Four professors honored for excellence in mentoring graduate students

From the May 18, 2009, Princeton Weekly Bulletin

Four Princeton faculty members have been named the recipients of Graduate Mentoring Awards by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and will be honored during the Graduate School's hooding ceremony on Monday, June 1.

They are: Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology; Claire Gmachl, professor of electrical engineering and director of the Mid-Infrared Technologies for the Health and the Environment Center; Susan Naquin, professor of history and East Asian studies; and Jeffrey Stout, professor of religion.

The McGraw Center, together with the Graduate School, instituted the award in 2002 to recognize Princeton faculty members whose work with graduate students is particularly outstanding. It is intended to honor faculty members who nurture the intellectual, professional and personal growth of their graduate students.

Graduate students nominate faculty members for the award and, along with faculty members, serve on the committee that selects the winners. One faculty member in each academic division (engineering, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences) is chosen. In addition to being honored at the ceremony, each receives a $1,000 award and a commemorative gift.

Fiske, who joined the Princeton faculty in 2000, studies how stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination are encouraged or discouraged by social relationships, such as cooperation, competition and power. Fiske's social cognition and intergroup relations laboratory studies these concepts through cultural comparisons, surveys and experiments. Her graduate course topics include social psychology and psychological studies of inequality.

Current and former students praised Fiske's interest in their research, careers and personal lives. "Susan believes graduate student advising is the most important part of her job and is absolutely devoted to her graduate students' training, development and success," said one former student. From encouraging a first-generation college student to apply to graduate school to filtering her advisees' e-mails to the top of her inbox, Fiske has an "unmatched commitment" to her students, a current student said. "Her lab feels in many ways like a family because of the warmth she shows us," said another.

Gmachl, who became a faculty member in 2003, concentrates her research on the development of new quantum devices, such as quantum cascade lasers, for sensors in environmental, medical and security applications. Courses she has taught include optical electronics and mid-infrared technologies for health and the environment. She also serves as the faculty adviser for the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering group.

Gmachl's interest in her students' morale is evident in their letters of nomination. One fifth-year advisee wrote that Gmachl "marries the competitiveness that makes a world-class researcher with the compassion that makes the best of confidants." In addition to being a renowned scientist and engineer and an excellent role model, she encourages her students to explore their interests through courses and research with other departments, internships, entrepreneurial ventures and conferences. Gmachl "trains students to form a broad view of the research through her cooperative team-working style," said one former student.

Naquin, who joined the University in 1993, specializes in Chinese social, religious and cultural history of the 17th through 19th centuries, with a special interest in Qing material culture. She also teaches a graduate course on late imperial China and another on modern China, focusing on the late 19th to mid-20th centuries.

In addition to graduate students in Naquin's two home departments, students in art and archaeology, politics and religion supported her nomination, demonstrating "her ability to bridge disciplinary boundaries," as one politics student wrote. Students cited her academic advising and informal networking assistance, as well as the writing workshops she voluntarily organizes and teaches. Said one student, Naquin has a "rare combination of fierce intellect, a pragmatic attitude toward graduate studies and a genuine interest in the well-being of students."

Stout began teaching at Princeton in 1975, a year before earning his Ph.D. at the University. His teaching and research focuses on the connections among religion, ethics and politics, and between religion and philosophy. His recent course topics include religion in modern thought and film, religion and critical thought, religion and ethical theory, and philosophy and the study of religion.

Current and former students cited Stout's remarkable level of engagement, from his attention and advice to prospective students to his detailed, constructive comments -- sometimes longer than the assignment -- on papers. Students also commended Stout for continuing to provide mentorship and recommendations for them well beyond their time at Princeton. "To study with Jeff was to be constantly challenged, and simultaneously inspired, to be a better, more rigorous, more generous, more imaginative scholar," wrote one former student. Said one current student, "They say that you turn out like your adviser. I hope that is true."