Four faculty members honored for excellence in mentoring graduate students

Four Princeton University faculty members have been named recipients of the Graduate Mentoring Awards by the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and will be honored during the Graduate School's hooding ceremony Monday, June 4, on Cannon Green.

They are: João Biehl, the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Anthropology; Caryl Emerson, the A. Watson Armour, III, University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures; Stacey Sinclair, associate professor of psychology and African American studies; and Ramon van Handel, assistant professor of operations research and financial engineering.

The McGraw Center, together with the Graduate School, instituted the mentoring 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.

Biehl, who joined the Princeton anthropology faculty in 2001, is co-director of the Program in Global Health and Health Policy and a faculty associate of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He focuses his research and teaching on medical anthropology, the social studies of science and religion, global health, subjectivity, ethnographic methods and critical theory.

In recent years, he has written the award-winning books "Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment" and "Will to Live: AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival," which examine the experience and treatment of mental illness and AIDS, respectively. Biehl's recent courses have included "Medical Anthropology," "Critical Perspectives on Global Health and Health Policy" and "Ethnography and Social Theory Today." He is writing the history of a religious war that took place among German immigrants in 19th-century Brazil and also a book on people-centered initiatives in global health.

"When this professor's star began to rise not just in anthropological circles but across the humanities, I did not even once notice the tiniest change in his full commitment to student mentoring," wrote one former student in nominating Biehl for the award. "When I and other graduates visited his office, João's door was always open. When we brought up our most challenging fieldwork experiences, his patience and collaborative acuity in helping us to frame our dissertations was a spellbinding combination to observe."

Emerson, who joined the Princeton faculty in 1987, specializes in 19th-century Russian literature including the works of Pushkin, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, as well as Russian opera and the work of 20th-century philosopher and literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin. Her course titles have included "Russian Approaches to Literature and Culture," "Russians and the Devil" and "Russian Classics On (and Off) the Stalinist Stage." Emerson is the author of books including "All the Same the Words Don't Go Away (Essays on Authors, Heroes, Aesthetics and Stage Adaptations From the Russian Tradition)" and "The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Literature."

"Caryl has been the central figure in my academic experience at Princeton," wrote one student. "She has coached and encouraged me through every stage of my intellectual development and provided a model of what a generous and brilliant scholar can be. … I continue to be astounded at the number of young and mid-career scholars she has taken under her wing or advised in various capacities (yet while always giving the impression that they are doing her a favor and that she is learning from them)."

Sinclair, who joined the Princeton faculty in 2008, examines how participating in interpersonal interactions shapes our self-understanding and evaluations of others, with a focus on outcomes related to ethnic and gender stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. Overall, her work suggests interpersonal interactions are a vehicle by which cultural phenomena such as stereotypes and prejudice become individual thought. Her recent courses have included "Social Stigma: On Being a Target of Prejudice" and "Prejudice: Its Causes, Consequences and Cures."

Regarding Sinclair's mentorship, one student wrote, "She excels both at fostering in her students a keen scientific approach and modeling the skills necessary as a professional academic. Dr. Sinclair demonstrates a continual focus on not only having her collaborative projects result in top-tier work, but also in advancing the career prospects of those junior researchers around her."

Van Handel, who has been a Princeton faculty member since 2009, is broadly interested in the areas of probability theory and stochastic analysis, and their applications in science, engineering and mathematics. Van Handel has taught classes on topics including stochastic processes, stochastic calculus and stochastic methods for quantitative finance.

"By treating me more as his colleague than his student, Ramon has been extremely successful in building a rich and fertile environment in which I feel free to speak out about whatever ideas I have," wrote one student. "Ultimately, however, if I were to be asked what really makes Ramon stand out as a true mentor to me, the answer would lie in the fact that he is passionate about his students, about their creativity and their ability to find their own way."