Dr. Wendy D. Graham
UF Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
2003-2004 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
Working with graduate students has been, and continues to be, one of the most rewarding and energizing aspects of my career. Participating in the graduate education process that creates an energetic, enthusiastic, intellectually curious new generation of scientists renews my belief in the continuing progress of knowledge, as well as enthusiasm for my own pursuit of knowledge. Through this process I have the privilege of developing personal and professional relationships with my graduate students that will last a lifetime.
I believe the key ingredients to good graduate student advising are setting high standards and clear expectations; investing time with students both individually and in small groups; giving honest and fair feedback; and providing opportunities to tap into the external community resources necessary for professional success. I believe the successful graduate advisor is multidimensional and able to move easily and appropriately through each of the required roles: teacher, coach, cheerleader, evaluator, comforter, critic, promoter, colleague and friend.
An advisor’s personal behavior and professional ethic can have a profound impact on the graduate learning environment. Thus I set the same high standards for myself as I set for my students. I work to demonstrate balance in my own personal and professional life in order to model that behavior for my students. I seek honest feedback from students, peers, and mentors. I strive to keep the phrases “I don’t know” and “I was wrong” active in my vocabulary, but to make sure that they don’t create permanent stumbling blocks in the pursuit of answers. I find that if I am enthusiastic, committed and engaged in the research and education process, it is more likely that my graduate students will be.
One of the unique privileges of being a graduate student is the opportunity to focus on a well-defined research topic and pursue it to mastery. However this single-minded pursuit can also be one of the most isolating and frustrating aspects of graduate study. Thus I believe one of the important responsibilities of a graduate advisor is to provide a broad perspective and to promote linkages between students and more established researchers. Encouraging graduate students to achieve balance in both their professional and personal lives, and to occasionally raise their eyes to the horizon to look for help or see the big picture, often helps to reduce frustration and renew intellectual energy.
Finally, I believe that it is extremely important for graduate advisors to create an academic environment that encourages trust, integrity, and mutual respect. A “safe place” must be established where professors can admit they do not have all the answers, and students can admit that their ideas may have been wrong, or their experiments have failed. A stimulating and rigorous intellectual atmosphere must be created that appropriately balances individual achievement and collaborative success. Only in this environment can students learn to ask the necessary questions, build the necessary relationships, and take the necessary risks to develop as professionals and truly advance scientific understanding.