I spend a good deal of my time mentoring students in various capacities, from high school students working on science fair projects, to high school students working in our laboratory through the WISEST (Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science, and Technology) program, to undergraduate students working in the lab as volunteers, research assistants, PSYCO 396/398/496/498 research students, or honours students from Psychology, Biology, and Neuroscience. I find the mentorship process to be one of my favourite parts of being involved in science.
Some of the students I have mentored over the years have been kind enough to express a few words about their experience with me as a mentor. You will find their thoughtful comments below.
Eszter Szepesvari (WISEST Student, summer 2011):
Though mentoring is usually quite a challenging undertaking, Michele handled it with such ease and good humor that it often made me wonder whether she was secretly an education major wound up in the wrong lab. Her open and easy-going personality made me comfortable enough to ask questions without restraint, only to have them answered clearly and succinctly, always using concepts and examples that I, at my level, could understand and internalize. But her capabilities went beyond questions and answers, as she was often the one initiating discussions, pushing me on towards my goals or sharing valuable insights from her own experience. Her understanding of a student-mentor relationship is truly unique and I am very glad to have had the chance to work with her.
Sydele Merrigan (496 research student, 2011-2012):
Great mentoring comes very naturally to Michele. She has this unique ability to offer exceptional guidance while encouraging independence. She offers excellent constructive criticism, while being remarkably kind and genuine. Not only is she a great academic mentor, but she also offers other unintentional mentoring in her respectable work ethic, her uncanny ability to grasp new concepts, her insatiable curiosity and her general demeanor towards anyone she meets. As such, all of the mentoring I have received from Michele has been useful in both my academic and personal life. My experience with Michele has been inspiring. To date, she has been the most influential person I have had the pleasure of working with at the University of Alberta. I couldn’t say enough good things about my experience with Michele as my mentor.
Leah Elder (volunteer, 2012):
I used to be terrified of research. I knew all about it because that is what you pay to have drilled into your skull in a science undergrad, but I never imagined I would be a part of a lab doing something real. Michele offered volunteer spots in her research and that seemed like something I might enjoy, so I jumped in and she changed my life. Michele made me feel important, like I was part of the team. The absurd number of questions I asked were never greeted with anything but a concise answer and a thank you for my time. I have never felt so appreciated in my life. Michele loves science like no one I have ever met before, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She created an environment where all I had to do was science. I didn't have to worry about grades or coming up with impressive ideas; just being interested, and a hard worker was enough. I learned a lot about myself while working with Michele; it was a unique experience I wouldn't trade for anything. I can confidently proclaim that I will never fear research again, all thanks to Michele.
Veronica Lepp (NSERC and Neuroscience Honours student, 2011-2012):
Michele was a wonderful supervisor and mentor. She was there with support when things got really tough, but always encouraged me to become independent and figure things out for myself. She understood what I was trying to get out of my research experience in the Hurd Lab and helped me to achieve those goals. She let me make mistakes and learn for myself, but she was always there to answer questions to help me on my way or to act as a sounding board for new plans. Michele did an excellent job in training me to work in the lab and gave me a solid foundation so I could work efficiently on my own. Michele also helped establish the friendly and warm environment in our lab, so that it was a joy to come to work every day. I was always amazed at how she kept up to date with the numerous undergrads in our lab with their various projects and problems, and how she was available to all of us whenever we needed her. Michele worked hard to make sure we all had fun, learned a lot, and achieved our personal goals that we had in mind when we signed up to do research in the Hurd Lab.
Erin Nesjan (496 student, 2011-2013):
Michele was my mentor throughout my experiences working in Dr. Hurd’s and Dr. Wylie’s labs at the University of Alberta. Without Michele’s energy and commitment to getting the best out of others, I would not have learned as much about the labs as I did. There were multiple sticky situations that I found myself in that were saved by Michele. She is always willing to take on responsibility, all while ensuring her peers’ success with a happy face. She is tireless and motivated and has an incredibly positive attitude that influences everyone around her, and makes everyone eager to accomplish their best. Michele is bound to be a success at anything that she does, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her and get to know her.
Jasmine Mah (NSERC and 496 student, 2010-2011):
As an undergraduate, I worked for two summers and a semester in the Hurd Lab. Throughout that time Michele served as my direct supervisor and close adviser. Once I had been asked to give a presentation of my research to the rest of the lab. I was decidedly nervous. However, Michele devoted the entirety of her weekend to helping me prepare for it. I sent not one, two, but four iterations of my presentation to Michele, which she returned each time with dense, thoughtful feedback written in the margins. When I discovered that the programs on my computer couldn't produce the figures I needed, she made them for me. The night before the presentation I went to bed at 12 am, while she went to bed at 2 am. The next morning, she listened encouragingly as I rehearsed my presentation in front of her. It turns out that university courses only half prepare you for a career in research. Yes, statistics and double-blind tests are required to do experiments. However, to go any distance as a scientist, you also have to have patience, perseverance, and a deep passion - and this I learned by example from Michele. Thanks to Michele, I nailed my lab presentation. And thanks to Michele, research is not a dream but a career path.
Jacob Baran (NSERC and 496 student, 2012-2014):
As my mentor, Michele was one of the biggest reasons why I now love doing research. I originally had a hesitant fear of research, but I was lucky enough to have her great supervision throughout this experience. Her enthusiasm for this work truly was inspirational and helped make everything more interesting and enjoyable. She made sure that the work assigned to me was challenging, yet manageable so that the feeling of accomplishment was always had in the end. Furthermore, her easy-going nature and willingness to help created an atmosphere such that I would always ask questions when need be and I would receive the answer that I needed. Because of this and her great personality, she was a big part of the pure awesome that was this lab. As a result, I was able to learn so much more than I would have otherwise. If given the option, I would want Michele as my mentor every time.