A perspective on mentoring students

As is often the case for a doctoral student, I’m having the opportunity to be the supervisor of a bachelor student during the preparation and the writing of her dissertation. This is a very special time for the both of us as this is her next step in advancing her academic career and it’s also the first time (or nearly so) that I am stepping into the role of the teacher. For the ones that have no experience in this… Trust me, it is not an easy job!

The goal of our research is to understand whether certain bio-materials are cytotoxic, and judge if they can be used for further testing in the biomedical field; but of course it’s not only that. I truly believe that a good teacher should explain the entire environment of a laboratory or a university and not just dwell on the scientific or notional field. From day one, I’ve tried to teach her how to plan her experiments, how to keep track of her schedule, how to make sure she has the lab to herself when she needs it, how to interact with colleagues in the workplace and so on.

On the other hand, she taught me that to be a good teacher you need certain qualities that, to be honest, I lacked. A teacher must be patient and repeat himself when necessary. He must be present but not overwhelm the student (it is perfectly okay to make some mistakes at the beginning, and actually the student will learn quickly if you let him make his own mistakes).

Of course I knew all of these things theoretically, but I must admit that it was difficult to put them into practice at first. All in all, I learned something very important from this experience, that I believe is the key to good teaching. You can prepare your students to the best of your ability, but they won’t truly understand the lesson until they have had the opportunity and time to experience it for themselves.


This article was written by Niccoló De Berardinis as part of an ongoing series of scientific communications written and curated by BioTrib’s Early Stage Researchers.

Niccoló is researching Bioimaging of biomaterials and biological characterization of 3D-printed alloys for reconstructive surgery at Uppsala University, Sweden.