I had mixed feelings about my undergraduate placement year in a scientific research lab. I was the lone team member of my supervisor who had, incidentally, started at the company on the same day as me. I was only doing the placement year to get some work experience on my CV and, already sure that I didn’t want to pursue a career in research, I felt highly unqualified to be someone’s sole lab research assistant.
My supervisor was office based but he briefly popped in to the lab once a day. While I was content passing my time in the company of the lab technicians, his visits to the lab were always the highlight of my day. He never came in to ask about my progress – which was certainly appreciated – only to share a new experiment he’d been looking into. I would tell him about my day, my life, my thoughts while he tried to demonstrate the new techniques to me. He never stopped in his work to look and listen to me but I knew from his departing remarks that he had heard everything I’d said. I would ponder his words – and his usual gentle encouragement – for the rest of the day.
My supervisor and I became wonderful friends over the course of that year and I feel reassured knowing I can still reach out to him. It is my hope for others to have this life comfort too. I have donated £10 to ReachOut to help this to happen. ReachOut is a UK based mentoring charity working with young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to support them through the complexities of life by providing a role model and team activities.
I know my supervisor is too modest to accept that his thoughtful remarks that year gave me lifelong perspective, not only on my career, but in several other aspects of my life. I am fortunate to have met him – even if he drew the short straw with me and my lab skills – and I am hopeful for other young people to find their support network to gently support them through life challenges too.