Dr. Nancy Wayne

Scientist, Educator & Speaker

Mentoring, Part 2: What Is Your Proudest Mentoring Moment?

In Part 1 of this series, I asked Professors Jill Schneider, Julie Miwa, and Jennifer Swann of the Department of Biological Sciences at Lehigh University about their proudest mentoring moments. All three noted that it was when their students transitioned to independence and “made this jump in maturity and ownership of the projects.”

I wondered how other faculty (tenured and tenure-track) from multiple disciplines felt. What were some of the most common proud mentoring moments across disciplines, genders, and years spent mentoring? I surveyed my colleagues at UCLA, and asked the following questions:

1. What field of research are you in?

  • Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Other

2. What is your gender?

  • Female
  • Male
  • Non-binary
  • Other

3. How long have you been mentoring students?

  • 0-5 years
  • 5-10 years
  • 10-15 years
  • 15-20 years
  • over 20 years

4. What has been your proudest mentoring moment with students (choose one)?

  • My student designed and executed a high quality research project with minimal input from me.
  • My student did a great job giving a talk about his/her work and fielding questions from the audience (including dissertation defense).
  • My student independently wrote a great first draft of a manuscript or book that was accepted for publication.
  • My student was awarded a grant, a prize, a job, or some other prestigious recognition based on his/her research.
  • None of these proud mentoring moments have happened, yet.

5. Comments about your proudest mentoring moment(s):

Box

This was a small sample size with 88 respondents (17.5% response rate), so the data should be viewed as preliminary.

The respondents were gender balanced with 49% female faculty and 51% male faculty.

Mentoring_Field of Study

Proportionately more faculty from the STEM fields responded to the survey than from Arts & Humanities and the Social Sciences (25.6%, 13.9% and 13.6% response rate, respectively; ‘raw’ numbers of faculty shown in figure to the left).

 

 

 

Mentoring_YearsBy far, most faculty from all disciplines fell into the “over 20 years” of mentoring time-period (46%) than any other (13% or less). This was the only question in which there was a gender difference, with significantly more male faculty at the “over 20 years” mark than female faculty. This likely reflects recent efforts UCLA has been making to diversify its faculty, with many departments hiring more women than in the past.

  1. My student designed and executed a high quality research project with minimal input from me.
  2. My student did a great job giving a talk about his/her work and fielding questions from the audience (including dissertation defense).
  3. My student independently wrote a great first draft of a manuscript or book that was accepted for publication.
  4. My student was awarded a grant, a prize, a job, or some other prestigious recognition based on his/her research.
  5. None of these proud mentoring moments have happened, yet.

Mentoring_Proudest Moment

The most popular proud mentoring moment for both male and female faculty was “My student was awarded a grant, a prize, a job, or some other prestigious recognition based on his/her research,” followed by “My student designed and executed a high quality research project with minimal input from me.” But, from the open-ended comments it was clear that some faculty had a hard time choosing just one. [Numbers on x-axis of figure to the left correspond to survey answers shown above the figure.]

Out of the 54 comments submitted my 12 favorite are shown below:

  1. The student talk was so good that I almost cried in joy (to myself) for a moment realizing how far he/she had come. It was beautiful.
  2. The day my student was able to interpret his experiment without me and was so happy with the findings (he got bitten by the science bug).
  3. I have had students who have delivered waaaay beyond anything I expected. One of my students, now a professor at a top University, used to surprise me EVERY week with work that was well beyond expectation. So I got to a point where I would be disappointed if he did not top his previous achievements each week!
  4. All my doctoral students so far have gotten tenure-track jobs, except for one who became a priest, which is even classier.
  5. All of the above, but my proudest mentoring moments have been when I see my students who had great language difficulty or lacked confidence at the beginning of their studies, overcome all these barriers and write excellent thesis, dissertations, and land good jobs.
  6. It really depends on the student what my proudest moment has been; for the student who struggles with oral presentation, pride comes when they give the great job talk and field questions with aplomb. But in general the quality of the writing (which in Humanities and sophisticated social sciences) also reveals the quality of mind, as well as the ability to be creative and take risks. It takes a LOT of mentoring, but seeing that wonderful dissertation emerge is well worth the investment.
  7. I would be even prouder if a student went against my advice and did something original and important that I never thought about.
  8. Placing students in tenure-track jobs these days is like getting the proverbial camel through the eye of the needle. I am most proud of the fact that I have added to the diversity of our field [in Arts and Humanities] by mentoring non-traditional students who now are on their way to becoming senior members of the professoriate.
  9. My current student become so facile and so expert that he outgrew my scholastic mentoring and began to innovate on his own at the level of the best in the field.
  10. Your students are getting awards or recognitions that you never received: they became better than you. Priceless!
  11. To be honest, some of my proudest moments have come **after** they have graduated and I have been able to see them achieve professional success (including times when colleagues mention that they met an outstanding junior person in our field and identified one of my former students and they clearly did not know the person they identified was a former student of mine. Very nice validation that happens sometimes).
  12. But more important than any of these options, by far, is feeling that I have helped students make their way into happy, whole, and socially useful lives.

Mentoring is one of the most important jobs that faculty perform – it is an integral part of research and education. About 30 years ago, my mentor at the University of Michigan, Dr. Fred Karsch, told me that he knew he had done his job well when his graduate students and postdoctoral fellows surpassed him in expertise – both theoretical and technical. There was no jealousy, just immense pride in his scientific “offspring”.

Note: The study and all methods were carried out in accordance with and approved by the institutional review board of UCLA (protocol #17-001811; approval period from December 5, 2017 through December 4, 2018).

 

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This entry was posted on December 15, 2017 by .
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