WiP+ Celebrates Mentors

December 4, 2020

On December 4th, WiP+ hosted a lunch for women in physics and allies in order to celebrate our mentors and the inmpact they have had on our lives and careers. As a part of this event, we additionally asked some successful mentors at Yale to write about mentorship. These short pieces are included below. These pieces were also published on the Yale WiP+ Twitter account (@yale_wip). Follow this account for more updates!

Maureen Long, Professor and DGS for the Department of Earth & Planetary Sciences 

“It’s hard to put into words just how transformative an effect excellent mentorship has had on my own life as a scientist - I’ve been so fortunate to have had exceptional mentors, champions, and advocates at all stages of my career, from undergrad to faculty. A common thread in my experience with my mentors has been their generosity with their time and energy, and their willlingness to deploy their passion for supporting and lifting up their students and junior colleagues. Now that I’m a mentor myself, I find a lot of joy in championing the work of my students and mentees, and relishing the way in which their ideas and vision go beyond mine. There is no better feeling as a professor than to watch your (current and former) students and mentees find success and fulfillment using what you taught them - it’s one of the great rewards of my professional life.”

Meg Urry, Israel Munson Professor of Physics

“Vera Rubin: She became very famous for her discovery of dark matter in galaxies though when I first knew her decades ago, I remember people dismissing her work or her abilities. Two things were very notable about her: first, she loved astronomy and she didn’t seem to care much how she was treated, she just kept doing what she loved best. Second, she was incredibly nice to young people, always trying to get them involved, asking what they were working on, paying attention to what they said. Probably this is how we should all behave, but it was kind of unusual. She was particularly aware of younger women and was always trying to help us.”

“Annelia Sargent: Like Vera Rubin, she had a non-standard career teajectory but it didn’t seem to slow her down. She did pioneering work on star formation, was a major playin gin building millimeter radio facilities, and is a great leader. Besides being a fun person to hang out with, she taught me not to get so steamed up about men misbehaving. I remember a story she told about a colleague at some science meeting asking her to dinner - then rather than discussing work, which was her expectation, he propositioned her. As steam started boiling out of my ears, I asked her how she responded, and she said gaily, Oh I just talked about my work, as he was a captive audience. It was a different response than my own instinct and, I could see, much more useful. That’s not to say one shouldn’t object to bad behavior, just that it sometimes makes sense to be smart about it and to do the thing that gets you what you want.”

“Catherine Cesarsky: Super successful Argentinian woman working in the French system. She’s had so many leadership positions, it’s hard to remember them all. She is authoritative, calm, on top of everything. A great role model. “

“Laura Maraschi: An Italian colleague with whom I worked on many projects. She produced very many excellent students who went on to do great work. I admire her a lot. But it was really her kindness, when we met at an international meeting, while I was still a graduate student, which made such a difference to me. She invited me to her house for dinner with a small group of colleagues, and it made me feel like such an adult, as if I were being taken seriously. It was a big boost at an early moment. “

Sarah Demers, Horace D. Taft Associate Professor of Physics

“I have had many women as mentors in phsyics over my career and it is difficult to choose just a few, but there are three women who stand out. Melissa Franklin gave me my first research position. She taught me to consider myself “doing physics” even during menial and elementary tasks if I was taking a necessary step towards making a measurement. Together Melissa and Young-Kee Kim taught me the joh of unabashed curiosity within a supportive learning community. And Meg Urry taguht me the critical skill of how to accept help and expect more.”

Sarbini Basu, Chair of the Department of Astronomy

“I have been extremely fortunate that I had a large number of mentors (I count at least seven) during my early career. All were male, and none was my supervisor; some of them were not even co-authors. They have played an extremely important roles in my career. The first two are the reason why I am in the subfield of astronomy that I am in today (not my Ph.D. subfield!).  The third is why I have a career in asstronomy at all, and the remaining have helped me navigate the career paths from a postdoc position through getting tenure. My mentors helped me by recognizing that I was good at my job and that I had the ability to do astrophysics research at the highest level. And most importantly, they would not listen to excuses about why I was not trying hard enough, or not trying something new, and they pushed me hard. Tey also helped me navigate the landscape of a career in astrophsyics by advision on issues like what would be a good time to apply for jobs and positions. I took their advice because I knew that their advice was not self-serving since their careers did not depend on what I did. I strive to do the same for that I mentor. What I have found is that it is very important for the mentor-protégé pair to have the same goal in mind. A mentor whose voation and advocation is research is not the best person to mentor someone for whom research is merely a part of the job.”