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How My Mentor Changed My Life

Being matched with a mentor made all the difference in my STEM career.

As Director of Education at the New York Academy of Sciences, I have seen the positive impact of mentoring on the lives of young women; research has shown that mentoring is one of the most significant ways to increase female retention in STEM major and careers, and that female mentors can help to combat negative stereotypes and gender disparity. During National Mentoring Month, I am thrilled to share Houda Khaled’s experience in the Academy’s Next Scholars Program and the effect of mentoring on her collegiate and career path in STEM. For more information on the Next Scholar Program, please visit globalSTEMalliance.org.

My name is Houda Khaled and last May, I graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in Biochemistry. I am currently working as a research technician at Johns Hopkins University, focusing on the pathogenesis of repeat-expansion disorders, RNA toxicity, and the role of bidirectional transcription in psychiatric and neurodegenerative disease. One of the most important things I did during my time as an undergraduate at Wellesley was to join the NEXT Scholars Program, a mentorship initiative run by the New York Academy of Sciences. The program pairs young women with female mentors working as STEM professionals. Working with their mentors individually, each student is able to address and tailor the program to their specific needs and interests.

During the NEXT Scholars Program, I was matched with Shiva Razavi, a PhD student in the department of Cell Biology at John Hopkins University (she was recently named a Siebel Scholar!). I am so grateful to have had the chance to get to know her through the NEXT Program. Beyond being an impressive scientist to look up to, she helped me understand that a science career pathway is not linear, by sharing with me her own path to academic research and some of her day-to-day issues. Knowing that a few bad grades wouldn’t ruin my chances made the pursuit of a career in science a lot less daunting. Throughout my time in the NEXT Program, I would contact Shiva with any questions I had, or worries that I had about choosing my courses, how to pick my major, deciding whether or not to go abroad. She helped me every step of the way as I applied for jobs my senior year, including helping me make a resume/CV and writing cover letters, and even now as I navigate my job, apply for funding as a young scientist, and as I start thinking about graduate school — it’s been a fortunate coincidence that because Shiva is a PhD student at Johns Hopkins, we now work only a few minutes’ walk away from each other!

Houda Khaled

In addition to my individual relationship with Shiva, being a part of the NEXT Scholars Program gave me the sense of being part of a much larger network of successful women scientists. STEM careers are rewarding in so many ways. STEM jobs are often intellectually fulfilling, high paying and in high demand, and include the chance to do a lot of hands-on work. And women have a huge potential to make a difference by entering STEM fields. Science affects everyone, and by having a larger voice in the conversation of what sorts of approaches are prioritized, women could possibly cause a shift in the field. For example, a greater presence of women in biology research has likely played a part in a recent push to take into account sex differences in experimental design and analysis, and generally advance gender-based research — all of which could have a huge impact on women’s health.
As I gain more experience and have more to give, I know I’ll give this same sort of support to other young scientists. For now, I want to encourage others to take advantage of the NEXT Scholars opportunity. The New York Academy of Sciences is recruiting now, both for mentees and mentors, for the 2017 NEXT Scholars Program. To learn more about becoming a Mentor, click here and to learn more about becoming a Mentee, click here. January 31st is the deadline to apply. I urge you not to miss out on an opportunity that will change your life. I know — I’m proof!

— Houda Khaled

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