Sanofi BioGENEius Challenge Canada (SBCC), Celebrating 20 years

Role of the Mentor

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Introduction
The objective of SBCC is to promote and encourage interest in the biological sciences among high school (and CEGEP in Québec) students in Canada. The term biotechnology is used to emphasize the application of research ideas in various disciplines of biological sciences. To participate, students are asked to generate research ideas in biotechnology and submit a written research proposal that is evaluated by a committee of research scientists from the academic, industrial and government sectors.

The Proposal Evaluation Committee approves the proposals based on the feasibility and merit of the students’ research ideas. The Committee must also keep in mind that the proposals come from students at the high school level.

Some students have already made arrangements to work with a particular mentor in the course of developing their research proposal. In most cases, however, it is the Proposal Evaluation Committee that identifies scientists and researchers whose expertise and facilities would be most helpful to a particular student team. The potential mentors are contacted by the chair or coordinator of the Evaluation Committee to see if they are interested in working with high school students. If the mentor agrees, his or her name and telephone number are given to the students with the instruction that they are responsible for contacting the mentor and persuading him or her to assist them.

At the final competition in the spring, the student teams will present their work and results to a panel of judges comprised of scientists, managers, presidents of companies, government representatives, and education representatives. The panel represents people from all walks of life and the challenge is for the student teams is to explain their science to the general public, and to present their experimental work in a convincing manner.

The level of competition is very high because the students are competing for cash prizes ranging from $500 to $2,500, as well as other awards such as university entrance scholarships, and/or summer jobs.

By participating in SBCC, students will have gained experience in conceiving research ideas and describing them in writing, in carrying out experimental work, in learning data collection and analysis, in discussing and networking with scientists and professors, and in preparing and presenting scientific findings to an audience. Occasionally, students may gain the opportunity to publish their work, thus giving them a more complete scientific research experience.

Feedback received from students who have participated in past SBCC competitions include “Great experience!”, “Very valuable!”, “More confident now!”, and “Great opportunity to work with real scientists!”. The mentorship opportunity that is provided to each student team with an approved project is really the essence of this educational outreach program.

We believe that if students carry out a research project of their own design, they will better understand the practice of science. They learn how to master laboratory techniques, how to think critically, and how to acquire strategies for problem solving. They would also learn the importance of patience and perseverance in dealing with the unpredictable context of research. In offering mentorship support to a student team, the mentor plays a vital role in the integration of a research experience into the students’ total education.

Mentorship Guidelines*

  1. When the students call, offer an appropriate time at your convenience for an initial meeting with the student team** to discuss their proposal.
  2. Listen to the students’ presentation on their proposal that has been conditionally approved by the Evaluation Committee. (A note to that effect would be forwarded to the mentor’s attention.)
  3. Evaluate the proposed research project, and also the student team in terms of their experience, preparedness, desire and commitment to perform research work under your supervision.
  4. Provide comments, criticism, advice and guidance to the student team on their proposed project.
  5. Provide help to the student team to modify and improve the proposed project, if deemed necessary, as long as the changes fall within the main theme of the proposal as approved.
  6. Assist the student team in planning of their research work so that it can be completed within a defined period of time.
  7. Work with the student team to set up a clear time-line for completion of research work. Set high but realistic goals.
  8. Define and clarify with the student team the data collection, analysis and interpretation process in a research project.
  9. Offer the opportunity to the student team to carry out defined experimental work in your laboratory under the supervision of qualified personnel who have been assigned and authorized by you to take on these responsibilities. (Qualified personnel in your laboratory include graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, technicians and other scientists.)
  10. Define the responsibilities of the person(s) you have assigned to supervise the student team in terms of training of general and specific techniques, lab safety, and routine lab management.
  11. Define the responsibilities of the person(s) you have assigned to supervise the student team in terms of the extent of assistance provided. The student team should carry out the experimental work by themselves, except procedures that they are not qualified to do in a safe and professional manner.
  12. Define your own responsibilities, including lab meeting, advice, regular feedback and evaluation of progress.
  13. Define the student team’s responsibilities, including punctuality, lab cleanliness and safety, the type and amount of research work they have to carry out, and the communications required among the person(s) involved in their project.
  14. Remind the student team to make connections between research work and the literature.
  15. Provide explanation, reasoning and critical analyses on the experimental results, whether positive or negative, as generated by the work of the student team.
  16. Provide guidance, comments, and assistance to the student team to prepare progress report as required, and to prepare and present their work on the proposed project at the final competition.
  17. Sign the students’ lab journal to indicate that it has been maintained in a professional manner.

* Developed with consultation on a published document for mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, “Advisor, Teacher, Role Model, Friend”, by National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1997.
** SBCC teams should be composed of a maximum of 2 students. Only projects done by an individual student will be allowed to advance to the International BioGENEius Challenge should they qualify by placing 1st or 2nd in the National SBCC.