Graduate Student and Postdoctoral Scholar Distinguished Mentor Award
The Graduate School established the Distinguished Mentor Award in 2006 to honor and encourage the considerable efforts and accomplishments of faculty who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to the mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. The Distinguished Mentor Award is for faculty from any discipline.
The award recognizes faculty who stand out for effectively guiding graduate students and postdoctoral scholars throughout their professional training in a continuing, multifaceted partnership sustained by mutual respect and concern. In addition, the award recognizes faculty who make a broad impact on mentorship by facilitating communities or building infrastructure for mentorship of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.
Distinguished Mentor Awards 2018
Associate Professor, History
When I agreed to chair the University’s Diversity Committee, I accepted a charge to research and develop a mentoring program for diverse faculty. The ensuing research clarified a number of important insights that have shaped my approach to mentoring of both students and junior faculty.
The first of these relates to the idea that mentoring should come from a network of supporters. Rather than rely on one mentor for all aspects of our work, the recent research on mentoring indicates that students and faculty should put themselves (rather than a single mentor) at the center of their mentoring network. They should then assess the various tasks they need help with and fill out their network with people particularly well suited to support them for each task, rather than seeking a single person to meet all their needs. This reduces the time commitment of being a mentor while providing the mentee with a range of opinions, strategies, options, and in the end more helpful advice. This is particularly important because, as I learned during the process of developing the mentoring program, peer mentoring is actually more effective than hierarchical one-on-one mentoring. Thus, in addition to finding mentors amongst faculty, graduate students should also seek out and cultivate networks of support amongst their peers.
The second is that mentoring also involves providing a range of resources. I ask students and junior faculty what they think they need, and I fight to get those resources from them. Sometimes what they want is my time and attention, but often, in the resource-starved Humanities, that also involves fighting for funding—be that fellowships, grants, or paid work opportunities.
Finally, the data is very clear that white men prefer to mentor people who look like them. This is an enormous problem in the context of diversifying academia, as it has two serious negative consequences. First, it means that white men tend to only mentor other white men. Since white men still hold most of the important positions in Universities, women and people of color have less access to the people who control resources, know the institution best, and can provide good advice about navigating the complex system that is academia. Second, this overtaxes women and people of color, who end up having to mentor everyone else. This of course has an impact on the time they can spend on their own work, which, in turn, keeps them from moving into higher positions in the University from which they can advocate for all students and faculty. This is not to say, of course, that I don’t mentor white straight men. I do it all the time, and with great success. But it does mean that I am very careful to actively offer mentorship to people who do not look like me, particularly as a white queer woman, people of color.
Mentoring people who don’t look like me has also benefited me personally and professionally. I have learned an enormous amount from people of color as peers and as mentees. They bring perspectives and insights about our world that my own experiences as a white woman would not produce, and I am both smarter and more effective because of my ongoing interactions with them.
Professor, School of Computing
From my perspective, the goal of mentoring is not to create a replica of myself. The process is far more nuanced than that. I certainly want to instill the “best practices” of our trade, which in the case of academia consists of things like critical thinking skills, rigor and reproducibility, and the formulation and communication of ideas. In these things I desire “do as I do”. There are, however, a lot of things that are a function of “style” – my particular perspective on doing research. For each of the 30+ students (postdocs, graduate students and undergraduates) whom I have mentored, my goal has been to walk along side them through various research endeavors and demonstrate how I would go about doing things. In the early stages of their studies, this normally consists of directing them in research. As they mature, this adapts into providing them alternative viewpoints on their (self-formed) plan of action. The goal is for them to take on the best practices while developing their own unique style of research and enquiry. Mentoring is a very rewarding experience for me, seeing each one of my students develop their own innate talents, abilities and style.
Professor, Social Psychology & Health Psychology
I have been extremely fortunate to have wonderful mentors in my life as a high school (Mike Chinen), undergraduate (John Balogh), graduate (John Cacioppo), and postdoctoral (Janice Kiecolt-Glaser) student, and as a faculty member at the University of Utah (Tim Smith). As a result, I decided long ago that I could make a bigger and more meaningful impact on the field by fostering the career of others. My mentoring approach is guided by several principles. First, I make mentoring one of my top priorities. This has worked well for me over my 24 years at the University of Utah because mentoring is a reciprocal learning process so all aspects of my scholarship have been enriched by it. Second, I view mentoring as a contextual (dyadic) process so flexibility and awareness of the unique needs of mentees are important. Finally, the importance of fostering a trusted, supportive relationship with mentees cannot be overstated. A good quality relationship serves as a lens by which mentoring interactions are filtered so that if the relationship is a trusted one, the other important pieces of mentoring (e.g., communicating knowledge, integration into the field) fall naturally into place.