Brandie Quarles Chidyagwai
Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Biology
Brandie Quarles Chidyagwai is a Ph.D. candidate in biology. In her dissertation work, she studies the key traits that help plants respond to stressful and variable environments. She has earned an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Dean’s Graduate Fellowship, a University Scholar's Fellowship, and a Rosemary Grant Award from the Society for the Study of Evolution. She has presented her work at professional meetings and has written four publications.
Quarles Chidyagwai was a co-leader of the Biology Department’s DEI committee, has been lead coordinator for graduate student recruitment, has served on the Biology Department’s Graduate Steering Committee, and was leader of the Biology Women in Science Committee.
Throughout her graduate career, Quarles Chidyagwai has mentored 26 undergraduate research assistants and one high school student from an underserved school system. Five of these were independent-study students who wrote ambitious reports. One is writing an honors thesis, and four of them are future co-authors on manuscripts in preparation. She has prioritized creating an inclusive and respectful environment for all of her mentees, many of whom are from underrepresented minorities. She has worked to counteract disadvantages by encouraging students to challenge themselves, providing them the necessary support to succeed, and reaching out to students of all ages, from college undergraduates, to high school students (through NS Project SEED), to young girls (through the Females Excelling More in Math, Engineering, and Science program).
What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor?
A good mentor should be invested in helping the mentee build independence and agency. Sometimes it feels easier to constantly hover over your mentees or try to micromanage, but it’s so much more fulfilling to give them the skills they need to succeed without you. Watching my mentees master methodology, data analysis, writing, and critical thinking skills to the point when they can begin mentoring others is truly an honor.
What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?
I am really proud that I have mentored undergraduate students from such a broad range of career and research interests. I have had students interested in careers in environmental policy, public health, biochemistry, and law, to name a few. My hope is that these students not only took with them critical thinking skills, but also a little more appreciation for plants and nature.
How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?
Serving as a mentor as a graduate student has so many benefits! Not only does it help you complete your research and prepare you for a career in academia where you will have to mentor students, it helps you build science communication skills, brings new ideas to your research, and so much more. At the same time, you get to have a positive impact on the next generation of scientists and leaders, expose them to possible career paths they never knew about before, help them build confidence in their skills, and watch them flourish.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Quarles Chidyagwai’s nomination
“Brandie Quarles has completely changed the way in which I view research and laboratory work. She sets an impeccable standard for leading by example, allowing for personal growth, and learning, and even for making the lab a community.”
“With Brandie, not only have I had the emotional support of a wonderful mentor, but I have had the chance to grow skills relevant to my future scientific endeavors like tissue collection, DNA extraction and quality control, and most importantly, a deeper understanding of how research is a learning process.”
“During the COVID crisis, Ms. Quarles exercised versatility, determination, poise, and a calm leadership for her mentees that carried them through and provided them purpose and engagement during a very challenging time.”