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Jaime Castrellon

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Psychology and Neuroscience



Jaime Castrellon is a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and neuroscience, studying cognitive and neural mechanisms of motivation and decision making. He completed his bachelor’s in neuroscience and political science from the University of Southern California. His research is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The vertically integrated lab structure in Castrellon’s program offers opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to support undergraduate students in research. Castrellon has seized those opportunities to mentor 11 Duke undergraduates. Seven of his mentees have presented at national or international conferences, and three were co-authors with Castrellon on a paper published in Psychopharmacology.

As a first-generation college student and son of immigrants, he is deeply invested in mentoring students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in science. His mentees have praised his ability to ensure that everyone gets a chance to be truly involved in research and develop their confidence within their studies. His primary mentees have been chemistry, biology, computer science, statistics, global health, neuroscience, and psychology majors. He is mentoring students from many other departments outside of his own. He also served as co-investigator on a Bass Connections project, earning the Bass Connections Award for Outstanding Mentorship in 2020.


What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor?

Being a good mentor doesn’t happen overnight– it’s a learning process that requires a lot of adapting. What works for one mentee might not work for another. This means that it’s important to welcome and invite all kinds of feedback or criticism from mentees so that you can grow to provide the best support for any mentee.

How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?

Often, some of the best ideas in science can emerge through mentorship. In particular, mentees offer unique perspectives that can advance a research project’s goals in ways that aren’t always immediately clear to graduate students. This could include strengthening theories or testing alternative hypotheses. Embracing mentees perspectives and ideas benefits everyone involved in the research process.

What does a successful mentoring relationship look like? How do you build such a relationship?

It might seem counterintuitive, but a successful mentoring relationship isn’t always one-way from mentor to mentee, instead it can be collaborative and bidirectional. This kind of relationship is built on trust and guiding mentees toward independent decision making. Empowering mentees to make important project decisions builds their confidence and strengthens their ability to work collaboratively and serve as mentor for others.


Excerpts from Castrellon’s nomination

“He is committed to making sure that everyone he mentors develops confidence as a researcher and doesn’t just feel like a good helper.”

“At this early career stage, he has demonstrated not only a strong commitment to basic research but also a deep commitment to supporting fellow under-represented students and people at all levels.”

“Jaime's gentle, firm mentorship helped me feel secure in my ability to perform and provided ample room for my mistakes. Over our time together, he has helped to cultivate my understanding of neuroscience and the proper methods of research.”