“Trust is the foundation of a successful mentorship” – Dr. Torok-Storb
Dr. Torok-Storb distinctly remembers her first-grade teacher, who would keep her after school to get help placing vocabulary cards in alphabetical order. The teacher certainly did not need any help but she was doing this for Dr. Torok-Storb’s benefit. Reflecting upon this distant memory, Dr. Torok-Storb emphasizes the importance of having caring people in one’s life- people who are important in your life during a formative period of time.
Dr. Torok-Storb is a distinguished stem cell biologist and a member of the Clinical Research Division at the Fred Hutch. Over the last 40 years, she has watched the Hutch grow, flourish and soar to unprecedented heights. She is thrilled to witness the Hutch leading in the recognition of mentoring as a fundamental component of professional development. Dr. Torok-Storb is a strong supporter of Hutch United as well as Hutch United Mentoring Network (HUMN) – a mentoring program established by Hutch United to foster and facilitate mentoring relationships at the Fred Hutch.
“I am very excited about Hutch United. I think it’s a wonderful organization and it is only going to get bigger and better. The Hutch United mission, as I understand it, is to provide a sense of welcome, a sense of belonging to diverse groups to help facilitate their integration here at the Hutch and fair and equal treatment for everybody. And I think it is really progressing nicely to achieve those goals. The spirit of the organization is very positive.” -Dr. Torok-Storb.
Dr. Torok-Storb has been working continuously and relentlessly toward establishing a culture that excels in mentoring. She hopes that she has passed on to her mentees the vision she inherited from her mentors. Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, one of her most influential mentors, imposed extraordinary standards on people. She strives to impose high standards on her mentees as Dr. Thomas did but also says “it will never be the same because very few people start from nothing and build a cancer center, like Don did it.” Her message to other faculty at the Hutch and across the country is – “give it a try, mentoring will enrich one’s life.”
Dr. Torok-Storb also has a great deal of admiration for several of her female mentors who possessed impeccable skills for handling family at home while excelling at their work. “They did it beautifully,” says Dr. Torok-Storb.
Dr. Torok-Storb’s mentoring approach involves extremely well thought out strategies such as 1) devising a personalized mentorship program for each of her mentees, 2) establishing a sense of trust and care, and 3) providing guidance and most importantly the encouragement that will let somebody who has the ability and the commitment to succeed. She insists on the importance of having mentors beyond a scientific mentor. Besides a scientific mentor, trainees, particularly from minority cultures, may need a mentor for more social concerns. For example, if they are not getting along with people in the work environment, it is useful to know what resources and options are available to them.
Daniel Ramirez, a former Hutch United mentee, remembers his mentoring relationship with Dr. Torok-Storb as highly productive and a satisfactory experience. “I feel lucky to have been introduced to Beverly at one of the Hutch United mentoring mixers. Hutch united members; most notably Lucie Etienne and Oliver Fregoso, not only helped me establish a mentoring relationship with Beverly but also played a key role in making it a success. Beverly helped me navigate through many adversities that inevitably arise being so new in this scientific undertaking and also being a foreigner in this country. I tried to be involved with HU as much as I could, giving back what had been given to me. I gained invaluable experience in helping HU grow” says Daniel.
“Talking to mentees is the best way to understand their needs. You can only help your mentees if you understand their problems and identify the barriers they face. You would like to see mentors effectively remove those barriers, or based on their own experience show the mentees how to circumvent those barriers. A mentor does not have to agree with their mentee or act on what they tell you. The mentor will provide an opportunity to talk, get it out, and go from there. But the mentor has to be trustworthy and maintain confidence” says Dr. Torok-Storb.
The most important value that she instills in her scientific trainees is that the best way to do science is to work towards testing and not proving things, be absolutely honest, not overly interpret things, and progress carefully through science. “By not doing so you not only compromise your career development but you also compromise science” says Dr. Torok-Storb.
In her quest to enable underprivileged but overachieving students to achieve their goals, Dr. Torok-Storb initiated an internship program that has become a huge success since its establishment in 2010. The program brings in a well-balanced, diverse group of high-school students who bond together regardless of their different backgrounds because they share the same passion of loving and pursuing science. They are provided with the opportunity to spend seven weeks in the research labs here at the Hutch. The program emphasizes that disparities among area schools in the quality of science education can make some students believe they are not smart enough to belong in science.
“We make them believe that it may take them some time but they can catch up and surpass. They may have to start at a community college or in a job but eventually they will get there. They will be a more interesting person from making the journey and there is value in that. At the end of seven weeks, they just blow you away. They become so competent and confident.” -Dr. Torok-Storb.
Dr. Jitendra Thakur is a postdoctoral fellow at the Fred Hutch.