In 2004 I received the UF Doctoral Dissertation Mentoring Award. As part of the nomination process, I was asked to submit a personal statement on my approach to mentoring, which is reproduced below and may be of interest to prospective applicants.
My goal in working with graduate students is to prepare them for careers in which they will make significant contributions to their chosen field of interest (behavior analysis, an area of psychology dealing with the principles of learning and their application). I am a firm believer that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and I am keenly aware of the fact that a successful academic-research career requires mastery in the areas of research, teaching, and program development. My general approach to mentoring therefore involves creating an environment that provides repeated opportunities to develop a high degree of competence and independence in each of these three areas. I would characterize my “style” as an informal one in which a graduate student begins as an apprentice under supervision but functions as a junior colleague prior to graduation. I try to be goal oriented but gentle with my prompts, direct with my feedback, and generous with my time, hoping that my students might follow suit with their own students in the future.
The focal point of training is an externally funded clinical-research program that supports my students for most of their graduate careers. The program operates at four sites (a community-based program for adults with mental retardation, two outpatient clinics for children, and a school-based program for students with autism), which have been selected to provide students with breadth in their research experience. Our mission is to conduct research on disorders of learning and behavior, but within this general constraint, most of the research is student driven. Students begin conducting research during their first semester as a “coexperimenter” on either one of my projects or that of a senior student and usually have initiated an independent research protocol by the end of their first year. Each protocol is reviewed carefully by me, subsequently revised several times by the student, and later dissected by our entire lab group. Beginning in their second year and continuing throughout their tenure in the program, all students maintain at least one active research protocol, and many have managed to handle three or four simultaneously. In conducting their research, students also gain experience in assembling research teams (comprised of graduate student peers and undergraduate lab students) and coordinating complementary projects with others. Thus, upon graduation, all students have served as lead experimenter on several studies in addition to their theses and dissertations and have acquired (i.e., actually demonstrated) the ability to initiate an independent research program in more than one area.
I teach two courses in the undergraduate curriculum, a lecture course and a laboratory course. Graduate students usually begin their teaching apprenticeship in their second year by serving as TA for my lab course. In this capacity, they coordinate undergraduate schedules, begin to learn how to supervise undergraduate students, and acquire some classroom skills by giving at least one lecture and by periodically leading discussions of research articles. Students later serve as TA for my lecture course. In this capacity, they observe me conduct classes, deliver 2-3 lectures, and learn how to construct tests. Finally, all students serve as instructor for the lecture course so that, upon graduation, they have had multiple teaching experiences. Every aspect of both courses (course outlines, lecture notes, powerpoint presentations, tests) has been computerized and is given to students to serve as the basis for their own course preparation.
In order to establish off-site research programs, students must acquire a number of general skills related to program development. In addition to the supervision skills they learn while conducting research and coordinating the lab course, students acquire the ability to maintain laboratory activity by serving as coordinator at one or more of the lab sites near the end of their program. In this capacity, they supervise the day-to-day activity at the lab site, serve as liaison with the respective program directors, and participate in overall program planning.
The above summary outlines the general plan I have developed for preparing my students to be leaders in the field. Although students share a common “core” of activities, each student develops an individualized plan distinguished by a particular research emphasis. Some students focus primarily on basic learning processes, whereas others seem more interested in the clinical aspects of assessment and treatment. As long as the student’s proposed line of research seems promising, I attempt to be supportive in the development of excellence. I believe I have been successful in teaching my students the concept of excellence, what it takes to achieve it, and how to use the criterion of excellence as a guidepost for evaluating their work and the work of others. The best measure of my own excellence as a mentor can be found in objective outcome data. For that purpose, I have listed below the benchmark accomplishments of the Ph.D.s I have graduated.
- Over the past 10 years, my students and I have collaborated on the publication of well over 100 research articles and chapters. Many students have authored 10 papers or more based on their work as graduate students, and almost all of these papers have appeared in the premier journal of our field.
- Ten years ago, the American Psychological Association (Division 25) established the B.F. Skinner Award, given annually to the most accomplished young researcher (post-Ph.D.) in the field of behavior analysis (basic or applied). My former students have received the award five times in ten years. Aside from these five, no two recipients have had the same advisor.
- The Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis (JABA) is the most prestigious and selective journal in my field. My students have held the following editorial positions with JABA: Editor (2), Associate Editor (9), Editorial Board Member (25). At least a half dozen of my students have been appointed to the Board of Editors within the first year following receipt of their Ph.D.
- With rare exception, my students seek and obtain academic-research positions, and number of these have been “repeats” at the same institution (the most being Johns Hopkins). In fact, my students are now faculty members in all but two of the leading programs in my field.