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TSPR Commentaries

Building Connections

Andrea Porras-Alfaro

As a scientist, I study complex networks built by microorganisms. These connections are essential for the stability and functioning of our planet. I am continuously surprised by how we overlook the many lessons we can learn from nature to improve our own communities.

As in nature, the stability of our society depends on our capacity to build a solid network that can support each other and most importantly our future generations.

I have always been enchanted by the strong mentoring system available within the scientific community that guides the training of the next generation of scientists. I believe there are many valuable lessons from scientific mentoring that can be applied to our daily lives and can be used as a force to improve our surroundings in a time when divisions tend to dominate daily news.

Through my career, I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by kind and talented mentors who took time to provide me with valuable insights about my work, my personal life, and my career paths.

Take a minute to think about the valuable people in your life that have impacted your daily activities at home, school, and work. Mentors come in many different forms and we all need their support to help us discover our own talents and most importantly, to help us navigate and cultivate talents that haven't flourished yet.

In nature diverse ecosystems are stable and function better than those dominated by only a few species. Many organisms are very specialized in some tasks while others seem to adapt very well and perform different functions. Our current society seems obsessed with the things we don’t have instead of appreciating individual talents that make us better as a whole. By paying attention to the many different talents, thoughts, and skills of our family, co-workers, and friends, we can open new paths to discover our own talents.

As I collaborate with my students, I enjoy seeing them plan and develop strategies for success. We constantly focus on their skills but also on the need to build solid relationships as they network their way into successful careers. Focusing on building skills by taking small steps is an important strategy to reach personal and professional goals. In science, we approach big problems by asking simple questions and conducting experiments in small steps to reach a bigger goal or solve a major problem.

As you go through your day, think about the small steps you need to reach your goals. It doesn’t matter how big or small your goals are. Surround yourself with talented and kind people who can help you grow into a creative individual, and find satisfaction and motivation by working on something bigger than yourself.

By focusing on your own gifts and those around you, you can continue the chain of mentoring and discover new paths to be a lifelong learner, ready to open new doors for others to succeed.

Andrea Porras-Alfaro is an Associate Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Western Illinois University.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the university or Tri States Public Radio.  Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.