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Mentoring the Next Generation

The next generation of scientists and engineers is in the formative stage of careers where they will either blossom and become productive scientists or wither and fall to the ranks of underutilized or unutilized members of the scientific community. As mature Sigma Xi members we have a responsibility to mentor these budding research professionals to assure their success in the research enterprise. My comments below address the mentoring I feel we should do as Sigma Xi members.

Mentoring has many characteristics similar to parenting. We want to pass to the next generation our good characteristics, traits and habits, but not our bad ones. Mentoring, like parenting, involves setting high standards of integrity and professional behavior. This includes a healthy emphasis on the ethics of research in general and the ethics and customs of specific disciplines.

Networking is a significant part of mentoring. Assisting young investigators in forming a network of colleagues both in a given discipline and across disciplines is an invaluable service. For me, Sigma Xi has been a wonderful way of meeting colleagues from disciplines other than chemistry. Several mentoring programs are either developed or under discussion by Sigma Xi. Some Sigma Xi committees, including the Committee on Diversity and the Committee on Qualifications and Membership, are developing pilot mentoring programs that focus on women, minority scientists and engineers, and promising high school science students. These pilots will lay the groundwork for other mentoring programs.

Mentoring includes advising young investigators on becoming active in professional organizations and how membership in professional organizations can assist in building a research program. A good mentor also knows when and how to show disapproval of actions that will not enhance one's career.

Although intangible, the rewards for being a mentor are great. Most of us can immediately think of someone who had a significant influence on our early career-someone who showed us the ropes at our place of employment, assisted us in meeting people in our new community and made sure we formed a network of colleagues. For me, that person was Dr. Joseph Sam at the University of Mississippi. Even after 35 years, Joe Sam remains a close friend and a person I hold in the highest regard.

I challenge each established Sigma Xi member to select a young investigator and become a mentor. Spend the time and energy to see that at least one young investigator matures, not in your image but as a productive scientist or engineer.

W. Franklin Gilmore
President, Sigma Xi

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