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2010 Dean’s Award: Scott Huettel

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Scott Huettel joined the Department of Psychology and Neurosciences in 2008 with an already established Duke career. Matriculating at Duke in 1994 as a graduate student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, he began instructing in the department in 1996 and continued until 2001, receiving his Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology along the way, in 1999.  Also, in 1999 and in 2000, he received NIH fellowships in psychology and neurobiology, respectively, after which he joined the Department of Psychiatry with a secondary appointment in Neurobiology and a tertiary appointment in Psychology. In conjunction with his current appointment, Professor Huettel is also director of the Duke Center for Neuroeconomic Studies and associate director of the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center.  Professor Huettel’s research examines different forms of executive processing, including decision making, working memory, and response selection. He is also interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying controlled judgment and attention, and is involved in the emerging research field of neuroeconomics. His nominations for this mentoring award attest to his considerable talents as a researcher, teacher, colleague, and mentor.

Those attributes are evident in how Professor Huettel conducts his lab.

Many graduate students return to his lab after rotations in other labs, because of the dynamic, collaborative, supportive and exceedingly competent and creative environment he has created . . . .He treats his students as collaborators who bring their own ideas and skills to the lab, not laborers who merely execute his own scientific projects . . . . He runs his lab like a well-oiled machine: organized, with pedagogical hierarchies, regular assessments of career advancement, and lively, frequent discussions of data and scientific literature.

He also models what he considers appropriate collegial interactions within this environment.

Professor Huettel mandates a supportive environment in which lab members are expected and forthrightly requested to help all other members . . . . If a lab member is not as skilled, competitive, or socially competent as the rest of the group, he is persistent in pressuring the lab as a group and individually to help this member feel included, and to help advance his or her skills and career.

Dr. Huettel handles the social and emotional aspects of interacting in a research community in a supportive, helpful, and tactful manner. . . . He acknowledges the validity of any of these concerns . . . while also offering helpful advice for how to resolve any ongoing problems.

His interest in his students’ success extends well beyond his lab, as he offers them practical and thoughtful advice.

He offers objective advice and always considers the personal aspects of one’s life when helping someone assess career paths. He is also willing to initiate the uncomfortable discussions of personal foibles when they hamper professional success, and he is able to do this with extreme kindness and discretion.

Dr. Huettel’s door continues to be open for constructive feedback and guidance. I have received feedback about projects and future directions from him countless times over the years . . . . He is not only a valuable resource for project-related affair; he also considers long-term objectives by giving students advice about post-docs and faculty positions.

Professor Huettel also recognizes the importance of professional development to graduate students, and actively assists them in pursuing such opportunities.

Success in graduate school comes not only from publications and grants, but also from building networks with other individuals in one’s field and at one’s institution. Dr. Huettel helps his students build networks in at least two important ways: 1) by regularly sending them to conferences and workshops, and 2) by making potential colleagues aware of their natural and acquired skills.

Having other faculty made aware of those skills results in increased collaborations for those students.

Part of building networks comes from collaborating with diverse faculty and having other faculty aware of a student’s talents. . . . Dr. Huettel has provided me numerous opportunities for collaborations with other researchers and many of these collaborations have proven to be fruitful projects that culminated into publications.

Professor Huettel also practices a proactive mentoring style.

Mentoring is also about providing excellent resources, and Dr. Huettel excels in this area. Not only has he secured significant amounts of funding that allow his lab members to all pursue their own research interests,  he has also provided us with the ability to travel regularly to conferences, and to purchase computing and software resources as needed.

While cultivating positive group dynamics and helping students by fostering collaborative connections, Professor Huettel also recognizes the talents and needs of each individual in the group.

Dr. Huettel takes an individualized approach to mentoring that ensures that each lab member excels intellectually, creatively, and professionally. . . . He encourages members of his lab, including undergraduate and research assistants, to pursue intellectual endeavors in a manner appropriate to their own diverse interests and skills. . . . Dr. Huettel ensures that each lab member obtains a highly developed skill set that is also individualized, thereby increasing the marketability of every lab member’s skills at any stage of their careers.

It is obvious Professor Huettel’s enthusiasm and evident love for his work is contagious, and that he models for his students all the best elements of an academic research career. The early promise of an entering graduate student in 1994 has clearly matured into profound benefits for the University community, as demonstrated in his nominations for this award, and which are encapsulated in this final comment:

I believe Dr. Huettel represents a rare gem in academia: not only is he an eminent neuroscientist at a very young age, he is also an exceedingly great mentor and teacher. I feel very fortunate to have him as my mentor, and I owe much of my success to him. He has provided a superb model for me; I can only hope to be as good as him when I become a faculty member with my own lab and teaching obligations.