Profiles in mentoring with Ken Kemner
Excellent mentors contribute not only to the development of those they mentor, but also to the success of the entire laboratory. This is why Argonne is committed to fostering a mentoring culture and recognizing employees who have made an exceptional impact as mentors.
Eight employees were honored in 2016 by the Argonne Leadership Institute for their outstanding work as mentors or supervisors. Their dedication to assisting coworkers and postdocs is a great example for those considering the role of mentor. Moreover, the Postdoctoral Mentoring Program is structured to provide each postdoc with a third-party mentor in addition to the research supervisor. Both can have a significant impact on career growth.
How do these outstanding mentors and supervisors view their roles? We asked each of this year’s honorees for some insight into their approach to good mentoring.
Ken Kemner received the 2016 Outstanding Staff Mentor Award. This award recognizes exceptional mentors for their ability to promote and create work environments that encourage and boost curiosity, to continuously fuel individual passions toward scientific ideas and to hold high standards for performance.
Kemner is a senior physicist and group leader in the Biosciences Division, where he leads the Molecular Environmental Science Group, an integrated multidisciplinary research group that makes use of synchrotron radiation and lab-based environmental chemistry and biology approaches for biogeochemical research to understand the complex processes that affect the cycling of key nutrients and the movement of contaminants in the subsurface environment.
The staff member who nominated Kemner describes Ken as a “tireless advocate” who always kept a focus on the future and the nominator’s development as a scientist. The nominator notes, “I met and talked with more scientists in my first year with Ken than I did in six years of graduate school, transforming names I had once known only from journal articles into friends and colleagues.”
Why is mentoring particularly important in your field?
Biogeochemistry and environmental science are inherently multidisciplinary fields that include biology, geology, chemistry, physics and modeling (just to name a few). Each of these disciplines bring a different perspective to how research is performed and expectations as to how researchers interact. It is not reasonable to assume that all early career scientists will have the experience and background in all of these research fields. Therefore, a mentor who has the experience of collaboratively working with researchers from these many different fields can be a very valuable asset to the early career scientist.
Did you have a mentor who made a positive impact on your career?
I did not have just one mentor that has made a positive impact on my career. I have had at least three over the past 25 years. Each of them have continued to provide their counsel and perspectives to me to this day.
What is the benefit of having a mentor?
Early in my career I benefited from mentors who provided guidance and suggestions about how to develop my research program. Later in my career, my relationship with those same mentors has evolved from a student-teacher type of relationship to a “fellow colleague” type of relationship in which the mentor provides their perspective and opinions which helps increase the chances that I have numerous perspectives about something before making a decision.
What is the benefit of being a mentor?
As a mentor, I benefit from the mentee by learning more about their perspectives on numerous topics. In addition, as a mentor, discussions with mentees ensures that I am continually reevaluating my perspectives on the many topics of discussion that I have with the mentee.
What prompted you to become a mentor?
I wanted to give back to the “system” all that had been given to me. With that said, I don’t think I sought the opportunity to be a mentor. Rather, the opportunities presented themselves to me and I accepted them.
What are the most common issues mentees want to discuss with you?
Although I collaborate with many of the people I mentor and we often discuss science, a common interest of most mentees is issues related to career development, particularly those related to securing a research/faculty position beyond a postdoctoral appointment.
How does mentoring benefit the Argonne community as a whole?
Usually, those who are mentors value the “service to others” aspect of mentoring. Thus, through their mentoring and by their example, mentors are setting tone of “service to others” at the laboratory which I think is a good thing to do.