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The Gift of a Good Mentor

About a year ago, I wrote a blog about a mentor of mine here at Juniata, and since I am heading into my last semester and nostalgia is hitting me like a tsunami, I thought I should revisit the topic. My current mentor came into my life about the same time I wrote the last blog about mentorship and, at the time, I had no idea what an effect her mentoring would have on me.

Dr. Regina Lamendella has been at Juniata for just about six years now but she has definitely left an enduring mark. About two years ago, Dr. L and one of her former students Justin Wright, decided to start their very own bioinformatics company, Wright Labs, to fill a niche in the ever growing world of bioinformatics. The specific area of bioinformatics that we dabble in is host and environment microbial interactions. Basically we analyze how bacteria in the human body affects certain disorders and overall human health, and how certain bacteria in the environment are helping to improve or worsen the condition of said environment. We work on a wide array of projects with an even wider array of collaborators, some students working alongside top names in the sciences like the EPA.

Dr. L in her native habitat.

Dr. L in her native habitat.

Through Wright Labs and the tireless efforts of Dr. L and Justin, the students in their lab have had the opportunity to do some amazing,  graduate school level work as undergrads. That kind of research experience, regardless of the field you want to go into, is invaluable and very impressive to an interview committee of a graduate or medical school program (I know as I am currently in the graduate school search process).

Its not the various projects and tools that Dr. L has made accessible to the members of her lab that makes her such a good mentor though. I have never in my life met someone with quite the work ethic and stamina that Dr. L possesses. She is always in meetings with collaborators or writing grants or teaching classes and lab courses or raising her two kids. Yet despite her insanely busy schedule, she always finds time for her students when they need her. You might find a quick ten minutes with her over lunch or you might catch her on a walk around the quad with her new baby. But no matter where she is or what she is doing, she’ll make the time to talk to you.

Above all, though I think without meaning to, Dr. L is teaching those of us in her lab how to be good mentors, and by that same virtue to be mentees. She teaches us how to ask good questions and is constantly challenging us to think critically about the research we do and about the research others do. Almost weekly two of the lab members present on a paper on some new advance in the world of bioinformatics, and its our job as lab members to delve into it and see if the results makes sense and if the methodology was sound.

When it comes down to it, Dr. L has made me a better person by making me a better student. Her guidance has helped me become more focused and organized in my academic life which has translated into the way I live my personal life. And my experience with Dr. L is not an isolated event. Every professor at Juniata strives to mentor their students to not only make them better learners, but better members of society. The professors here take an honest interest in their students’ lives and do their best to guide and help them through their four years here. Without Dr. L I still wouldn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life and I definitely would not be accepted into a graduate program. For that reason I will be forever grateful to Dr. L.

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