By: Divya Patel
How did you decide upon a career in research?
I wish I could say I was more strategic about it, but in reality a career in research chose me – I just continued doing what I was interested in. In fact, my original plan was to be a clinician. Along the way towards this goal I got distracted by the research I was doing, and here I am!
Was there a specific point in your education or professional career where you decided to pursue research?
It was a more gradual process for me. When I was in graduate school, I still thought I was going to be a clinician, despite being really interested in the research I was doing. Even during my postdoc, which was entirely research focused, I still believed that research was a temporary diversion from clinical work. In the past five years at Columbia I have slowly come to realize that I am actually a clinical researcher primarily rather than a clinician. I sometimes reflect on how lucky it was that I kept my options open by doing a degree that included both research and clinical training as I really didn’t know what would ultimately be the most satisfying direction for me when I started my graduate studies.
Tell us about your first experience of being mentored? What is one of the most important qualities in the mentors that you’ve had?
I have had some really excellent mentors. My sense is that good mentor-ship depends on not just the qualities of the mentor, but on the fit of the mentor and the mentee at that particular point in the mentee’s development. A particular style of mentorship that works for one person will not necessarily work for another. Obviously there are some bare necessities in terms of a good mentor: someone who is willing to be available (within reason), who you like, who’s work you admire, who is friendly and not unkind, and who is interested in your development. Beyond that, it really depends on what you need. For me, now, I really benefit from someone who challenges me to be practical in my thinking about research and to justify my ideas in a logical and concrete fashion. So the most important thing I think is to know your own strengths and weaknesses well enough to know what you need in a mentor, and then to seek that out.
Which professional conference do you try never to miss?
I always try to go to the annual meeting of the American College of Neuro-psycho-pharmacology. There is always amazing science being presented there, and I often come back to the lab feeling really inspired.
If you hadn’t become a psychiatrist/psychologist, what might have you done instead?
Not sure. At one stage during undergraduate studies I considered the idea of continuing on with cultural anthropology – so maybe I would have been an anthropologist. However, I’m quite glad I didn’t go that way.