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Caleb Hazelwood

Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy


Caleb Hazelwood is expected to graduate from the Duke Graduate School in May of 2024 with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He received a B.S. in biology and philosophy from Missouri Western State University and an M.A. in philosophy from Georgia State University. 

During the 2023-24 academic year, Hazelwood is serving as a visiting scholar in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. At Duke, he has been a graduate teaching assistant for four biology and philosophy classes and an instructor of record for three classes.

Hazelwood’s research seeks to understand how biologists investigate, explain, and model causal processes in evolutionary phenomena. He studies the history and philosophy of scientific representation in ecology and evolution. Additionally, his recent projects have focused on aesthetics and the relationship between matter and laws in Newtonian philosophy.

On Mentoring

What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?

I am especially proud of the way my mentees have come to question ideas and assumptions that they had previously taken for granted. (This is one of several places where being a philosopher helps me as a mentor: in both pursuits, I try to ask a series of questions that motivate mentees to revisit their beliefs.) For example, after recommending that one of my students read The Artist's Way, they felt empowered to follow their interests and take more humanities courses, daring to diverge from the STEM-focused trajectory they'd assumed they'd take when they came to Duke. Similarly, a graduate student mentee ultimately felt empowered to switch laboratories after discovering that the atmosphere of their previous lab was not a successful learning environment for them. This is what makes me especially proud as a mentor: when my mentees begin to question their limiting beliefs that otherwise fly under the radar (like "I can't take more humanities courses!" or "I'm stuck in this lab for good!"), and then feel empowered to make a change based on their discovery.

How have you evolved as a mentor compared to when you first started mentoring? 

I began to think seriously about the practice of mentoring when I participated in the Ph.D. Peer Mentoring Program with Maria LaMonaca Wisdom. (For those who are interested in learning how to mentor students, I cannot recommend this program highly enough). During my training, Maria emphasized the distinction between two mentoring styles: the "coach" and the "guru." The coach asks questions to help the mentee identify their own goals and decide on a personalized plan to reach them, while the guru advises based on their own experience, assuming it is a recipe for success. I like to think that, compared to when I first started mentoring, I have become less of a guru and more of a coach.

How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors? 

Graduate students benefit in many ways from serving as mentors. The most obvious way is through experience: graduate students are training to be future leaders in academia, government, and industry. Mentorship comes with the territory in these jobs, so it helps to learn how to be effective mentors early in our careers. A less obvious benefit, but one that is just as important, is the way that being a mentor helps shape us as mentees. By experiencing the relationship from the "other side of the table," graduate students can learn a great deal about how to effectively communicate with their advisors, ask for what they need, and advocate for themselves.


Excerpts from Hazelwood's nomination

“He really took time to mentor each student on our final papers for his class. He gave us the freedom to explore topics of our own interests as they pertained to the philosophy of biology and dissect them with our own understanding and the support of previous research. And he showed genuine interest in each research question, always ready to recommend a paper to help bolster our thesis.”

“In all my time at Duke, never before nor since have I encountered a teacher quite like Caleb, precisely because he extended his role as a teacher to be a true mentor. Without Caleb, I would never have gotten the opportunity to have my paper recognized by the North Carolina Philosophical Society, and without his active encouragement and belief in my ability I would never have had the courage to push myself out of my comfort zone to agree to present the paper.”

“Philosophy of Biology was one of the most challenging courses I had taken at Duke, but it quickly became one of my favorite courses at Duke due to Caleb’s mentorship. Though I took this course during the fall of my junior year at Duke, I am happy to say that I still kept in touch with Caleb throughout the rest of my undergraduate experience and even beyond graduation. It would always be so nice to receive emails that Caleb sent to me and the rest of my peers from the Philosophy of Biology course with research or grant opportunities that he found we would enjoy.”