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2009 Dean’s Award: Karen L. Remmer

Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Karen L. Remmer received her B.A. in political science from Wellesley College and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Remmer joined the Duke faculty in 2001 as a professor of Political Science. During her previous tenure as a professor at the University of New Mexico, she served as both assistant director for the Division of Inter-American Affairs and a department chair. At Duke, she directs the innovative Markets and Democracy in Latin America (MADILA) program.

"Much of Karen's willingness and capacity to mentor graduate students is reflected in her Markets and Democracy in Latin America (MADILA) program. That she negotiated for this program when coming to Duke is a testament to her desire to develop graduate students. …Karen has told me that prior to coming to Duke, her experience with graduate students was that they would often make ‘rookie mistakes’ when going to do fieldwork for the first time, just because of the newness of being in the field. These mistakes would often delay graduate students for an extra year or two, and she thought they could be easily avoided if students had some prior experience in the field. However, funding for students to conduct fieldwork early in graduate school is almost impossible to find. Thus arose the idea of using MADILA to send students out after their first year. Now, under Karen's tutelage, all Duke comparative politics graduate students develop a project in their first year and spend the summer conducting fieldwork."

Nominators note that Remmer's commitment to helping students fund their research doesn't end with MADILA.

"After this first year, Karen constantly helps students find additional opportunities. With her as a co-Principal Investigator, three of us have won Dissertation Improvement Awards from the National Science Foundation. And it was her idea to apply for a Vertical Integration Grant from the Graduate School , which we were awarded in Summer 2005."

"Karen has always gone the extra mile to help me make contacts with scholars of similar interest. This initially included writing letters of introduction to senior scholars working on my research topic or arranging for us to meet at conferences. During my last year at Duke, she took this one step further and provided funds for me and two other graduate students to organize a conference of other scholars working on our topics and helped use her contacts to ensure that several senior scholars would participate. This forum allowed us to showcase our research while building another network of professional contacts that have yielded several joint projects that I am currently engaged in."

Professor Remmer realizes that concepts built on rigorous scholarship are a key to successfully obtaining research funding. Thus she is able to connect her own academic work with the mentoring process. As one nominator notes, she thus “illustrates that the alleged trade-off between doing research and providing mentoring is overblown. Karen has a very active research agenda, and yet she also manages to give us graduate students a lot of time.”

"While caring passionately about politics, she at the same time takes the science in political science seriously. Time and again, she has been simultaneously supportive and challenging. She is not known for having warm and fuzzy words of support for arguments that won't hold water. But at the same time, her criticism is never destructive. It is always about improving our research – from our theoretical model to our actual data to our methods."

"I think of Karen as a wonderful mentor because she was always there when I needed her advice and always supportive of the way I chose to shape my research and career path. Her mentorship is defined not only by a very strong desire to work closely with graduate students and provide tremendous advice, but above all by a rarely matched effort to promote the development of her graduate students through conferences at Duke, applications for research funding, or even the creation of new programs in the university."