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Tess Leuthner

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health



Tess Leuthner is a Ph.D. candidate in the Integrated Toxicology and Environmental Health Program. She earned her Bachelor’s in Environmental Science with Honors from Indiana University. She pursues her doctoral research in Professor Joel Meyer’s Molecular and Environmental Toxicology Lab in the Nicholas School of the Environment, and her research is supported by an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award.

As a graduate student, Leuthner has mentored four undergraduates, addressing not only their research, but also topics such as career options, life directions, and diversity, inclusion, and equity in academia. Her nominations noted that she also served as an important informal mentor to more junior Ph.D. students and even new postdocs. Leuthner has always been passionate about learning how to be a successful mentor. She participated in the Preparing Future Faculty program through the Duke Graduate School during the 2018-2019 year, which led to the opportunity to design and teach a biology course at Guilford College the following year. Her nominations praised her passion for not only her research, but also for mentoring and teaching. Her support and feedback to her students and mentees have encouraged them to pursue their research and ideas with confidence.


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

In my experiences as both mentee and mentor I think one of the most important qualities of a good mentor is that they are trustworthy. Trust is a critical foundation in which to build a professional and positive mentoring relationship.

How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?

Being a mentor for so many students provided me an invaluable opportunity to gain mentorship and leadership skills that I might otherwise not have had. Value is placed in scholarship in the academy, particularly in the sciences, but a significant part of being a professor and investigator is managing people and learning how to build a supportive team and productive environment. I think some of the greatest knowledge I’ve gained throughout my time as a graduate student is what type of leader I want to be in the future, no matter what career I end up in. I will measure my success as my mentees’ successes. I might not have learned how important and rewarding mentoring is to me if I hadn’t had the opportunity to serve as a mentor. 

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

I believe that every mentee-mentor relationship is unique. A successful mentoring relationship is the ability of the mentor to understand the goals of a specific mentee (which will be different person to person, and evolve over time!) and help guide the mentee to reach those goals, be it large long-term goals or small short-term goals. A mentor doesn’t tell a mentee what to do, but through their own experience can teach the mentee how to reflect on their progress and help create and measure goals. This is built from good communication; by listening to the mentee and getting to know them. It is amazing how once you get to know your mentee how perceptive you can be on how they are doing, but only if there is trust and good communication.


Excerpts from Leuthner’s nomination

“Tess focused on providing the students with a self-directed research project as a main component of the class. This introduced students in their first year of college to how the scientific process works and encouraged many students to continue to pursue science.”

“Tess’s experiences provide excellent examples of what it is to be a good mentor: to provide the mentees with all the tools they need to learn and thrive and by being an example of a thoughtful person who is not afraid to make mistakes and grow with them.”

“Tess has regularly engaged in broader conversations with her mentees. The topics include career options and life directions, as well as diversity, inclusion, and equity issues within academia.”