Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science
Leila Bridgeman joined Duke as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science in January 2018. She received her B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in applied mathematics in 2008 and 2010 from McGill University, Montreal. In 2016, she completed a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at McGill University.
Bridgeman has supervised six doctoral students, one of whom recently received support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. She has also mentored 14 master’s students and also 12 undergraduate students before and during her time at Duke.
Her doctoral research explored how the theory of conic sectors can be used to design controllers that guarantee closed-loop input-output stability when more conventional methods fail to apply. Her focus has been on the development of readily applicable controller synthesis and stability analysis methods based on the evaluation of linear matrix inequalities. Resulting publications have considered applications of this work to robotic, process control, and time-delay systems. She is also interested in model predictive control, especially when applied to switched systems.
What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?
No mentoring style is the right one for everyone, or even the right one for any one person all the time. To me, the only universally good qualities are adaptability, the ability to recognize student needs, and self-knowledge. You need these to adapt the mentoring you give to your individual student’s changing needs. You also need self-knowledge to recognize the limitations of your abilities, personality, and knowledge, so you can help your students find alternative mentors when they’re needed.
How do you balance mentoring graduate students with all the other demands on faculty’s time?
Probably poorly. Talking to my students is probably my favorite part of my job, so when they come with a question or problem, it’s hard to cut the conversation short, even if I should.
The benefits of a mentoring relationship for the mentee are obvious, but what do you, as the mentor, gain from it?
When it comes to mentoring students in their research, the tangible benefits of a mentoring relationship are enormous! As an assistant professor, I need my students to succeed in their research in order to succeed in my career. Beyond research, I like hearing and learning from their perspectives on work, engineering, science, and life. I like to think that when my own hard-won insights help them through challenges, it gives struggles I’ve experienced some meaning.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Bridgeman’s nomination
“Leila is very supportive and encouraging. Our project seemed to be very straightforward, but it a lot of difficult proofs are required. There was a period when I just cannot make any progress in those proofs. Leila is the one who encouraged me and showed me ways to solve them.”
“As a student and now professor, I can say her support throughout my time at Duke has been immeasurable. It is not just sound advice and good directions that make a great mentor.”
“Leila knows the recipe for academic and career success and knows how to teach that recipe to her students. As a mentor, she encourages us to follow our curiosities and passions.”