Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Biology
Emily Levy is a Ph.D. candidate in biology. She completed her bachelor’s in biology with a concentration in neuroscience at Williams College in 2013. Levy has received a number of fellowships and grants for her research at Duke, including the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in STEM disciplines. Her research is focused on how early-life and adult environments—both social and physical—are associated with physiology, morphology, and behavior.
Levy has mentored and done research with eight Duke undergraduates. Levy received a Bass Instructional Fellowship in 2021 and served as the instructor of record for the course Ecology & Evolution of Being Social. Her course evaluations for the class were ranked in the top 5 percent of Duke Trinity College undergraduate instructors. She has also served as the instructor of record for Foundations of Animal Behavior and as co-instructor of record in the course Why be social? The Science of Animal Social Behavior through the Duke Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Her nominations noted that in addition to all of her mentorship efforts, Levy actively seeks out opportunities to connect with undergraduate students to provide any support that she can.
How have you evolved as a mentor compared to when you first started mentoring?
Recently I realized that I’m a better mentor when I have little personal stake in the outcome or final product of the research a student is working on. I can then invest that emotional “stake energy” into their learning and personal growth. This was tricky in the first couple of years of grad school when I didn’t have the data or the bandwidth to work on additional projects, but it got easier to accommodate these last few years. I’ve had wonderful experiences working with undergrads on projects directly related to my own dissertation work. But when students do their own research, there’s a lot more flexibility in how I can approach each meeting, and I’m more able to help them accomplish their goals
How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?
I see two main benefits. First, mentoring as a grad student is excellent training. Something truly wild about pursuing a career in academia is that you can, in theory, become a professor without ever having mentored students or taught a class—two of the core components of the job description at any academic institution, from R1 to a tiny liberal arts college. That’s clearly a problem. I’m grateful for the Muser program, which makes it easy for graduate students and undergrads to start working together on research. My mentoring experiences have been crucial training for my next steps.
A second benefit is that mentoring undergrads is a blast! You get to work with curious, enthusiastic, and fun students and help them gain confidence in themselves. You get to watch them grow as scientists and thinkers, and you get to watch them figure out what’s next and help them get there. What’s better than that?!
What does a successful mentoring relationship look like? How do you build such a relationship?
Broadly, any successful relationship requires mutual trust, mutual respect, and effective communication. But there are many types of mentor-mentee relationships, so the specifics of what a successful mentor-mentee relationship looks like may vary depending on what a student is hoping to get from you.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Levy’s nomination
"Her robust positivity continues to nurture my admiration for the iterative (and often puzzling) nature of the scientific process."
"Mentorship, to Ms. Levy, is not a burden or a requirement to check off, but rather an opportunity to invest in a younger student and guide them as they grow as a scientist and person."
"Her ability to foster mutual respect and demonstrate true interest in the well-being of the students makes her a real standout."