An adult bird looks down at a nervous baby bird under its wing

Mentors and Mentees

I was diagnosed with lung cancer five years ago. After three years of struggling with all the symptoms of lung cancer and the side effect of the treatment, I had everything under control. Before I got lung cancer, I was an engineering professor and a very busy woman with a career, kids, and family. Outside my job and my family, everything is out of my reach, although from time to time, I thought about the things "out of my reach", such as fundraising, leadership, volunteering, and advocacy. One thing that had come up my mind was having a mentor and being a mentor.

Finding a mentor was out of reach before

About ten years before I had lung cancer, for the first time, I heard my Dean of Engineering encouraged us to find mentors or to be a mentor. I was quite surprised because, in academia, it was a competitive place. The mentality used to be if another person was successful that meant I failed in some way. So professors kept the secrets from each other, like research proposals, even the lecture notes. Collaboration is unheard of. In recent years, things are slowly changing in my field, but formal mentoring hasn't become standard.

Mentoring in medicine is common

In medicine, people are encouraged to collaborate. To "leave your personal ego at the door" -- this idea feels like fresh air to me. I do notice that there are a lot of collaborations between medicine professors and doctors within or between different universities and hospitals.

I often joke that there is always a "choo-choo train" of authors for journal papers in medicine. You can't tell who is doing what. I often look at the first and the last authors. In engineering, it's straight forward. Generally, the student is the first author and the supervisor as the second one. If there are co-authors, a maximum of two will be showing up as the third author. But, from a collaboration viewpoint, "choo-choo train" authors in medicine indicate collaborations.

Mentoring and being mentored is important

Dr. West, at Beacon Media, interviewed Dr. Camidge about his path of being an oncologist and overviews his research in lung cancer.1,2 In the interview, Dr. Camidge said 'when he got his Ph.D., he didn't found any collegiate he wanted to be, so he decided to come to America'. It strikes me. It sounds so strange yet familiar.

I never thought like I want to be like him/her in my career. The first a couple of years when I worked at university, I had climbed the ladders from an assistant professor to a full professor. There were clear guidelines to get tenure every step. After I was promoted as a professor, I started to ask questions like what’s next? There were no guidelines anymore. Ironically, that was the most stressful time for me in my career. After quite a struggling, I decided to become a Chair Professor. And to make the long story short, I became a Tier 1 NSERC Industrial Research Chair*.

Thinking about my career progress, I'd like to have the role model early on in my career, and as I achieved my goal, I would like to share my experience with junior professors.

Who do I look to for guidance as a lung cancer advocate?

Now I'm a patient advocate, who do I look upon? What direction do I go? I have spent two years to observe, learn, and hone my skills.

I've seen many lung cancer patients, consciously or unconsciously, becoming advocates. Some are extremely knowledgeable about their specific cancer even beyond their doctors. Some are very vocal and energetic. They gave talks and interviews sharing their stories. Some have strong organizing capabilities. They organized conferences and meetings. Some are incredibly talented raised a lot of funds. Some are enthusiastic but need some guidance so that their potential is amplified. I always admire them, and I'm keen to find people with special talent.

My previous career has taught me a lot, some good and some not so good. It's time for me to decide what kind of advocate I want to be.

*Tire 1 NCERC Industrial Research Chair is intended to create mutually beneficial collaborations between Canadian universities and private sector partners that lead to advancements that will result in economic, social, or environmental benefits for Canada and Canadians. They are for distinguished senior researchers.

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