by Mona Behl, Georgia Sea Grant
Guru-shishya parampara is a centuries-old tradition in India that fosters a thoughtful exchange of ideas, expertise, and friendship between a guru (teacher) and shishya (student). The relationship between a guru and a shishya is an emotional, spiritual, and intellectual friendship built on the foundation of trust, respect and commitment.
I got the opportunity to reflect on guru-shishya parampara during a panel discussion led by the AMS Board for Early Career Professionals. The session – “The Early Career Leadership Academy: Beyond Leadership to Mentorship” — aimed to reflect on the 2018 AMS Early Career Leadership Academy (ECLA), address leadership issues in the workplace and provide mentorship to students and early career individuals. Facilitated by my dear friend and colleague, Brad Johnson, the panel discussion featured Chris Vagasky from Vaisala, Kimberly Wood from Mississippi State University, and Alan Sealls from WKRG-TV. Brad, Chris, and Kim are all alumni of the inaugural class of 2018 AMS ECLA. What follows is a brief summary of what I learned from the panel discussion, and I hope it encourages you to consider applying for the 2019 AMS ECLA–the deadline is coming up fast.
Mentorship is friendship. Over time, this relationship develops organically. You may not realize the role that mentors have played in your life until several years later, when you reflect on your experiences and think about the people who have guided you, supported you, and rooted for you, all along.
Mentors come into our lives in various relationships. Some mentors are individuals who are more experienced and have more knowledge than you. Others are colleagues who may be at the same career stage as you. Parents, teachers, siblings, and even friends could all be mentors. Sometimes mentorship can be established in a structured manner. It needn’t be sought only from individuals who enjoy a high-profile career or are well established. Everybody has something valuable to offer. At any stage of your career, you are both a mentor and mentee.
Communication is the key to a good mentoring relationship. Assessing the effectiveness and impact of communication in a mentorship is equally important. An effective mentor gives wise counsel, and the mentee feels comfortable speaking on issues that may be sensitive. Shared vulnerability between two individuals nurtures trust and builds honest mentoring relationships. However, being vulnerable also means taking a risk of harm, which you need to acknowledge and understand. You also need to know when to walk away from that relationship.
Mentoring is a skill that can be developed over time through practice, participation, and partnership. Many individuals who wish to be mentors are confronted with imposter syndrome. Overcoming the imposter syndrome might entail developing a network of peers and colleagues who are able to provide validation, guidance, and support, when needed. If you feel like an imposter, chances are that others in your situation feel the same way.
It is also important to acknowledge the benefits of being a novice in mentorship and recognize opportunities presented by failure. Confronting failure and acknowledging that you don’t know everything isn’t proof that you are worthless. It is an opportunity to grow. Cultivating a mindset of learning instead of performance allows you to view your limitations as growth opportunities thereby catalyzing self-improvement. Extending opportunities to others so that they too can learn and grow builds confidence and generates greater benefits for society.
Mentorship is a doorway to complete transformation for both the guru and shishya. Done right, mentoring can benefit both: you get a chance to share your experiences, learn about challenges and opportunities that you aren’t aware of, and uncover ways of doing things differently.
ECLA is designed to be a transformative peer-to-peer mentoring experience for early career leaders in weather, water, and climate science professions. As a result of the Academy, ECLA alumni have been able to take calculated risks in their lives, connect with colleagues in similar career phases, and acquire affective skills that are usually not taught in traditional academic setting. Most importantly, ECLA participants have been able to build deep and meaningful relationships with a diverse group of peers who support and advocate for one another, lead their organizations through uncertain times, and inspire change.
Mentoring changed my life for the better and I sincerely wish that it transforms your life too. Please consider applying for the a place in the next AMS Early Leadership Academy. The application deadline is 8 March 2019; the Academy, including regular webinars, begins in April and leads to a meeting at Stone Mountain, Georgia, on 24-26 July. From there, the program continues onward with guru-shishya parampara.
Thanks to Markeya Thomas of Climate Signals and Climate Nexus for posting about her video on Twitter for Juneteenth yesterday.
Her interview is with two of “Weather’s Hidden Figures,” the still disturbingly small number of African-American meteorologists—barely 2% of the AMS membership. Professors Greg Jenkins of Penn State University and Deanna Hence of the University of Illinois speak eloquently on what it means to strive to make a big impact while being part of a small minority.
Both Jenkins and Hence talk about how they have been interested in weather since they were kids—sounds familiar!—as well as how opportunities to follow specific interests in human well-being triggered their passion for weather and climate-related research. For Jenkins it was realizing the potential of his climate science in helping solve agricultural security and other urgent needs in Africa.
Hence, on the other hand, had harbored interests in medicine, and found a way to keep a health impacts slant a part of her severe weather expertise:
One thing that really deeply impacted me was actually with Hurricane Katrina. I was on the research flights into that storm back in 2005, and so that particular juxtaposition of scientifically having this amazing dataset we’re collecting—[a] perfectly timed and executed field campaign—and then having to watch thousands of people die as a result. That juxtaposition…I think that’s what really cemented [the impact focus] for me.
But it takes more than interest to make it in a not-always welcoming scientific world. Says Jenkins:
I’ve been in this field for more than two decades, and being stubborn and following what you feel is important when there aren’t necessarily a lot of examples. But having that mentorship has really been important for developing strategies and tactics when you’re facing resistance. I think that’s something we have to teach younger people, that yeah, you might run into resistance, but what’s your strategy for dealing with that? Keep your cool. Press forward. Keep your goals in mind.
Hence underscored the difficulty of establishing her personal voice and commitments as an early career scientist:
I’ve…been trying to both promote, and live by example, that you can pursue social engagement, social justice, community engagement, and your science at the same time. It’s not been an easy path, and I’ve definitely had many people dissuade me from it. We’ll see how it works out for my career! So far, for me, it’s what keeps me happy and wanting to do science.