Research In Action

Research In Action

peer mentor
Defining a Career Path Through Peer Mentoring
July 27, 2021
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My being a student – grade school through undergraduate – made up a 17-year-long, well-defined path upon which I frolicked. Fortunately, school was a given and deviating from that path was never in question. Then, in May of 2018, I graduated from college without realizing that I needed to mentally prepare for what would come next. My life felt like the cover illustration from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends minus the kids and dog. I continued toward the end of the well-defined path with melancholy.

I had a hard time after graduating from college.

“What am I supposed to do with my LIFE?” was a question that caused me anxiety. There was no more spelled-out path to travel, and I was falling. Despite having just received a BS in Biology with a minor in Mathematics, I did not believe I was qualified to begin graduate school for Biomedical Engineering (BME) that upcoming fall. These “on-paper” credentials seemed much less important than the innumerable hours I had spent growing up watching MythBusters and How It’s Made, helping my dad around the house, and engaging in creative projects.

Still falling. I started my graduate BME studies in the fall of 2018 and, after one semester in that program, moved home to continue my graduate career elsewhere. GRE studying and application preparing ensued, and I picked classes back up at Drexel University's School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems in April of 2019.

Next, I was hoping to supplement my graduate studies at Drexel with meaningful work in my field. Although not part of the Injury Science Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, I was fortunate enough to have shadowed Thomas Seacrist, MBE, CIRP Director of Training and Biomechanics Project Manager, in 2017 and had kept in touch with him since then. After reaching out, CIRP delivered: I was hired by Tom as a Student Laboratory Assistant in May of 2019 (“the squeaky wheel gets the oil,” as my mom would say). I was no longer falling but gliding comfortably.

Learning Continues As A Peer Mentor

Following my CIRP onboarding, I quickly became a peer mentor for that summer’s REU class. I had a unique graduate school experience and was older than the REU students, so I had some nuggets of mentorship to offer. Also, I had never had a formal internship and, given my having fallen off of a cliff a year prior, wanted to learn everything about a career in STEM and life!

That summer, I attended nearly all REU seminars and events, the same seminars and events that my REU mentees participated in. This was invaluable for me. I was not only a mentor, but also a peer.

More than two years later, I have supported two teams within CIRP on multiple projects and am a peer mentor for the third time. I currently am the leader of the REU Peer Mentor Program and the head of the program’s Journal Club, which I could not be without the help of Peer Mentors Divya Jain, MS; Madeline Griffith, MS; Sarah O’Brien, BS; and Colin Huber, MS.

From my first day back at CIRP as an employee to now, I have learned a lot. CIRP is teeming with highly-qualified and good people who, if you LISTEN, have something to teach. I recently graduated with my MS in Biomedical Engineering from Drexel and am on the market for full-time employment. Everyone at CIRP who I have met with, spoken to, and asked advice of have prepared me for a steady, gonna-take-a-while ascent, which is a bit different than a comfortable glide. While I do not know if or when my newly-formed, midair sidewalk might get pulled out from under my feet, CIRP has taught me to ditch my shoes since they might weigh me down and fashion my jacket into a sail to propel me forward.

Ultimately, encouraging at least one REU student to, say, be comfortable with ditching his or her shoes, while positively contributing to all students’ summer internship experience in injury science research, is what motivates me to be a peer mentor.