California State University, Long Beach
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One Committed Mentor

Published: January 23, 2017

For CSULB Health Sciences’ assistant professor Niloofar Bavarian, mentoring appears to be in her blood.

“My very first mentor was my father,” she said. “He’s the original Dr. B.” Behzad Bavarian is a long-time engineering professor at California State University, Northridge.

“Growing up, I was always inside my father’s lab, watching mentorship in action,” she said. “He served so many roles to his mentees—their guide, their coach, their toughest critic, but also their biggest supporter. Observing his ability to help others and experiencing his research mentorship myself after he allowed me to volunteer in his lab one summer, drove me to develop the skills needed to serve as a guide for others and help them grow.”

Bavarian began mentoring as an undergraduate student at UC Santa Barbara.

“By the time I was a senior in college, I felt like I had accumulated some life experiences I could use to assist others,” she said, noting her involvement in a mentoring program for high school students who are preparing to become the first in their families to enter college. “During the time that I was serving the students through this program, I also became familiar with public health, a field that is characterized by serving others.”

Although the original Dr. B may be Bavarian’s favorite mentor, he is by no means her only influential one.

“Once I decided to pursue public health, it was essential for me to have mentors in my field,” she said. “Through my graduate studies (an M.P.H. and Ph.D. in Public Health) at Oregon State University, and my postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley, I’ve gained remarkable mentors. They have been so essential in shaping my career trajectory and they continue to serve as my guides to this day.”

Bavarian’s commitment to mentoring the new generation of public health professionals was evident from her first day at CSULB when she interviewed for her current position.

“One of the questions I asked related to the opportunity to serve as a mentor, and particularly a research mentor, to students. Having been so greatly influenced by my mentors, I wanted to make sure I could pay that service forward,” said Bavarian, who has been a research mentor to both graduate and undergraduate students.

She also learned early on that, like many things, mentoring is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.

“It’s like being a coach,” she noted, “which is exactly what mentors are. Just as a coach needs to determine the most effective way to communicate with a particular athlete, a research mentor needs to understand their student and determine the communication method that will be most appropriate.”

Bavarian’s advice to students is to be open to constructive criticism and use it as an opportunity to grow.

”As a mentor, you have to be honest with your mentee with respect to areas for improvement. Coddling is the last thing you want to do because how are they going to learn from their mistakes?” she said. “There’s always room to be better, for all of us. It’s finding the right way to communicate with a mentee. The most important thing is that a student is receptive to, understands the reasons for, and can successfully incorporate feedback.”

Niloofar Bavarian (r) and her father Behzad
PHOTO BY ADRIAN WHITE
CSULB’s Niloofar Bavarian (r) with her father Behzad, her first mentor.

And her mentees’ accomplishments are, in a way, her own achievements. Their ability to successfully defend their research theses, disseminate their research at local and national conferences or submit their manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed journals makes her feel like a proud parent.

“There’s a unique joy provided when a student you’re mentoring successfully completes a research effort,” she said. “For example, one of my undergraduate mentees recently received an award for a poster presented at the Southern California Public Health Association. The poster she presented was based on a research endeavor she created and led. As her guide, I was ecstatic to see her hard work acknowledged. I think I was more excited than she was.”

And, it’s not a thankless job. Bavarian realizes students are extremely busy balancing school, extracurricular activities, working, volunteering and numerous family and social commitments. Likewise, they understand she has a lot on her plate.

“They know how precious time is,” she said, “and I think that is why they are extremely appreciative of the time mentors invest in guiding their mentees. ‘Thank you for taking the time to work with me,’ is the response I get a lot.”

The best advice she ever got was from her father, of course, and is something she continues to pass onto to her own mentees.

“My dad would always say, ‘Don’t be discouraged,’” she said. “There’s always going to be more setbacks then there are triumphs, but it’s important to be resilient and learn from your setbacks.”

And, with her lifelong commitment to mentoring, Bavarian certainly will have a few more students to guide through setbacks and triumphs.

January is National Mentoring Month