With more than a decade of experience mentoring students at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Laetitia Delmau never has a dull moment while at work.
“For more than ten years, I’ve had students from both the U.S. and France come to conduct research with me,” she explained. “I once had a student who tried to enter Y-12 thinking it was ORNL. One left his driver’s license in France and thought he could practice here on the road before getting his Tennessee license. [I] have even made a couple of trips to the emergency room for support and to translate for my students.”
Despite what some would call challenges or difficulties, Delmau continues to mentor students each year. She is a mentor for both the Advanced Short-Term Research Opportunities (ASTRO) and DOE’s Science Undergraduate Laboratory Internships (SULI) programs, administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, which is managed by ORAU for the U.S. Department of Energy.
Her research as a separation chemist focuses on nuclear waste and legacy waste treatment. The goal, she noted, is to find systems that will efficiently separate from the bulk of the effluent any species of interest that have more stringent constraints associated with their disposal.
As a mentor, Delmau tries to spend as much time as possible running her nuclear waste and legacy waste treatment experiments in the lab, surrounded by her students, who are also conducting their own experiments. They begin each morning discussing the results from the previous day’s research or preparing the action plan for the day, and she ensures the students understand that she is there for support throughout the day.
Delmau sees herself bringing on more students in the future. After all, she would not be doing it year after year if she didn’t think it was worth it and a “mutually rewarding experience.”
“The experience is great, and the students are eager to learn,” she said. “If you are in that same frame of mind and believe that the students are here to grow, then you should absolutely look into becoming a mentor. Just be sure that you have enough time to train, spend time with and help the student, otherwise it becomes a frustrating experience for both of you and definitely becomes unfair to the student.”
At the end of the day, she revels in the moment when her students finally “get” it. Whether understanding a theoretical concept or the meaning of an equation, the moment she feels the student has really gained something makes it all worthwhile in the end.