Giving back through mentoring: Spotlight on CSUN mentor Dr. Mariano Loza-Coll

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By Kirsten Cintigo

Mariano Loza-Coll, Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology, has always had a passion for giving back. He demonstrates this not only through his research with drosophila melanogaster but also through his mentorship role in the undergraduate biomedical research training program, BUILD PODER, an NIH-funded initiative. 

“When I was studying cancer the connections seemed so obvious but in very basic research, you’re so far away from a cure you sometimes lose sight,” he said. “I find myself now in a position where although I’m not studying anything that has an obvious connection to create cures, at the same time I realize that by training the next generation of scientists I’m giving back way more to society than I was before.”

In relation to his mentoring tactics, Loza-Coll says he helps to train and guide his mentees using the lessons he learned from his own mentors throughout his academic career.

“All of my mentors contributed to who I am,” he said. “So I sometimes find myself doing things similar to what my mentors did for me.”

Like so many others, Loza-Coll has struggled with the adjustment to mentoring remotely throughout the ongoing pandemic.

“It hasn’t been the same,” Loza-Coll said. “However, I hope that I’ve been able to support them in ways that go beyond just academic mentoring.”

Loza-Coll tries to help his mentees by regularly reminding them that he’s there for them and is willing to help.

“I try my best to let them know that I wasn’t going to ever have any unreasonable expectations,” he said. “I’ve had students who have completely fallen off and under normal circumstances, we probably would’ve had a conversation about discontinuing their connection to the lab. But even with those students, I’ve said ‘I understand everything that is going on,’ so I’ve had to remind everyone that we all have to be patient.”

He also acknowledges his downfalls within his mentoring over the past year, such as not conveying a better sense of optimism to his students and their careers post-pandemic.

“I have some of my mentees ask what the professional future is going to look like for people with their degrees and I don’t know,” Loza-Coll said. “There’s very little that we do know and some of it doesn’t look so great for recent graduates, but I just wish I had answers.”

Nonetheless, Loza-Coll feels that at this time, his mentees have reinforced the notion of how strong they are despite the obstacles. This in turn has given him the encouragement to be able to figure out new methods of analyzing data and developing new ways to get his team better situated virtually.

“The easy way out would’ve been to say, ‘Let’s just wait until this is all over;’ instead, we kept trying,” Loza-Coll said proudly. “And I think that was a consequence of this mutual encouragement.”

Loza-Coll also aims to spread the message to other mentors in the same position about the importance of patience when it comes to reviewing their actions during the pandemic. 

“Yes, this is not what we expected and it’s not always going to be like this,” he said. “This is nothing like normal but we all know it. We’re all trying to pass this moment the best we can but I don’t think academia, our families, our friends are really going to judge us for what happened this last year. This is all going to pass and we’ll get out of it.”

The Diversity Program Consortium Coordination and Evaluation Center at UCLA is supported by Office of the Director of the National Institutes of Health / National Institutes of General Medical Sciences under award number U54GM119024.
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