This year, contending with uncertainties over research, navigating the restrictions on access to labs and libraries, and coping with all the emotions stirred up by the pandemic, the importance of supportive guidance for graduate students was crucial. Both award recipients were recognized for demonstrating a deep commitment to the mental well-being of their students and for creating a productive environment in support of the academic excellence of their mentees.
Letters for both recipients spoke of profound and multi-faceted mentoring that extended intellectual independence and promoted personal well-being. They wrote of the significant impact their mentors had made on professional decisions, leading some nominators to highly successful career paths they may otherwise not have considered.
We are delighted to recognize Yuliya Komska, Assistant Professor of German studies and Director of the Comparative Literature program, and Professor Ryan Hickox, from the department of Physics and Astronomy as the 2021 Faculty Mentoring Award recipients.
Ryan Hickox has an indefatigable commitment to his students, offering "valuable and carefully considered advice," "an inhuman amount of patience," and a "warmth and enthusiasm that were critical in attracting me to Dartmouth's program." These were some of the effusive remarks submitted by current and former students nominating Professor Hickox for the Faculty Mentoring award.
Defining an effective mentoring approach can be tricky – when it works you know it, and when it doesn't work it can have disastrous results, and refining the approach can be a fine balance. One of the strengths of Hickox's approach is this ability to be flexible, A hallmark of Hickox's approach is, notes one of his nominators his versatility. "He does what is best for his students and does what his students need."
When we asked Hickox to outline his philosophy, if there was a way he could encapsulate his effectiveness, he was quite clear. "My approach is two-fold: first to enjoy their growth and to promote that and second, it is very procedural. I make sure to schedule time for office hours, weekly individual meetings, and to structure our time together in a way that builds the relationship," he says.
While drawing on reflections of his own experience as a graduate student, he noted he was the only graduate student in the lab. – everyone else was a postdoc or a professor. This experience of being surrounded by more senior scientists was one that drives his highly collaborative approach to mentoring. Working with graduate students is "a reminder that I went through it myself," he says, and finding the right approach "is not a big deal if we do the right thing."
Doing the right thing is indeed a hallmark of Professor Hickox's mentoring. Noting professor Hickox's generosity in opening his professional networks to grad students working with him, one spoke of connections fostered by Hickox that "have lasted through the years and are some of my very closest collaborators." Another mentioned the extensiveness of this support when their research was not squarely aligned with the lab. "When he did not know the best way to do something, he used his contacts and collaborations to get me in touch with someone who did," they wrote.
When speaking of this professional generosity professor Hickox acknowledges simply that the field "opens itself to networking." "It's not a zero-sum game," he states. "Graduate students are at the heart of the research and the research experience," he adds.
Many nominators acknowledged the different roles Prof. Hickox has, indeed, he wears many hats. In addition to being a highly accomplished researcher in his field, he also endeavors to introduce cutting-edge pedagogy to his undergraduate teaching classes, serves as West House professor on campus, and has a young family. And he still finds time to reach out to his graduate students with kind gestures and fun events.
In a year when so much of our personal interactions were remote, Hickox made sure to let his graduate students were appreciated and valued, and many spoke not only of the remarkable output from the lab during this unprecedented year, but also of the continual emphasis Hickox places on "group cohesion, stress relief, and good mental health." A not insignificant note this year was the poem he wrote his graduate students – a "small but incredibly meaningful gesture" during graduate appreciation week.
We are delighted to award the Faculty Mentoring Award to Professor Ryan Hickox – thank you for all you do.