Mentoring

Below are listed examples of mentoring in the Plant and Wildlife Science Department.  There are also college resources available for Mentored Experience.
In the Greenhouse
"[Mentoring] is where a student works directly with a faculty member or their mentor on a project of either their focus or the focus of the professor,"Tyler Jennings said, student manager for ORCA.

President Cecil O. Samuelson said, "We hope every undergraduate has a unique BYU mentoring opportunity in order to cause their learning to take place with more rapidity and help them obtain greater opportunity and accomplishment in their careers, schooling, families and communities,"(Daily Universe 3 Sep 2004).

Why are mentorships so important?

Dr. Udall and student
"My undergraduate mentorship with Dr. Udall has in a very literal sense defined the education I received here at BYU. There is a huge difference between learning theory in class and applying it to the real world. One of the most important objectives I had while obtaining an education here was to graduate prepared to enter the real world, and my mentorship experience did exactly that for me. Dr. Udall has taught me how to take the simple concepts we learn in the classroom, like the scientific method, and apply them to actual research in the laboratory. With him I have learned how to take an idea for research and develop it into an actual experiment, follow through with the experiment, analyze the results, make proper conclusions, and publish our findings.

"So what were the results from my mentored experience? My mentored experience has not only prepared me for what is to come after I graduate, but it has also opened doors of opportunities that I never would have had otherwise. I recently had the opportunity to travel to San Diego to attend an international genomics conference and display my research as well as learn the latest developments in the field. That invaluable experience of associating with professionals from the field gave me a brief view of the true nature of the career I want to go into. I have recently been accepted into a PhD program at UC Irvine in Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Biochemistry, an accomplishment I am confident I would not have been able to achieve without my mentored experience."

Mike Salmans - Worked with Dr. Josh Udall
 

How to get a Mentorship



Faculty love to mentor students, yet some students think it is difficult to find a mentorship.  In reality, it's not that difficult if you put yourself in the shoes of a professor.  If you were a professor, what would you want in a student protégé?  Suppose, as a professor, you've spent the last 10-15 years investigating some aspect of biology and your time is limited by teaching, teaching preparation, writing proposals for grants, writing letters of recommendation, serving on committees (University, Departmental, and Graduate), family, and somewhere in the mix you are still trying to do research.  Imagine two hypothetical situations.

In situation 1, an upper-class student just realized that a mentored research experience would help them get into medical school and they liked the class you taught to them last year.  He was a good student and he is planning on graduating at the end of the semester.   He decides to drop-by unannounced to discuss mentoring opportunities.  After greetings, he asks you about mentoring opportunities and in response you ask him 'what would you like to research?'  After an awkward silence, he says 'I don't know.  What do you have going on?'.  You could take the next hour or two and teach him about a lab project where he might contribute, but you can't because your class starts in 10 minutes.  You could set-up a different time to meet and spend several hours teaching him and training him in a laboratory technique ... all the while knowing that you are going to have to repeat this process next semester after he graduates.  Or you could say 'Sorry, I don't have any openings right now because I just hired Student 2'(see below).  Later, he asks you for a letter of recommendation for medical school.  You happily agree, but inform him that all you can do is describe his personality (which means something - but there are a lot of 'nice guys' applying to med school) and his performance in your class.

In situation 2, a sophomore just realized that you are researching something she loved learning in class.  She looks up your publication record and reads several of your recent papers.  She then emails you with a general, yet obviously unrefined question.  Through a series of emails you both agree on a suitable time to meet.  You answer her questions and discuss her goals and directions here at BYU as an undergraduate.  After your meeting, you offer her the opportunity for a mentorship and you introduce her to your graduate student.  Because she is untrained, your graduate student teaches her a few basic procedures in the lab that are fairly mundane and repetitive, but don't require much skill.  She's glad that not much is expected of her while she doesn't know how to do much in the lab.  After a few weeks, she's learned the basic operation of the lab and has made friends with everyone.  She has volunteered to do favors for others, always washed any dirty dishes, and had others explain to her different tecniques they were using.  After a few months, you begin paying her a good BYU wage because the lab doesn't operate well without her.  The next semester, she comes to you with a novel idea about a research topic closely related to your current experiments.  You are ecstatic because this was the very experiment you wanted to do next in the lab.  You assign to her the experiment and support her with any supplies she needs.  At the end of the school year, she summarized the results in a poster and you pay to fly her to San Diego to present her findings at an international scientific conference.  At the meeting, she meets several other professors and industry researchers and because of her work, she has her choice from many opportunities after graduation.  Your recommendation letter for her includes a detailed description of her hard work in the lab, congeniality with others, and her genuine contribution to science.

Which student would you prefer?  Be that student.

Maybe an example from the scriptures might better communicate the type of work that will get you a mentored position.  Recall, that Ammon put his own life in the kings service living among the Lamanites.  (Think of all the wonderful time you'll have working on research as an undergraduate at BYU).  Once while defending the flocks of king Lamoni, he earned a tremendous reputation (This is like making a scientific discovery in the lab or saving the lab lots of money through your diligence).  After returning from his defense of the flocks, Ammon went straight to the the king's stables to complete his other duties as expected (Go the extra mile, but don't cut corners by skipping routine tasks that must be done.  If you are hired for a certain job, do the job).  The king marveled at Ammon's diligence and commitment.  This type of work will get you a letter of recommendation without equal to wherever you go after BYU.

Faculty research


There are over 25 different faculty in the PWS department each with their own interests.  Some of these interests are over-lapping and as a result, the faculty have self-organized into four distinct focal areas.  Several faculty members overlap between one or more focal area (so might your project).  Below are four links that contain the research of each focal group.

Dr. Jellen with student

Environmental Science
Genetics and Biotechnology
Landscape Management
Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation




If you are interested in mentored research, the links above are the best place to start.  Look at what the different faculty members are doing.  Look at their recent publications.  Ask them questions.  There are probably more students looking for mentoring experiences than the number of positions that actually exist.  By doing the above, your 1st-choice professor will learn your name and you will stand out among their applicants.