Testimonials for teaching and mentoring

A letter of endorsement from one of my students, Karen Zaklama, Summer 2015

Last summer I had the privilege of being supervised and mentored by Phoebe at the Microbial Metabolic Engineering Lab at Imperial College. As a high school student, the idea of working in a lab setting both excited and daunted me. By the end of the seven weeks I spent working, Phoebe not only equipped me with the technique and critical thinking skills necessary in science, but also helped to develop my identity and direction as both a scientist and a person in society.  

Every time I made a mistake, Phoebe would be kind and regarded my mistakes as opportunities to learn. She would sit with me to help me understand the rationale behind protocol, instead of just giving me the protocol to accept and follow. She would explain the biological complexes that we were targeting in experiments instead of giving me a broad, textbook description. Even in the middle of a critical time of experiments, Phoebe made sure that my understanding came before her work. Her example had a profound effect on me.

Phoebe’s curiosity in science inspired me to begin questioning scientists as well, instead of only paying attention to my research. The science I learned from Phoebe is outstanding in itself. But her desire for her students to understand both the science and the ethics in science demonstrates Phoebe’s skill as a mentor.

Additionally, Phoebe works to create a genuine bond with her students. When I entered the lab, I feared that the summer would be work without social interaction. But on the first day of my arrival, Phoebe helped me acclimate to the experimental and social aspects of the lab. Indeed we spoke about research, experiments and projects. But we also spoke about interests, family, and yoga instructors. Phoebe set up a relaxed environment where I was constantly learning but was also laughing and discovering parts of my identity I had not known existed.

However her mentoring went far beyond the lab. During lunchtimes we would speak about climate change and conservation, and the moral obligations we as humans had to protect the planet. The conversation went beyond science, to humans’ role on the planet and responsibility. We spoke of religious differences and familial views. The entire experience was so eye-opening because I realized the importance of having a tolerant and thoughtful mentor. Phoebe inspired, and continues to inspire me to express what I believe in. Whether it is something that I am studying or my view on a global issue that I feel passionate about, Phoebe has taught me to explore my thoughts rather than accept facts on face value or put them away because others’ arguments seem stronger.

The summer I spent learning from Phoebe has greatly affected me. My studies as a high school student are now dependent on critical thinking and questioning, instead of regurgitating and memorizing. My life as a teenager is one of deep thought about the world around me and my purpose in it instead of stress and anxiety. I am endlessly grateful to have met and have learned from Phoebe. I hope that more people will have the same opportunity.