Graduate College

Four faculty members honored for excellence in mentoring graduate students

May 31, 2017 9:03 a.m.

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 5, on Cannon Green.

Award winners include Christopher Achen, the Roger Williams Straus Professor of Social Sciences and professor of politics; Elizabeth Levy Paluck, professor of psychology and public affairs; Sankaran Sundaresan, the Norman John Sollenberger Professor in Engineering and professor of chemical and biological engineering; and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, the Robert H. Niehaus '77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies.

The mentoring award recognizes Princeton faculty members who nurture the intellectual, professional and personal growth of their graduate students. Graduate students nominate faculty members for the award and, together with faculty members, serve on the committee that selects the winners. The award honors faculty in each academic division (engineering, humanities, natural sciences and social sciences) and includes a $1,000 prize and a commemorative gift.

Christopher Achen

Christopher Achen, who has served on the faculty since 2004, researches American and comparative politics, empirical democratic theory and political methodology. Graduate students characterized Achen as highly dedicated to their intellectual and personal growth. One student said: "He is not just consistently available to meet with me, but he is happy to chat with me about my work for hours [on] end. He does not just read over my drafts, he reads them meticulously with pen in hand." Another student commented, "[He] made me rethink the way I viewed both political science and politics more broadly." Several students said Achen's support was critical to their success, helping them overcome doubt and personal hardship. One former student noted that Achen "built me up from next to nothing." Another said: "[Achen] made it clear to me that he had faith in me, not just to finish the Ph.D. program but to excel as a teacher, a speaker and a scholar. That confidence has helped me when I have faced challenges outside of academia as well." Another student voiced a similar experience. "While I was constantly doubting my own ability, and falling victim to the graduate illness of imposter syndrome, [he] never expressed doubt. He gave me the confidence to move forward and I cannot begin to thank him enough for his support."

Elizabeth Levy Paluck

Elizabeth Levy Paluck, who joined Princeton's faculty in 2009, studies how social psychology theory can change society in constructive ways. Graduate students described Paluck as a caring instructor who teaches "excellent methodology and statistical training." Another commented, "Professor Paluck has taken great measures to ensure that as members in her lab, we learn about open, replicable, rigorous science in order to meet — and, indeed, surpass — the recent changes in standards in psychological science." One student particularly enjoyed Paluck's thoughtful feedback: "[She] always reacted positively to any incoming comments and would always share her thoughts, point me out to relevant resources or ask me challenging questions that would make me reflect on different possible ways to think about the issue." Paluck also guides students in their careers beyond Princeton. One former student called her a "tireless advocate" who was "always on hand to read drafts of my application materials, and to sit through multiple iterations of my job talk." Another said, "[She] provides us with beautiful opportunities to more deeply develop our identities as young scholars, and to use both our individual agency and our community to envision the field we want to be in."

Sankaran Sundaresan

Sankaran Sundaresan, a faculty member since 1980, focuses on transport phenomena, as well as process engineering and science. Known for his "emphasis on studying challenging problems of both academic and practical interest," Sundaresan is a dedicated mentor whose efforts "extend to students across a range of age groups, disciplines and nationalities." Students valued Sundaresan's helpful guidance on papers, presentations and job talks. An alumnus described the extent of Sundaresan's commitment: "He made sure that I gave the practice talk a month before the conference. [He] then patiently and skillfully worked with me over the next few weeks to revise and improve the talk." One former student, who is an associate professor, said, "I still look back with great pride at the two papers we published from my Ph.D. work — papers which have been widely cited and have formed the basis for key technology innovation in petroleum refining." A current Ph.D. student said that Sundaresan provided helpful advice on potential career paths, "whether it be in industry, academia, finance or consulting." One former student, thankful for how Sundaresan connected him to multiple job opportunities, said, "It is humbling to think that all I have today in life and my trajectory in the corporate and research ladder is due to this one great man."

Muhammad Qasim Zaman

Muhammad Qasim Zaman, who joined the Princeton faculty in 2006, studies religious and political institutions of medieval and modern Islam. Students described him as a "gifted pedagogue" whose "intellectual curiosity is contagious." One former student, currently an assistant professor, appreciated Zaman's dedication to answering inquiries: "I once asked him a question on the first day of our seminar regarding the translation of a specific term in Arabic. Professor Zaman returned the following week with a photocopy of the original Arabic, the term circled and several leads for me, should I choose to do further research." Another former student, reflecting on his Ph.D. dissertation, said, "While occasionally providing eye-opening remarks about possible pitfalls and suggestions for sharpening the argument or limiting the source base, what stood out for me was his willingness to put me in charge of the whole project." Several graduate students enjoyed working as preceptors in Zaman's course "Muslims and the Qur'an." One preceptor said she "truly appreciated the chance to try my hand at tough administrative and pedagogical problems," while another was thankful for Zaman's "heartwarming and encouraging note, commending us for the content of our presentations." Zaman also mentors students beyond their time at Princeton. One former graduate student, now an assistant professor, said, "After I graduated, Zaman has always been willing to make himself available to me, in person or by email, no matter how busy he may be." Another noted, "His care for our wellbeing in and out of the classroom makes him not only a wonderful teacher but a sincere and humble human being."