Friday, September 02, 2011

Mentoring and the High Priest Syndrome

UC Davis stem cell researcher Paul Knoepfler recently took up on his blog the topic of mentoring younger scientists. He wrote,
"No one becomes a successful scientist on their own. I’m not going to channel Hillary Clinton and say it takes a village to make a scientist, but how does one avoid having the village idiot or worse as one’s mentor?"
Knoepfler reflected on his mentoring experiences and also queried Irv Weissman of Stanford about his experiences. Weissman responded with a fulsome email that mentioned Ernst Eichwald, who Weissman said was "a pathologist who was tired of academia and moved to run a path lab practice at Montana Deaconess Hospital in Great Falls Montana." Weissman, a descendant of fur traders and junk dealers, said he was "amazingly lucky" to find people like Eichwald.

Weissman's remarks recalled a piece in 2008 in the now sadly defunct "Nature Reports Stem Cells." In it, he obliquely referred to what I like to call the High Priest Syndrome, which is found in science and many other areas of work. One aspect of the syndrome is to create jargon that makes it difficult for outsiders to understand a speciality and thus enhance the reputation of its practitioners. Weissman told Nature:
“I realized that the language of science substitutes Greek and Latin terms for plain English, that it was a way to keep people out of the field. He didn't need to say histocompatibility. He could say "tissue-transplantation compatibility", but I also realized I could understand it. Thanks to the freedom Dr. Eichwald gave me, I began designing my own experiments at 16.”
Here are links to Knoepfler's Weissman item and the earlier mentoring piece. Here is a link to an item about Weissman's comments in 2008.

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