In the second installment of this new regular feature of AACAP News, Michelle Horner, a first-year child psychiatry fellow, explores her experiences finding unexpected opportunities for mentorship at our recent Annual Meeting. We welcome your descriptions of how mentorship has mattered in your own career development. Contributions from trainees—medical students, general psychiatry and child psychiatry residents, or research fellows—are especially encouraged.
Susan Milam Miller, M.D.
Andrés Martin, M.D., M.P.H.
Serendipity at Work
…you don't reach Serendip by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings...serendipitously.
-John Barth, The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor
On January 28th, 1754, prolific English author Horace Walpole coined the word “serendipity.” In his letter, he explained its origin in a “…silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip: as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of …” Walpole went on to explain how “accidental sagacity” manifests in this ancient fable, where the princes’ intelligence, cleverness, and reasoning manifested in good fortune that was not originally sought.
I was recently reminded of the concept of serendipity at the Joint AACAP/CACAP Annual Meeting in Toronto. It was my first psychiatry conference, and I expected to spend the week sitting in lectures. However, a timely chance encounter would change the course of the meeting for me, and potentially the rest of my career. There I was, standing in the middle of the massive convention center, browsing books at a booth. A child fellow from my new program stopped to say hello. She mentioned a pilot mentoring meeting she was about to attend. “You can come if you want to.” “A mentoring program?” How could more advice and guidance be a bad thing for this budding child psychiatrist? And so, I followed my peer up the escalators to a room packed with strangers. Several inspiring mentors were introduced, and we were given the task of choosing one to meet with for the next few days. As the collection of mentees and mentors slowly filed into groups, it seemed like an impossible choice. However, I was initially drawn to one mentor’s story, and was fortunate enough to find an opening in her group. I’ve been grappling with my own research aspirations, and this mentor provided insight on how to be dedicated, scientific, yet passionate and personal about our work. Over the next few days, she explained how life had brought her to her current position; how multiple bouts of serendipity created and continue to create this work of art in the field of child psychiatry. She explained how early events, international travel and meetings, and dedication created a passion for her collaborative research topics.
While the root “Serendip” dates back to the ancient Persian fable of the Three Princes, the concept has only recently gained popularity. Today, “Serendipity” reportedly has translations into dozens of languages and cultures. It was “word of the year 2000” in Britain, as well as a recent Hollywood movie title. In light of this increasingly popular experience, are we more aware of the opportunities awaiting our accidental sagacity?
For example, the mentor group invited me to attend a resident town hall meeting, which, in turn, motivated me to take action and join an AACAP committee. Fortunately, the mentor group helped me refocus on a research topic I was once passionate about. The next morning I found a committee meeting on that very topic. I met another great mentor at this meeting, and we plan to collaborate on several projects.
Was attending the conference a chance occurrence? Was running into my peers at the book booth a random event? Was finding the committee pure luck? Perhaps. Nonetheless, I feel it is serendipity: chance observation falling on a receptive eye.
Kudos to AACAP, to Young-Shin Kim, M.D., and to the other volunteer mentors for providing such an opportunity for young minds to discover our passions in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry.
Michelle Schnabel Horner, D.O.
Michelle Schnabel Horner, D.O. is a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh, PA