Mentorship



I’ve been thinking about mentorship, and why it’s so important to me. I’ve had great mentors in my life: my father; teachers like Linda Batty; the coding wizard who taught me C as a teenager; my undergraduate and graduate advisors; several of my bosses. I am a better person and a better professional than I would have been had I never met these people. They also inspired me to be a mentor to others in my turn.

This morning I was thinking about one of my mentors, David Evans, who passed away several years ago. David was a postdoc in Cambridge while I was studying there. He seemed an unlikely mentor at first. David’s personality was very different from mine. I was intense, idealistic, future-focused, and driven by a sense of urgency. David was more relaxed and focused on the present. He’d taken a while to finish his graduate degree, and was just starting on his academic career when we were introduced.

David gave me some great advice, which I’ve often shared in the years since. “It’s just a PhD. It’s one milestone in your career. You’ll go on to do other things.” “You should always be prepared to talk about your work.” “Play the game well enough to get what you want out of it.”

I think that much of David’s attitude stemmed from the adversity he’d dealt with in his life, from an early age. It never really let up. Toward the end of my years in Cambridge David was in the hospital for an extended period. I would take the bus to visit him at Addenbrooke’s. I was amazed that he could have such a positive outlook under the circumstances.

Eventually David recovered well enough to get on with his life. He took a job as a lecturer at University of Derby. It had been his dream to live and work in England. He seemed happy. David and I kept in touch, chatting often over IRC. He was a steady presence in my life during a time of transitions.