Photo (left to right): Dr. Robert Kirken, Dean of the College of Science; Dr. Charles Ambler, Dean of the Graduate School; Dr. Diane Doser, 2017 Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Awardee, Dr. Jorge Gardea, 2016 Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Awardee; Dr. James Kubicki, Chair, Department of Geological Sciences. 

Congratulations to Dr. Diane Doser!

The UTEP Graduate School recognizes the value of mentoring and recommends that graduate students and postdocs actively seek mentoring relationships with faculty members at UTEP and in their field at other institutions. Faculty mentoring of students and postdocs is part of a long-term strategy to ensure student success in accordance with UTEP’s vision of “Access and Excellence” in higher education. 

The 2018 Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award was presented to Dr. Diane Doser, recognizing her long-standing contribution to student sucess.

Dr. Doser accepted the award with the following comments:

You have all heard the trite saying that “life is a journey”.  Well mentoring could be said to be a journey, or perhaps more aptly a pilgrimage, since pilgrimage can be defined as a “journey or long search made for exalted reasons”. 

As a mentor I’ve been to the destination before, or at least a similar one, but now I’m traveling again starting at a different point with different companions.  If I’m a good geologist I should know that the maps for the journey change and that they are not always accurate.  There will be the washed out bridge, the county fair or other detours that are part of the journey I will face with my protégé.  We might not even reach the destination we thought we’d reach together, but we will move forward!

Like many trips, I need to help my protégé pack for the journey.  Their knapsack will be different from mine, but I need to insure they have nourishment and other supplies for the trip, the tools it takes to fix the problems that will crop up along the way.  It is important for my protégé to anticipate that they will have difficult decisions to face.  And that they will make mistakes.  But learning comes from solving problems, correcting mistakes and continuing the journey, not from having a trouble free expedition.

When my protégé begins a journey they all need to leave things behind.  Some things are not necessary for the trip, although at first they may appear to help.  Other things are very difficult to leave behind, such as their family and friends, who may not understand why they’ve decided to journey in the first place.  And at times my protégé may get homesick.  Now they currently may be out in the cold rain in a tent -  it sure looks better back at the beginning when they were warm and dry.  At these points it’s time for me to bring warm, dry blankets and hot chocolate of encouragement.  The rain cannot last forever.

Companions on a journey share the burdens.  It’s important for me to be in the lab or the field with my protégés, even when they seem to know their way.  There’s always something new for us to see.  There’s always a discovery to share.  It’s important to share the wonder of the work I do.  I want my protégé to look forward to the rewards that often come only after days of hard work.  Looking down to the flowers or up at the sky is also important.  Focusing on just one aspect of a problem makes for tired eyes.

Traveling in a group always makes the trip go faster.  The more my protégé can work with others in my group the easier the journey may become.  Of course, some people can make travel more difficult.  But we cannot always choose our companions and learning to cope with disagreeable people is a skill worth learning.

It’s important for my protégé to meet people beyond my lab or research group.  Meeting other travelers through networking, interacting, collaborating will allow my protégé to find guides for future journeys.  Also, I allow my protégé to lead many parts of the journey.  No one wants to be the last person on the trail all the time.  At first leading might be terrifying, but as long as they know I am behind them when they have important choices to make, then it becomes an empowering experience.

All good pilgrimages include story telling – think Canterbury Tales, if you must.  My students like to hear stories that show I’m human.  Yes, I’ve had mishaps.  I was the accidental graduate student.  My father once told me he’d disown me if I became one of those over qualified, PhD holding academics.  Math classes did not glide off my pencil.  I had to stand up to my thesis advisor at times and it was scary.  And I need to encourage my protégé’s stories.  I ask questions; learn about their dreams and challenges.  I listen! 

Providing humor and laughter helps shorten the journey.  And we acknowledge the milestones.  Climbing a steep hill is worth celebrating – even if it only means bringing cupcakes to a research group meeting.

Companions enjoy each other’s company.  Some protégés have become my life-long friends.  And even if I lose touch with them, I know we have good memories that will linger.

Finally, when we both reach the destination, even if it’s not the destination we expected we’d reach together, we are proud, but a little sad.  It’s time to send them on their next journey, perhaps to travel farther and higher than I’ve ever been myself.

To all my students, thanks for sharing the journey!