Makeba Parramore Wilbourn
Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Associate Professor of the Practice of Psychology and Neuroscience
Makeba Parramore Wilbourn is an associate professor of the practice in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. She completed her Ph.D. at Cornell University and her bachelor's at California State University, Fullerton. She has authored dozens of publications and has been an invited speaker at numerous conferences, symposiums, and media interviews. Her work has received several grants and awards, including a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government on STEM professionals in the early stages of their careers.
From 2014 to 2019, she directed an NSF-funded summer research internship program for underrepresented minorities. More than 100 undergraduates, 6 graduate students, 5 high school volunteers, and 9 summer interns worked on the project, which generated 2 Ph.D. theses, 3 master’s theses, 11 honors theses, and 17 independent studies. In 2020, Wilbourn and co-PIs secured additional NSF-funding, extending this internship and providing summer research support for graduate student mentors. In addition to her own mentoring, Wilbourn’s nominations highlight her frequent “behind the scenes” mentoring, where she supports other faculty and their students’ in the mentorship process. Since joining the faculty in 2008, Wilbourn has both formally and informally mentored over 30 graduate students in her department and across campus.
What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?
The most important qualities of an impactful and positive mentor for graduate students are: authenticity, patience, empathy, commitment, self-awareness, humility, flexibility, and intentionality. Now more than ever, graduate students need mentors who model humility, patience, and authenticity, so they learn to be more compassionate and understanding of themselves throughout this process with all the ups and downs. Then, hopefully down the road, they will be more compassionate and understanding of their own mentees and students…thus breaking a harmful cycle we often see in graduate schools and research labs around the country.
How have you evolved as a mentor compared to when you first started mentoring?
Often, students feel like their mentors always know what to do and have all the answers. This idealization can make it hard for students to ask for help or admit when they are struggling. I know this was the case for me as a graduate student. So naturally, when I became a mentor, I put so much pressure on myself to always know what to do or have the answers because I was afraid of letting my students down. Then I realized, I was actually letting them down by not showing them how often I didn’t have the answers or know what to do because our job was to figure these things out… together. This is where I have evolved the most as a mentor. I now honestly (and proudly) convey when I am uncertain about something and solicit their help in figuring out what we should do next. I also eagerly own my mistakes, and readily apologize when I am wrong. Modeling this type of humility and vulnerability has not only enhanced my relationships with my students and motivated them to share their fears and concerns with me, but it also has enhanced the quality of our work together.
The benefits of a mentoring relationship for the mentee are obvious, but what do you, as the mentor, gain from it?
My philosophy as a scholar who studies vulnerable and marginalized populations is that we are the voice for our participants/our studies/our data. So, our research isn’t about our worth or abilities, but rather about honoring and accurately reflecting our participants’ worth and abilities. This creates a sense of accountability and commitment that is detached from us as individuals, which I feel is essential to ensuring the integrity of the work. Thus, a constant phrase I convey is that “it is always about the work/study/story, not about the person doing it, which means…we are all in this together”. The truth is…I am the one who needs this reminder most! Because every time I watch one of my students bravely stand in front of a room and be the voice and advocate for our participants/study/data…it reinvigorates my love of the work and gives me the courage to keep doing what I am doing. So, while I may give them opportunities and skills…they give me hope and purpose.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Wilbourn’s nomination
“Makeba has had a broad impact in mentoring so many students who are not her primary advisees as well as mentoring ‘over’ and ‘up’ with her colleagues - whose own graduate students benefit from this peer mentoring.”
“Several Ph.D. students have shared that learning how to mentor from Makeba was the most transformative experience in their graduate education so far. For several of our Ph.D. students, it has completely shifted their approach to mentorship.”
“Her generosity has no bounds and spills beyond her lab and own classrooms to the rest of our labs and classrooms and even beyond our campus to the local HBCU.”