Mentorship and the MolSSI

September saw the opening of applications for our 6-month Seed Fellowships, an award that serves to set our Fellows on firm software-engineering footing for their research projects. By partnering each Fellow with a Software Scientist, they have a direct contact for questions, concerns, and ideation around software development for their individual research goals. Thus, mentorship is one of our Seed Fellowship’s defining features.

Part of the MolSSI’s mission is to provide the direction, expertise, and help in software design and development, which is sometimes missing from student-led research in the computational molecular sciences. This mentorship is more than just teaching best practices and reviewing the basics of coding. Our Software Scientists work one-on-one with the fellows to advance their research and provide individualized suggestions for their software development.

“Mentorship, that’s the most important thing,” Phase-I Fellow Emiliano Deustua or Michigan State University said. “Trained and professional people giving you advice on how to do things, someone you can rely on for better practices: that is a huge resource. The MolSSI Software Scientists see what I’m doing and can give proper advice and ideas to help push the project forward more so than I could alone. I’m not a computer scientist, so having someone trained formally in that is a big advantage for me.”

Our Fellows benefit from that one-on-one training during our bootcamp and throughout their 6-month fellowship. This is unusual for a fellowship; in most cases, such awards help further a scholar’s independent work, instead of providing both a means to develop their work and a support system for questions or concerns. Given that one goal of the MolSSI is to revolutionize molecular science software through education, mentorship is extremely important to the success of this program. Furthermore, the lessons our Fellows take from their mentors will continue to be applied long after they have completed their projects. They will bring their knowledge to their peers, research labs, advisers, and others they encounter in their future careers.

“Basic computer science design principles—that has been critical,” Jennifer Hays, a Phase-I Fellow from the University of Virginia, said. “Even just interacting for this one week, I have learned so much through these tutorials and boot camps. As they’ve been going through the basic principles I’ve been thinking, ‘oh, that’s what I want to be doing in my code.’”

“Mentorship is a really good aspect of the program. Being here and getting all this training, being in a community, and being able to speak to people who are doing closer to what I’m working on is really useful, and makes for a rich intellectual experience,” said Chaya Stern, Phase-I fellow from the Tri-Institutional PhD Program in Chemical Biology.

It’s the community component of the MolSSI that sets this fellowship apart. Our Fellows become part of an ever-growing community of computational molecular scientists, working cooperatively to push the boundaries of scientific discovery and education. That community is crucial to what we do. Through community, we build networks, and through networks we disseminate education, best practices, and new opportunities. Thus, more and more molecular scientists are equipped and empowered with better software, better coding practices, and better career prospects.

This naturally extends to improving diversity within our field. One of the MolSSI’s missions is to represent the full community of molecular software scientists. By weaving connections through larger and broader networks, the importance of software science within the computational molecular science community reaches more individuals, who otherwise may not have access to those resources. Not only graduate students, researchers, or faculty: this work has the ability to spread even further. Phase-I Fellow Kutay Sezginel (University of Pittsburgh), for example, dreams of using his work to teach high schoolers about computational molecular science. “If I were to be introduced to molecular science at high school it would have changed my path,” he explained.

If we can reach further through education and cooperation, our community’s horizons will expand exponentially with more students, more perspectives, and more ideas. And it all starts with mentorship.