Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Biomedical Engineering
Katrina Wilson is a Ph.D. candidate in biomedical engineering, studying polymer biomaterials for neuronal tissue regeneration in the brain after stroke. She completed her bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry, molecular biology, and studio art from the University of Redlands. Her research is supported by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.
As a first-generation college student, Wilson is strongly committed to mentoring high school and undergraduate students from underrepresented backgrounds. During her time in the Segura lab, she has mentored four high school students, six undergraduates, and numerous graduate students, empowering her mentees to be amazing scientist, students, and people. She currently serves as co-chair for Pratt’s DEIC graduate committee, which strives to continuously work at creating an inclusive environment recognizing diversity and equity. In addition, Wilson was a Graduate Resident at Duke University for three years where she acted as a mentor, adviser, and resource agent for RA’s and Duke undergraduates. Her mentees have praised her ability to go above and beyond her duties to create a supportive environment built on creativeness and kindness.
What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?
Being open-minded, persistent, adaptive, and creative are important qualities in a good mentor. You must remember that you aren’t mentoring yourself and no one mentee is the same. The struggles or roadblocks you have gone through may not be the same as your mentee’s, but the feelings of excitement, nervousness, hesitation and disappointment are all things we can relate to and empathize with.
How have you evolved as a mentor compared to when you first started mentoring?
I like to be constantly asking for honest feedback, even if it means it might not be something I want to hear. Mentoring is a two-way street, and that is easy to forget in the beginning. I’ve changed into asking for feedback right away, and not at the end of a semester or a program when it’s almost too late to implement change. Sometimes we approach mentoring more in a lecture-type fashion or giving unsolicited advice. Listening to your mentee’s concerns and where information or help is lacking really allowed me to evolve as a mentor so that each mentee was not only receiving the support they needed to succeed but also when they needed it most to excel.
Who are some good mentors you have had, and are there mentoring practices or traits from them that you have tried to incorporate into your own approach to mentoring?
I have been fortunate enough to have a family of amazing mentors, such as Señora Hines and Señora Carrillo, Dr. David Soulsby, Dr. Terri Longin, Dr. Susan Blauth, Dr. Ben Aronson, and Dr. Tatiana Segura. They each contributed something different, but their encouragement and reassurance were probably the best traits that I also try to emulate. It is easy to compare oneself and feel inadequate, and my mentors saw that hesitancy in me and always encouraged me to do more and made a point to tell me when they were proud of me or the work I accomplished. The one other trait I extremely valued, from Dr. Soulsby, was his persistence in finding me opportunities. I really attribute going to graduate school to him, as well as navigating difficulties within graduate school. I try my best to pay that forward by understanding my mentee’s goals in life, trying to find them the best opportunities, and constantly asking them in what ways I could help.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Wilson’s nomination
“ ‘You can think more about what you’re interested in and then choose what you’d want to work on,’ I remember her saying to me; this was the first time I noted how great of a mentor she was; not only did she care about my learning and my preferences, but she was open to mentoring me into any of her subfields of research as needed.”
“Despite being busy with classes, research, and prelim preparations herself, Kat would make time for my questions and concerns while proactively offering shadowing opportunities with her when she has experiments relevant to my evolving research interests.”
“The emphasis on both learning and teaching being two-way streets, I think, is an important life lesson that Kat has internalized and does her best to promote to others as well.”