College of Sciences Recognizes Outstanding Faculty Mentors
At a presentation ceremony on Aug. 23, 2016, the College of Sciences will recognize three faculty members for exceptional mentoring of colleagues. They are Luca Dieci, a professor in the School of Mathematics; Facundo M. Fernández, a professor in the School of Chemistry and Biochemistry and a member of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience; and Rodney J. Weber, a professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
The annual College of Sciences Award for Faculty Mentorship is presented to exemplary senior faculty who provide guidance to help junior faculty advance in their careers. The award is supported by Georgia Tech’s ADVANCE program to foster the successful development of collegiate educators in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
Several early-career faculty members in the School of Mathematics nominated Luca Dieci. His nominators had this to say: “As a mentor in the School of Mathematics, Luca provides new faculty with invaluable input on grant applications, promotion and tenure, service commitments, and teaching. Furthermore, he performs the standard mentoring tasks with thoughtfulness and care while employing the same level of engagement in advising on other, more far-reaching matters.”
For Dieci, mentoring is a collaborative process with numerous analogies outside academia. “Mentoring is a natural two-way process, with younger people willing to observe older ones, and older ones willing to share their acquired experiences,” he says. “It is very similar to other responsibilities we take in society at large, whether as soccer coaches or community volunteers.”
Facundo M. Fernández was nominated for his commitment to helping junior faculty secure funding for research and lab development. In a nomination letter, one nominator writes: “At the very beginning of my career at Georgia Tech, Facundo advised me on the funding applications process and provided me with information on multiple funding sources and application strategies. Even though he was often extremely busy, he still found some time to read my proposals. He even read one of my proposals in a hotel while on international travel.”
The greatest satisfaction from mentoring is watching mentees excel “either with a new grant coming in, with fantastic press coverage on their scientific achievements, or publication of a new paper,” Fernández says. “These events are the culmination of a long process that starts months, if not years, before the actual outcome, and that usually requires an enormous amount of persistence and dedication.”
One of the nominators of Rodney J. Weber was Sally Ng, an assistant professor in the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “Graduate school does not necessarily train us with all the skills to be good professors,” Ng says. “Rodney has greatly contributed to my career development by making sure that I started off well as a junior faculty. He is someone who truly cares; he provides continuous professional guidance and support, and he is an inspiration to me.”
Weber says mentoring can help address the vulnerability new professors can feel early in their career. “Starting a new job that involves teaching new classes, writing proposals, getting and starting to mentor new grad students, combined with trying to do new research, can be overwhelming,” he explains. In most cases, Weber adds, the stresses can be relieved by setting reasonable expectations.
“We are thoroughly committed to the success of early-career faculty as they learn how to balance their multiple roles as researchers, teachers, and advisors to their own graduate students and postdoctoral fellows,” says College of Sciences Dean Paul M. Goldbart. “Our outstanding faculty mentors do our academic community a great service. I cannot thank them enough.”
Science Communication Intern
School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences