As a high achieving high school student, my role in mentoring relationships was always on the mentor/contributing side. I had never experienced what it was like to receive advice in a mentoring capacity before arriving at Caltech, and since then, I’ve had several mentors, all in different capacities. The major areas in which I have benefitted from mentorship are research, academics, and personal development. I’ve learned a lot from these relationships, and these support systems are invaluable in the context of being a new college student.
I was a member of the 2021 cohort of the Freshman Summer Research Institute (FSRI), which is where I was introduced to my first mentors. As a component of the FSRI program, students were assigned to various labs on campus to obtain some introductory research experience. I worked in Sarah Reisman’s lab, working on an organic chemistry synthesis project, which I have continued through the school year and the summer of 2022. Although Sarah was and continues to be very supportive, professors are understandably very busy, so I worked closely with a graduate student in the lab group to conduct experiments. It is fairly typical for undergraduate students to be assigned to a grad student or postdoc for supervision. I have learned so much from working with a mentor in this one-on-one format, more than I could learn from any lab class. This system of close supervision has allowed me to gain laboratory experience in a controlled setting, with plenty of opportunity to ask my endless barrage of questions. This system of mentorship is part of why research opportunities are so accessible to undergraduates. Because there are more grad students than undergrads, there are usually plenty of people who are willing to work with a younger student, even if they have no prior experience, like I did. The closer mentoring relationship between graduate and undergraduate students is part of the reason that undergraduates are able to participate in research so early on, since we are able to gain laboratory experience with enough supervision to ensure safety and good practice.
In an academic capacity, I have received a lot of support from upperclassmen who are also undergraduates at Caltech. In my experience, older students are always willing to offer some wisdom on what classes to take, tips on homework, and general advice for navigating the Caltech environment. In particular, the FSRI program worked to arrange for upperclassmen (who were also FSRI alumni) to hold office hours for additional homework help, similar to the process of meeting with a Dean’s Tutor (Dean’s Tutors are upperclassmen who have done well in a class that are later employed by Caltech to provide homework help to students that are currently enrolled in the class). Connecting with upperclassmen was the single most helpful resource for academic success, so I would definitely recommend getting to know the upperclassmen around you, including those in your house and major.
Outside of FSRI, I also participate in an organized mentoring program through the Caltech Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CCID), called Women Mentoring Women (WMW). Through this program, I have been paired with Yazmin Gonzalez, the Assistant Director of the CCID, and she has been a great resource for all of my questions about personal and career development. I have very much appreciated her advice on work-life balance, overcoming imposter syndrome, and how to improve my resume. We’ve also had some very nice conversations about our shared interest in bees, and we made a short trip to the Pasadena City College flea market. The WMW program has allowed for many networking opportunities and has been an excellent opportunity for growth.
The many mentoring opportunities available at Caltech have been some of the most remarkable aspects of my experience here. The community is so supportive, and it’s been really cool to be able to interact with people in this new capacity. There is so much to gain from learning from different people with respect to different aspects of life. I would highly recommend seeking out these opportunities and programs, to learn as much as possible from the resources available.