Jonathan A. Gustafson
Typically, when I am asked by young students what a scientist does, I am quick to discuss all sorts of research careers that encompass basic science. They could become a chemist, a biologist, or a biomedical researcher, like myself. However, an individual does not need to conduct research in a traditional laboratory setting to truly be considered a scientist. In fact, scientists today work in many fields outside of the traditional lab setting, such as science policy and patent law. One common career path that many accomplished scientists take expands on their role as a mentor. A mentor (according to Merriam-Webster dictionary) is “someone who is a trusted counselor or guide” or who acts as a “tutor or coach” through “positive, guiding influence on another.” I was able to sit down with Dr. Giselle Sandi, the director of mentoring programs at Rush University, to discuss her passion for mentoring and learn about how her career transition from a “traditional” research scientist to a full-time mentor.
Dr. Sandi received her Masters of Science (MS) in her homeland of Costa Rica before coming to the United States in 1990. She completed her PhD in electrochemistry in 1994 and began a postdoctoral fellowship at Argonne National Laboratory. There, Dr. Sandi devoted 19 years to conducting research in the areas of energy storage, sensor development, and the discovery of materials that are renewable and generate less waste. Dr. Sandi also learned the importance of mentoring at Argonne, where her first mentor empowered her to conduct the highest possible level of research while also fostering her core beliefs and values in education. As a result, Dr. Sandi founded the first postdoctoral program at Argonne in 2007, taking the research institution’s national ranking among postdocs from #20 to #4 over the next 3 years. Through the program, Dr. Sandi pushed for fair salary and time caps for postdoctoral fellows, and reviewed Individual Development Programs for each postdoc to ensure they were on a path to success. Dr. Sandi believes that providing younger scientists with the support to be successful was instrumental in driving scientific progress at Argonne.
Since joining Rush University as the Director of Mentoring Programs in 2013, Dr. Sandi has used her passion for education and mentoring to support the successful transition of junior faculty to independent investigators. As the director of the program, Dr. Sandi says that “every day brings new and different challenges.” Part of her work day includes facilitating educational seminars, hosting training workshops, and conducting mentorship meetings, where she helps junior (and even senior) faculty to improve their grant proposals or become more effective mentors themselves. Dr. Sandi also interacts daily with her mentees – comprised of graduate students, postdocs, junior faculty, and occasionally full professors – to discuss their science, plan potential career changes, and even offer personal advice. All of Dr. Sandi’s work helps ensure that researchers succeed at Rush and that their work aligns with the core beliefs and culture at Rush University.
As a female scientist from a foreign country, Dr. Sandi is also the mentoring liaison for minority students through the Rush Initiative to Maximize Student Development, a PhD training grant funded by the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Sandi believes strongly in her diverse cultural and ethnic roots, and holds that her passion for science and her hard work have allowed her to get to her current position. She believes whole-heartedly in “paying forward” her education and passing on her experiences to future generations. Dr. Sandi’s message to the younger students is this: “have the desire to always learn more and be confident in what you know, as that will always carry you far.” Dr. Sandi has made a profound impact as the director of mentoring programs at Rush, and her work demonstrates the importance of mentorship to creating a more supportive, diverse, and collegial culture within science – which in turn helps students and researchers to realize their full potential.