Teaching and mentoring are the more powerful motors of life Sciences. In my opinion, when mentoring a student we face the challenge of transmitting our experience to maximize their potential. Of course each student is different, therefore mentoring needs to be done in a personalized way. However, a thoughtful analysis of our experience can be done to distil the concepts that need to be transmitted. Here is my analysis:
The first thing that I recommend is to carefully select relevant literature in the field of study. Starting from the big picture and going down to more specific details every student needs to be guided to efficiently obtain this information while minimizing redundancy and mere speculation. After several rounds of learning the state of the art we need to guide the students to identify “good” questions. By this I don’t mean that there is bad questions… I mean that one should critically analyze what is the impact of having the answer. According to my experience, having a “good” question is a basic starting point for a fruitful project. I always compare science and ideas to movie direction and scripts. There is no way one can make a good movie with a bad script. But be careful! really bad movies can be done with good scripts.
In the next step I think its essential to design not just informative experiments but also fast and robust (whenever is possible… ). It is not easy to assess the balance between how feasible, time consuming and robust an experiment is. Usually it comes with experience and the intuition that one develops over time. Unfortunately this is very hard to transmit and students need to develop intuition from their own experience. Once in this reiterative process, advice on how to proceed might differ. One philosophy that I found useful before is “Big problems need Big solutions” in other words, sometimes we need to give up on a very exciting idea or try to figure out a completely different way to approach it. Also, nobody can deny that there is luck involved in every breakthrough, however, time managing can increase the amount of attempts that you get and therefore increase your chances. If you keep shooting in the dark you might finally hit the target…
Finally, one of the more important values to transmit is to never stop exploring. If you come up with an exciting idea and an informative way to test it, DO IT!