not out of fear but out of respect that you want to be overly prepared for rounds in the morning, so you don’t disappoint. Together, we talked to patients about their pacemaker settings and their heart transplant status, and I found my joy for interpreting swan numbers every morning. Once again, I found someone I wanted to be like one day. He brought so much energy and enthusiasm that the whole team was excited to learn. He created a learning environment that encouraged us to ask questions and never be afraid. Most of all, he reminded us that everything is in the service of our patients. You want to seek out those invested in your growth as a trainee and those who excite you about a future in cardiovascular medicine.

Each mentor can bring something very different in shaping you and influencing the physician you will become one day. I encourage all young trainees and medical students to find people in their field who keep them excited, humble, and always striving for growth. Don’t be afraid to ask these teachers about their journeys and advice regarding your own career trajectories. In my experience, they are usually more than happy to help. From a practical standpoint, talk to residents and fellows in your program about who may be a good fit based on your interests and goals. Medical training is a long journey with many phases, and I have found most of us are very happy to pay it forward.

There have been countless mentors who have brought me to this point and I could write a novel about each of them and what they mean to me. For now I will say, if you are early in your career don’t underestimate the importance and impact of finding the right mentors. Doing so intentionally and thoughtfully both as a mentor and mentee can create environments that encourage people to reach their full potential. If you’re a young trainee reading this, be mindful about finding your village. They will shape who you become one day, don’t be afraid to reach out and introduce yourselves. You can find mentors in non-traditional settings as well in the era of digital education and MedTwitter. Create a network, talk to people at large conferences, and reach out to those you have worked with clinically. If you’re in the position to uplift others, investing in those who will come after you means everything to us. We are so grateful for all you do.


“The views, opinions, and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness, and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions, or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke, or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Lessons from Legends in Cardiovascular Nursing

A significant portion of the AHA 2021 Scientific Sessions was focused on mentorship for early career individuals in research and medicine. Insights from the Interview with Nursing Legends in Cardiovascular Science were particularly illuminating. During this session, Dr. Christopher Lee, Professor and Associate Dean for Research at the Boston College William F. Connell School of Nursing; Dr. Kathleen Dracup, Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Francisco, School of Nursing; and Dr. Martha Hill, Dean America at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing offered advice from their experiences mentoring individuals of varying career levels. Here are some key takeaways for individuals who want to advance their career:

Take the show on the road

Determine professional goals and how to reach them. For those interested in research, a defined program of research and possibly multiple contingency topics of study that are of interest to several funders is needed. It is also necessary to know the road, or what success looks like given the scientific focus and what one wants to accomplish during an academic career. Finally, it is important to acknowledge that there is no one pathway to success and that success is in many ways self-defined.

Do a legacy exercise

The legacy exercise, which is sometimes referred to as a eulogy or obituary exercise involves imagining your retirement party or eulogy and thinking about who you want to speak and what you want them to say about you. This reflection essentially determines what type of legacy you want to leave behind, what you want to be known for and by whom. 
The exercise often reveals details which are not on your CV. It might not mirror scientific goals, and possibly will not align with perceived ideas of success. Ultimately, the exercise can help one focus on the rewarding aspects of work and other parts of life, even faced with challenges.

Consider personal challenges

Mentors often observe personal challenges among both colleagues. Dr. Lee pointed out that life outside of work and issues of personal importance need to be taken into consideration. In fact, he mentioned that he sometimes advises against taking on additional work or submitting extra grants because of competing demands and priorities on other aspects of life. Dr. Lee is also adamant that the best way to have a lasting and impactful career as a scientist is to have great fulfillment in personal life.

Diversify your research team

Diversity brings great insight into fields in business and research, and in decision making.
 Cardiovascular nurses often do not practice alone, and it would be beneficial for research teams to reflect this. Although diversity was spoken specifically of the multi-professional nature of cardiovascular nursing research, it is not limited to it. 
In a general sense, investigators should seek out collaborators who share passion for research, who are concerned about the outcomes of interest, and who are more knowledgeable about the research methods. These elements can help bolster various aspects of projects.


As exemplified by the speakers, connecting at conferences and in research has led to long collaborations and friendships. Whether a mentor, early career or mid careers professional, the benefits of networking can be incredibly gratifying.

Overall, the speakers addressed ways to alleviate challenges for colleagues of all career phases. Their advice diminished the pressure of preconceived ideas of success by supporting the development of personal definitions of achievement. Determining goals and paths, thinking about legacy, including diverse perspectives in projects, and expanding professional networks give individuals more power and opportunity to grow. The speakers have a wealth of knowledge, experience and advice which make them not only legends, but also champions for the success of others.




Concomitantly Being the Mentee and Mentor

We all need mentors to help guide us through our careers. I am very fortunate to have had and currently have many generous and knowledgeable mentors. I rely greatly on them to provide feedback and advice on how to navigate the many challenges of being a physician-scientist.

As early-career trainees, we are often concomitantly seeking mentorship and are being a mentor to younger trainees. Throughout my clinical and research training, I have had the opportunity to mentor many enthusiastic and talented undergraduate/graduate/medical students and residents. Since I have been a mentee for much longer than a mentor, I feel comfortable finding advisors who can assist with my career development. However, I feel relatively inexperienced as a mentor. I find mentoring challenging in that it requires adapting to the needs and personality of the trainee. I am constantly refining my coaching style and trying to emulate many of the outstanding mentors that I have.

For this blog, I have compiled a list of some tips that I have learned or received from others on how to be mentor-able and how to be an effective mentor.

Tips on How to Be a Good Mentee:

  1. Find the “right” mentors for you. Various factors play a role in making a match. Finding advisors is one of the most important steps needed to advance your career. It is not necessary to always find the most senior faculty members to be your mentor. There are many benefits of having a junior faculty member as a mentor, which I have discussed previously.
  2. Be accountable.
  3. Be receptive to feedback.
  4. Be respectful and appreciative. Respect your mentor’s time.
  5. Be diligent. You have to do the work. Mentorship is a two-way street so think about the value that you bring to the relationship (especially relevant to trainees who are completing research projects with their mentors).
  6. Let your mentor know what your short and long-term goals are and what you seek to gain from the mentorship.
  7. Keep in touch with your mentors. Update them on your achievements even after you have completed your training and/or moved to another institution.

Tips on How to Be a Good Mentor:

  1. Do not do all the work for the mentee.
  2. Give a new potential mentee a task/assignment to complete as a trial run to determine whether the mentee is committed and dependable. This may prevent loss of effort trying to mentor a trainee who may not be motivated or interested in your field.
  3. Be knowledgeable.
  4. Be a good listener and communicator.
  5. Keep your promises.
  6. Provide constructive, honest feedback.
  7. Encourage diversity of perspectives.
  8. Be available or willing to make time to meet with the trainee.
  9. Be open to learning from your mentees.
  10. Know your role and what your mentees’ expectations are for the relationship.
  11. Help provide opportunities for trainees (e.g. encourage attending conferences, submitting abstracts/papers, applying for awards, etc.) and help your mentees network with others.
  12. Emulate the excellent mentors that you know.

These lists are not comprehensive. I would love to hear about your thoughts, experiences, and advice on mentorship. I am especially interested to learn about the experiences of early-career investigators who have started new labs.

Thanks for reading and hope you have a safe, healthy, and happy new year!

“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Bring Your Whole Self to Work

“Pretend you are going to be interviewed by a conservative, old white man in a bowtie”.

This was the advice I was given when I asked what I should wear, how I should do my hair, and how I should present myself when I interviewed for medical school. I remembered those words when I interviewed for every step of my journey in medicine since, including 1 residency, 3 fellowships, and my first “real” job as an attending. I wore conservative-colored suits (I remember my younger brother telling me I looked like a flight attendant before one interview- not the look I was going for, but okay), always straightened my hair (I never wore my natural curls), and I always thought of that advice before every interview- conservative, old, white, man, bowtie.

Fast forward to “attending’hood”, I would never heed that advice. I started wearing my hair curly as a protest to what “professional” hair should look like, presented on stage in pink blazers and dresses, and brought my whole self to work. When I interview prospective internal medicine residents or cardiology fellows, the most important 3 pieces of their application in my opinion are their letters of recommendation, their personal statement, and their extracurricular activities outside of medicine. While the abstracts, presentations, and publications are fantastic, they do not tell me who you are as a human being. From the letters, you get a glimpse of how others see the applicant, from the personal statement you hear a story, and from the extracurricular activities you learn about passions. My favorite part of the interviews is talking to candidates about who they are, what lights that fire within them, and what kind of vibe they bring to medicine. When I read your application, I want to know your story.

I love what I do in medicine- advanced heart failure and transplant cardiology- I love the research I do but I also love my life outside of medicine. And I am always confused when people are surprised that I love college football, I love LeBron James, my favorite radio show is The Breakfast Club, and I listen to trap music. I love going to concerts, throwing outrageous birthday parties, and going on girls’ trips. I care deeply about equity in medicine and politics that affect the most vulnerable among us and will continue to work my butt off to crush inequities in organ allocation. To me, these are not 2 different worlds. This is just my whole world. So yes, I will keep bringing my whole self to work.

To be completely honest, I am not sure how I should advise my mentees, most of whom are women and men of color, on how to dress or style their hair or carry themselves during their interviews. People of color are judged more harshly, and I would not want my advice of bringing your whole self to the interview be the reason they did not get the position. But then again, who wants to be at a place that does not accept all of them.

I still say, bring your whole self. Every part of it. The authentic you.

And to my mentees I say, continue sharing your magic with a world that desperately needs it.


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Support Starts at Self

Last month I wrote about how trainees and early career professionals should approach the New Year with a focus on mentorship (from multiple sources when possible!) as a priority to advance their careers. The input we can accumulate from individuals that have the ability to “teach us the ropes”, and expose us to some new tool or perspective to enhance our professional growth and advancement, is essential. This input carries value that fuels the propagation and elevation of society upward and forward. Today I want to discuss what I envision to be the “other side of the coin” to mentorship, the way in which an individual can advance by an “output” effort, in complement to the “input” that mentors provide. Namely what I’m referring to is advocacy. Trainees and early career professionals tend to under-appreciate 2 main truths with regards to advocacy efforts:

1- We are prone, primed and sometimes advised to shy away from advocating for our own causes.

2- We underestimate our ability to advocate and support others within our professional communities.

I’ll start with the case for self-advocacy. It can be hard to dissociate the idea of being self-advocating from being self-absorbed, and that is the root cause for why most well-meaning, humble folks avoid the issue altogether. Seeming selfish or self-centered is of course a bad trait, a noxious attitude that most trainees and early career professionals want to avoid at all cost. Selfishness will lead to career derailment and loss of support from other members in the community. But self-advocacy on the other hand, stems from hard work, a desire for just outcomes, as well as confidence and pride in one’s workmanship and abilities. To advocate for yourself, you must first believe and prove that what you’re advocating for is a just and worthwhile cause.

When there is evidence to support the self-promotional effort, individuals can and should be empowered to advocate for themselves. A quick and easy framework to approach self-advocacy could flow like this:

The first step towards justified self-advocacy is identifying and analyzing the reasons why one should or should not pursue the cause. This can sometimes be difficult, we might not be the best judges of our own efforts, sometimes it helps to have “peer-reviewers” to help us assess the need for advocacy or not. Family, friends, partners, colleagues, and specialized professionals (referees, counselors, etc), are all individuals that could supply viewpoints that help us understand and decide on whether self-advocacy is warranted at present, or if there still is some distance to cross before we get to that point.

Once justified, championing your own causes has become in fact necessary in a world where competition is present, and alternatives are available, at every stage in a career, most evidently in the early career segment of professions. This necessity also brings nowadays a level of expectation from decisions makers, who may see and value self-advocacy efforts as positive traits in individuals seeking professional advancement. This is the clearest reason why one should acquire and optimize the skills needed to become a just self-champion. Of major importance in this discussion is to note that the way in which one is doing what’s needed to advance, is doing so in a manner leading to an overall benefit, and no harm to anyone else (being a champion for one self can also equal being a champion “for the greater good”).

The second point mentioned above, specifically referring to advocating and supporting others within the shared professional community, also warrants a closer look. A strong and advancing community can promote growth for everyone within it, creating momentum and a sense of altruistic advocacy that is much easier to root for and accept without any hesitation or fear of negative feedback. When professionals in a shared community see the advancement of peers as a strength and growth for the whole group, a collective effort to support and promote one another is created, and a positive feedback loop is fueled.

This is significantly more important when the community can have individuals that face some deliberate, or blind forces, that work against their growth and advancement (such as minorities, persons with disabilities, sex and gender systematic biases, and other forces that do exist in many ways). Whenever there exists a gatekeeper with unjust (knowing or blind) motivation that hinders the advancements within a professional community, it is strongly desirable (and necessary) for a whole group effort to champion and advocate for the fair advancement of the affected individuals within this community. Everyone would gain at the end. A strong community would be built and a momentum for “paying it forward” will start.

As mentioned initially in this post, early career professionals have the unique space to be very highly invested in optimizing the “input” provided to them (mentorship), and the “output” they require (advocacy, both self and community oriented). As we progress in our personal and professional journeys, we must aim to maximize the ways in which mentorship and advocacy can help us achieve the goals we aim to accomplish, both for our own benefits, and the benefits of the communities that we are a part of.


“The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.”


Building an academic portfolio during medical training: Part 1 – research outside the box

As a medical trainee in the US, whether you are pursuing an academic career or applying for a fellowship or advanced fellowship, your academic profile is one of the most important currencies you rely on for this endeavor. Academia as a general term refers to 2 main areas: research and education. Many trainees, like myself, start their residency with no or very minimal research experience. It then becomes essential to create a reasonable research portfolio during medical training, which is often not an easy task, especially in clinically demanding specialties. In this series of blogs, I will try to share some ideas and tips that can help you build a competitive research résumé during residency and fellowship. These ideas also apply to medical students, inside or outside the US, who are trying to match their dream US residency program.

The first idea that I would like to talk about is one that I thought was particularly a game changer for me when it comes to research. I like to call this one “research outside the box”, and by the box here, in addition to the abstract meaning of doing things in unorthodox ways, I’m also referring to the literal box that is the walls of your training institution. Residents and fellows are rarely involved in multicenter clinical trials or prospective studies. In fact, the vast majority of research done during medical training is retrospective observational studies. One of the main reasons trainees rely on retrospective studies is the time factor. Prospective studies often take longer to execute, and it becomes difficult to get a tangible product, a conference abstract, or a published manuscript on time for your next fellowship or job application. Therefore, retrospective studies become the more realistic option, and traditionally, these are carried out using institutional databases (i.e. clinical data from patients treated at your own training hospital), which is and will remain one of the most valuable research resources. Then comes the fundamental question – why should I consider doing research in a non-traditional way, or “outside the box”? – For many reasons:

  • Many training hospitals do not have large clinical databases that can produce impactful research projects.
  • You may not find a good research mentor in your training institution.
  • Even with available databases and good research mentors, some retrospective studies may still take long to come to fruition, sometimes longer than you can afford without a back-up plan.
  • Diversifying the ways you do research by pursuing both traditional and non-traditional means, can lead to a marked increase in productivity.
  • Most importantly, collaborating with motivated medical students, residents, and fellows around the country (and sometimes even around the globe), not only enhances your research output but is in itself a great learning and networking opportunity.

The next logical question would be – as a student or a trainee, what type of research can I do outside my institution?

For the same practical reasons that I previously mentioned, I am still referring to retrospective observational research rather than multicenter trials or prospective studies. In that case, to be able to easily collaborate with researchers across different institutions the data has to be publicly available and not protected by privacy laws. There are different types of publicly available data, some are mostly free, such as already published literature, some can be purchased for a fee, such as national and state administrative databases, and others require a research proposal that goes through a grant-like process, such as societal databases. The latter typically requires a higher degree of research expertise and are restricted by application cycles, so I would not recommend them as the first go-to option if you are still taking your very first steps in medical research. Here are some examples of observational research work that can be done collaboratively using these publicly available data sources, without being limited by institutional boundaries:

  • Published medical literature can be used for meta-analyses and systematic reviews. These types of studies commonly address hot topics in medicine or topics with controversy or equipoise. A common scenario where topics are considered “hot” is immediately after the publication of a large clinical trial, particularly if the results are not in line with prior trials on the topic. Meta-analyses are also ideal for examining uncommon side effects or complications of medications or medical procedures.
  • National administrative databases can be used to perform retrospective observational studies, e.g. the National Inpatient Sample (NIS) and the Nationwide Readmissions Database (NRD), which are commonly used in cardiovascular research. They are particularly helpful in researching rare conditions or special populations where getting a large sample size using single-center data is challenging, or to examine trends in diseases or therapies over time. Most of these databases are available for purchase per calendar year (e.g. 2010, 2011, 2012 etc.), meaning that you can buy one or more year worth of data, depending on your budget and your research question.
  • Societal databases can also be used for original outcomes and quality improvement research, e.g. the American Heart Association (AHA) Get With The Guidelines and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) National Cardiovascular Data Registry (NCDR) Although these do not cost money, yet, they mostly require more work including submission of a proposal during an annual or bi-annual application cycle, which is a very competitive process.

These are just examples of what can be done and some common resources that can be used to start with, but in reality, the possibilities and the available resources are endless. Now that we talked about “why” and “what”, the next question is “how” – how to reach potential collaborators? how to build a successful multi-institutional team of young researchers? And what are the challenges to this approach? This will be the topic of my next monthly AHA Early Career Voice blog. So stay tuned..

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this blog are those of the author(s) alone and do not represent those of the American Heart Association. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them. The Early Career Voice blog is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment. Only your healthcare provider can provide that. The American Heart Association recommends that you consult your healthcare provider regarding your personal health matters. If you think you are having a heart attack, stroke or another emergency, please call 911 immediately.


A New Year and A New Perspective on Mentorship!

At every stage of personal growth and development, mentors play a key role in providing advice and support to propel their mentees forward. The act of mentorship is a core element of social interactions and societal advancement. A line like “it takes a village to raise a child” is basically talking about mentorship. Same for the commonly used line in academic and medical circles – “See one. Do one. Teach one.” Graduate and postgraduate students and fellows are required to have assigned mentors to guide them through their final stages of education, and early stages of a professional career.

The level of success a person achieves can be accurately traced to the level of mentorship afforded to them. Mentorship, more so than just academic education, provides a broad spectrum of opportunities for learning and growth. Great mentors are able to provide advancement in what is classically referred to as “soft skills”. These are skills like: communication, leadership, time management, “tricks of the trade”, and other avenues of growth normally left out of school curriculums. This makes finding a highly qualified and experienced mentor an extremely valuable endeavor. Of course these skills are not limited to the medical and academic fields; mentorship is valuable in all aspects of personal and professional growth.

Here is where I introduce the main message I’d like to pass along in this piece. We (correctly) seek and value mentorship from experienced, highly qualified, and revered individuals, to assist us in advancing our knowledge and skills within our chosen fields. However by focusing on finding one type of mentor, we may be setting ourselves up for lost opportunities, learning and advancements of equally beneficial value, from individuals that don’t fit the classic idea of a mentor. By this I mean, when was the last time you looked for a mentor that was junior to you?

We all are kind of aware of how this type of mentorship can be, like how I’m happy to continuously coach my dad on how to advance his usage of smart phone technology, and how my younger relative is mentoring me on how to be a better skater and hockey player! This same kind of mentorship dynamic can also translate in a professional/academic setting. In our present fast-paced advancing world, many novel ideas and tools develop, and typically the earliest adopters are not individuals that have established some previously learned and used idea/tool (i.e. the ones with the lived-in world “experience”). Most of the time, early adopters are typically young, enthusiastic, quick learners!

This group has shown time and again, when it comes to the newest forms of knowledge and skills, they’re ahead of the archetypal mentor. Seeking and accepting younger mentors, in addition to classic mentors, allows the mentee to gain knowledge and skills in a wide range of topics and fields, as opposed to only seeking top-down knowledge. There is great value in learning from experienced individuals, but there is also value gained by seeking the expertise of younger enthusiastic early adopters of novelty, regardless of what field one is pursing mentorship in.


(Image collage sourced from pixabay.com)


Considering this is the time in the calendar where everyone is reflecting on the accomplishments of the past, and making plans and resolutions for the coming year, I thought I would suggest an additional resolution to add to your list this time around. In an effort to maximize personal and professional growth, why not make a resolution centered on mentorship? I’ll even create a fun plot device J What if the resolution could be formulated as follows: This year I will seek (or continue to benefit from) one mentor that is “double” my age/experience AND one mentor that is “half” my age/experience (let’s call it the Double & a Half Mentorship rule!). *All values are approximate.

I’ll use myself for an example: as an early career scientist, a mentor “double” my age is already in place (that’s my boss, Chief Science Officer of the Institute I work in, and Senior Principal Investigator on the research group I’m part of; who truthfully has way more energy than I can achieve, proving that age is not a good measure for vitality!). A mentor “half” my age would be a summer/undergraduate student or temporary employee in our research group (again, the age part of the rule is approximate); someone that will teach me a skill in the lab or on a computer, that will promote my professional goal of learning and conducting high caliber research in cardiovascular disease areas.

This year I aim to continue finding ways to learn and gain skills from both an experienced mentor, and a young enthusiastic mentor, to advance my personal and professional development. I hope you maximize your mentorship opportunities as well. Happy New Year!


Have You Picked Your Mentor’s Brain Lately?

It’s funny how people meet – some are coordinated efforts at work or meetings while others are random. I met one of my mentors – Dr. Jane Freedman – in the outpatient echo lab. We had never met prior to my fellowship but I recognized her name from the echo reports of my patients. After introducing myself to Jane, I fired all sorts of questions her way – mostly about restaurants in Boston we both enjoy, things we do in our free time, how to get involved in the AHA, and how best to read echocardiograms. This sparked not only a great friendship but an even better mentorship.

Jane has become my work-life-balance mentor, advising me on how to be an effective chief fellow, developing my own leadership style, types of jobs to pursue, and balancing personal life with the intense time commitment of medicine. I soon realized in order for me to be a good mentee, I had to support my mentor when I could. This included, attending her talk at the AHA not out of a feeling of obligation but out of a genuine desire to support my mentor. Over time, our mentor-mentee relationship has taken on more academic facets – largely, honing in the on the type of job I would want in the future. Jane has pushed me to clarify the type of job I want to pursue and more importantly, what are the reasons for wanting it.

mentorOver the course of my training, I realized that not all of my colleagues have mentors to turn to for these critical career conversations. It made wonder how mentors can help fellows in training, and more importantly, what are the key elements to a successful mentor-mentee relationship. To understand what made our mentor-mentee relationship successful, I asked Jane at a recent dinner at one of the many great restaurants we wanted to try.

In her experience, a successful mentor-mentee relationship comes down to be receptive as a mentor and mentee. You have to have the self-awareness of the relationship to provide support for those seeking it.  In addition, the relationship has to be symbiotic. The mentor has to give advice to the mentee based on the level he or she is at. For example, the chair of cardiology may not be a good mentor to a first-year fellow if he or she is not able to give the appropriate support needed for the fellow at that specific stage of training. Conversely, the mentee needs to work hard towards the goals and expectations he or she has set for this to be a successful relationship. This made me think: how do we go about even choosing the ‘right’ mentor??

Jane highlighted that everyone needs more than one mentor. For example, an academic mentor to help me pursue research opportunities, a clinical mentor who helps cultivate knowledge in my area of interest, and even a work-life mentor that I can turn to when this demanding job seems undoable. Every mentor offers something unique to the relationship and more importantly, not one mentor will be able to give you everything you need. Jane stressed that she never stopped at one mentor but sought those that will help her become successful in all aspects of her life and career.

Jane explained that while she was training she reflected on what would improve her work-life balance. There were only so many things she could accomplish in a day and had to recognize where she needed help. For example, with the various apps to help improve efficacy, I could order groceries to be delivered to our home. The time saved at the grocery story can be spent with my significant other or at the gym. Something Jane stressed – which I took to heart – was to never feel guilty for not being able to do it all. People who go into health care are incredibly driven but we all have our limits. It’s important to recognize these limits to prevent burnout, enjoy our work, and continue to work on achieving a balanced life.

A piece of advice Jane gave me is to make sure I pick a career path that will make me happy, not the one I think I should take. With the extensive amount of board certifications in cardiology, fellows feel pressured to take them even if they do not want to. Again, this comes back to a point Jane highlighted earlier – we need self-awareness to be successful.

As dinner started to wind down, I was able to reflect on how I was performing as a mentee and what steps I can take in the future to make our relationship more successful. Checking in with my mentors always brings about new found motivation and energy to continue to strive for success.



Get a Mentor, Be a Mentor

mentorship bubbleEarly in our careers, academics are encouraged to find good mentors. You need an advisor to get a doctorate, and this person is a mentor. You might be working in someone’s lab as a grad student or post-doc, and that person can be a mentor. You might be junior faculty and have a senior mentor to show you the ropes. There are formal mentorship relationships and informal mentoring relationships, and you’ve likely had both in your career. They’re a key part of professional development.

But what about being a mentor? The other day, a colleague came into my office and asked me to mentor her. My first response was to say “no, I can’t, I’m really new, we’re the same age, I don’t know anything you don’t know, you’re smarter than me. . .” But I paused. What made her ask for a mentor? What made her ask me? What can I offer this person to help her thrive professionally, so we don’t lose a much needed person in the field?

On reflection, I considered what mentorship means. Having a senior, accomplished mentor is a gift, especially if that person also works as a sponsor for you. Yet it’s also valuable to have a mentor who’s closer to where you are— someone whose life and struggle more closely resemble yours. A young(-ish) woman in academia can mentor another young woman in academia. Non-hierarchical and team models of mentorship also hold enormous promise. I attended a great session on this at #AHA18 in Chicago — I hadn’t thought of that before. Mentorship as a tool to encourage success is much broader than the classic senior-junior one-way relationship. My mentor-seeking colleague and I could certainly benefit from this kind of arrangement.

It’s also easy to forget that as early career scientists, clinicians, and educators, we are already accomplished. A grad student, an undergraduate student, a high schooler, or a middle schooler who’s interested in your field could benefit from your guidance and experience right now. Also at #AHA2018, AHA president Dr. Ivor Benjamin spoke about mentoring young black doctors. He then dug deeper, urging us to mentor young people earlier, before there’s a leak in the pipeline. This is such a crucial idea— the value of mentoring people from underrepresented groups in your profession is enormous. Science and medicine desperately need diversity, but this diversity cannot grow and flourish without the attention of dedicated mentors. Support is especially crucial for racial and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, and women, who remain underrepresented in many areas of STEM, including crucial leadership roles. In addition to perpetuating oppression by limiting access to career paths for individuals and groups, the downstream effects of this underrepresentation undermine equity in our science and clinical care. We can’t ignore the need for diversity and the crucial role for mentorship in building it.


So, early career scientists, educators, and clinicians, will you take up the challenge of mentorship?


Need a resource or want some further reading?

Check out this discussion of The Mentorship Guide.



5 Things To Consider Before Choosing Your Dissertation Topic

As I am inching towards, what I hope would be my final year of PhD research, I have been thinking and analyzing a lot of my actions in retrospect. I thought of putting together a list of things I learned and things I wish I had considered in my first year.


1) Finding the “right” mentor.

We spend a lot of time in deciding the right lab or the best PhD supervisor. A lot has been said and done about finding the right fit. One thing I have learned is that apart from the usual parameters we set in finding the best supervisor for us personally, sometimes we forget to consider if the supervisor is right for the project. Sometimes the project may expand in an area beyond your and your mentor’s expertise. In such cases, it is important to consider whether your mentor will make the right resources available to you. Putting together a good research advisory committee, scientists who would have expertise in that specific topic, will come in handy. Research can be quite daunting and grad students deal with intense pressure and stress on a daily basis. Your time should be spent researching and not trying to find the right instrument in the cheapest core facility and definitely NOT YouTubing the workings of a new technique. Make sure to find someone to train you, attend workshops, shadow a technician and make sure your supervisor makes these available to you when needed. A mark of a good mentor is when they don’t hesitate to seek consultation or advise from an external or senior scientist who is an expert in the field.


2) Is this a good career investment?

Turns out most students forget about the crucial thing about spending years in grad school – landing the job! Most of us don’t think about job search or the next move until our final year, which I think is too late. While choosing a topic, you may want to consider things like job market, skill requirement, funding agencies and so on. For example, researching therapeutic drug targets for a disease that has no cure is far better than investing in a project discovering drug targets for a disease with multiple FDA approved drugs. Weigh the pros and cons carefully. Will your project help you acquire technical skills that are translatable to the industry? If you live in a city or country that is in dire need of science policy advisors or climate crisis advocates or good science communicators, will your PhD program give you enough skills to apply to these jobs?


3) Is there scope for collaborations?

Collaborations are a unique way to expand into different research topics in your field, whether it’s a collaboration within your group or research with a different research group altogether. This lets you become more versatile, get a flavor of how other researchers approach their science and if nothing else, learn a new scientific topic up-close. A productive collaboration is one which will take your expertise and enhance another project, without taking too much time away from your project. Inter-lab collaborations are a great way to demonstrate your negotiating, team management and interpersonal skills. Oh, and did I mention it’s good for networking? So finding aims in your proposal early on, that are good for teaming up with other groups is a good idea, especially while conferencing.


4) Will it help you AND your science grow?

I will start with the science part first. Obviously, we all want to learn and become an expert in the respective field when we started off, so what do I mean by growth here? If your research topic is only going to be a repeat of your previous techniques and scientific concepts, chances are, halfway through the project, you’re going to lose interest. It is great to start off the project with something familiar, but if it isn’t exploring in areas that are uncomfortable and challenging to you, is it really worth a PhD? Test new ideas, push your boundaries and give yourself a deadline to fully delve into answering these questions. But be wary not to spend too much time and get distracted. It is good to spend the first two years (in a five-year program) to be adventurous, but if it gets too challenging it really should not be pursued at the expense of your time.

I stress on personal growth next. PhD project is a LOT of time commitment. Especially to one very specific thing, that more often than not, will consume most, if not all of your time. This means one must consider having room for co-curricular activities that will in turn be an asset for your own research project. For example, I love to read about popular science, wildlife, climate science, conservation, policies and history. My program had a structured graduate minor alongside my PhD major and I decided to study science communication for this minor. Now, I get to write, read or watch other popular forms of science, engage with community, organize local events and dissect science policies as part of my curriculum. I have also gotten opportunities where I talked about my own research to strangers and thus, honed in my craft of communicating science. All of this will ultimately reflect in your resume and you know that apart from spending long hours fine-tuning your experiments, you will leave with heaps of useful skills for future jobs. So, I would recommend finding things that compliment your science early on, this will go a long way!


5) Will you need a backup plan?

If you are diving into something extremely challenging, let’s say it will not only require you to learn new, field-specific techniques, but it will mean questioning the dogma – make sure you have another small project to safely rely back on. If your program has at least one first-author paper requirement for dissertation, it is imperative you sit with your supervisor and make sure you will get a paper out in time. No dogma is worth challenging at the cost of your degree!


These are some pointers that I thought of, from personal experience. I hope that you will find it useful and informative.