Dr. Greg J. Neimeyer
UF Department of Psychology
2004-2005 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
I recently had the honor of presenting a lifetime achievement award to a noted colleague before a packed auditorium of fellow psychologists from around the country. Following the customary remarks about his career, his accomplishments, and the impact of his work, I asked the members of the audience to acknowledge their appreciation of him by standing if he had mentored them in any significant, sustained, and personal way. This included having had him as a doctoral advisor or student, or otherwise having turned to him regularly for substantial professional support in relation to job placement, advancement or career recognition. To our collective astonishment, nearly half of the members of the audience rose to their feet, a silent but palpable testimony to the impact of his mentoring. As each of these individuals turned to exchange glances amongst themselves, their silent acknowledgments spun a web of solidarity among them, knowing that they had each shared in the special bond that marks exceptional mentoring experiences.
This experience helped me to articulate the value that I place on mentoring, and the multiple levels at which that mentoring occurs. Like an impressionist painting, I noted that key features of my mentoring were lost in the particularity of everyday interactions, but materialized in pattern and form as I stood back and looked at them from some distance. Four features were especially striking to me.
First, the sheer volume of mentoring work was surprising to me. Not until I printed out my GFS form from the Graduate School database did I realize that I have served on more than 100 graduate committees, over 30 of them as a doctoral chair. This translates into having served on an average of five or six committees per year over the course of my time at the University of Florida, and graduating, on average, more than one doctoral student per year for two consecutive decades.
Second, I was struck by how little these numbers meant, really. In fact, the numerical information seemed to be the least significant indicator of my experience as a mentor. Inside these numbers were individual stories to tell about lives that were led. The lifeblood of the mentoring process was better portrayed in those narrative accounts than in the collective numbers. For example, I recalled the year in which I graduated three female doctoral students in one term (Anne, Anita and April), playfully dubbed the “three amigas,” all of whom secured academic positions in respected universities; the year in which I graduated the first congenitally blind student in the history of our department; and the years in which I absorbed a number of “ABD” students (from a retiring faculty member) who came to me anxiously, fearing that they were facing featureless futures (which, as it turns out, they were not).
In the patterns of those various relationships I found recurring themes that signaled core values. For example, I found that my mentoring reflects a strong and enduring commitment to diversity. Having graduated disabled doctoral students, ethnically diverse doctoral students, and international doctoral students, I recognized the implicit value that I place on diversity, and my eagerness to attract, recruit, and embrace that diversity. By opening the doors of opportunity to the broadest possible chorus of voices, I believe we are serving the collective good of our students, our university, and our society.
Second, from my various mentoring relationships emerged a distinct philosophy of mentoring and a clear translation of this philosophy into a characteristic set of actions. My overall orientation to mentoring has to do with identifying, encouraging and advocating on behalf of graduate student excellence through multiple, sustained domains of interaction. This mentoring is marked by four distinct features: invitation, illustration, participation, and appreciation. Invitation involves creating contexts of opportunity in which doctoral students can pursue excellence in relation to one or more domains of interest to them. Illustration involves providing them direct access to watching me work in these contexts, and allowing them to model and modify my behavior in ways that fit their particular in styles. Participation involves developing opportunities for them to collaborate with me on a collegial basis so that we share both in the process and the outcomes related to our mutual investments. And appreciation involves my active recruitment of resources to support their continuing development and to secure forms of professional recognition to reward their accomplishments.
These four facets of mentoring occur across a wide variety of domains for me. As a teacher, I recruit doctoral students to serve as teaching assistants, then seek appointments for them as course instructors, encouraging them to model and modify my instructional style according to their interests. As a researcher I actively involve doctoral students in the processes of scholarship, as reflected in more than 60 scientific or scholarly papers that I have co-authored with doctoral students. In addition, as a Director of Training in Counseling Psychology, and co-principal investigator of an ongoing training grant, I understand the crucial role of providing graduate students with financial support in the pursuit of their professional development. As a clinical supervisor, I actively encourage supervisees to conduct psychotherapy with me on a conjoint basis, as a way of deepening and broadening the development of their professional skills. As a journal editor, I have formed a graduate student board of reviewers to assist me with manuscript dispositions, sharing in the processes of manuscript review, critique and decision-making. As a graduate coordinator, I have worked hard to mentor and advocate on behalf of graduate students in our department, creating, for example, a Graduate Student Advisory Board to provide a voice for students and to enable them to participate in departmental citizenship and learn about the value of serving the department and the profession. In these and many other ways, my goal is to recruit the active participation of developing young professionals into the instructional, scholarly, and administrative processes that will support their effective functioning in their chosen fields of professional pursuit. Mentoring extends across multiple domains and requires a flexibility and a fluidity that respects individual differences as well as varying developmental trajectories.
And finally, mentoring extends beyond these interpersonal bounds to broader positions of advocacy, as well. Having served as the Chair of the Executive Board of the Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs in the United States, as well as serving on the Graduate Coordinator’s Advisory Councils both in the Graduate School and in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, I appreciate the value and the opportunity of working with my colleagues to identify and reward graduate student excellence and to define and implement policies, procedures and programs that further support this goal. My efforts in this regard are directed at creating the opportunities and the rewards that support a broad range of other mentoring efforts among fellow colleagues throughout the university.
To conclude, several years ago a saw an ad on television about parenting. In the ad the person was describing the experience of parenting as “100 times more challenging and 100 times more rewarding” than anyone might imagine. Mentoring is like that, too. (For parenting, I would add an extra “0” on both counts!) Still, I know many colleagues who are superb mentors. Their mentoring is such an extraordinary asset to those they serve that is a privilege for me to be counted among them, much less to be distinguished in relation to them. I understand that this mentoring award cannot be given to all deserving mentors, even those extraordinary individuals whose lives have touched and enriched generations of developing scholars and professionals. The recognition of even a single mentor symbolically extends a nod of recognition to all such faculty who, like myself, dedicate themselves not only to the work they are doing today, but to the extension of that work through the scholarship, service, and leadership of others in the generations ahead.