Dr. Jim Winefordner
UF Department of Chemistry
2001-2002 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
My love of teaching stretches from the teaching of formal courses to the advising and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students. My success in attracting graduate students into my research group as well as my being a member of other PhD/MS committees is attributed to a number of factors. Prior to discussing these factors and my mentoring/advising philosophy, I would like to give some background statistical information. I’ve directed the research of 144 PhDs, 33 MSs and over 200 undergraduate researchers, the former number being over 50 more than anyone else in the history of analytical chemistry; I assume I have also directed more PhDs than anyone else has directed in any discipline at UF. My current research group consists of 16 PhD students, three postdoctoral research associates and a research scientist. I’ve also been a member of nearly 500 PhD and MS committees, excluding those for which I’ve been a chairperson.
As a PhD/MS chairperson I want to instill in each student the following 12 key principles. First, I want each student to be excited about and have a sense of wonder about the research group and the research projects. Research should be fun. An unhappy student is on the wrong project, in the wrong group, or even in the wrong discipline. Second, I want each student to be fair and honest in research and in all they do. Ethics in their research and life is essential. The student should give credit to all who helped them succeed on their projects. Third, the best research and the greatest knowledge is gained by cooperating with other students, postdocs, faculty, and visiting scientists as well as scientists at meetings. Two students interacting on 3 projects results in greater progress than the two students working on 2 separate projects; in other words, 1 + 1 = 3 or more. Fourth, research requires hard work and persistence since good things seldom come easily. Students need to spend considerable time in the laboratory to allow for the many failures or set backs which are always present in any research project. However, some research projects may be unsolvable and in those instances, the projects must be changed. Such decisions are made only after considerable discussions with the student. Fifth, my desire is to teach students to be creative, innovative, and independent. Unfortunately, I am not sure, after nearly 50 years of research, whether creativity and innovativeness can be taught. I’ve come to believe creativity and innovation is innate in the person, although student independence is stressed and expected as long as each student does his/her homework and plans his/her experiments. Sixth, I want each student to feel unique. Each student, no matter how creative, energetic, intelligent, and independent, can contribute to a research project and to the goodness of life in general. Seventh, I also have tried to teach students that they should be kind, patient and considerate of others and not to judge others hastily or harshly or even at all. Also, each student is an individual with certain abilities and capabilities and therefore not everyone contributes equally to any project or to the research group. I hope to have students realize that what other students do or don’t do with respect to their own academic progress does not affect them directly and they should not worry about such matters. I impress upon students that such matters are my responsibility. Eighth, each student should have considerable freedom and latitude in their research. It is not productive to monitor each student so closely that I must plan their every move. Such control is not profitable and can even be destructive. Research requires time, planning, creativity, and even serendipity. If students have too many restrictions and tightness of projects, they will not ever have an opportunity to be very innovative and creative. I prefer to let students seek their own way on projects, once the general project is defined, and then provide the resources, personnel, equipment and space to complete the projects. I have an open door and welcome discussions with any student, have formal discussions of research on a regular basis with each student, and I walk through the laboratory many times each day so students feel I am interested in them. I have also assembled an outstanding research group where there is almost incredible assistance from advanced members of the group. Ninth, I feel strongly that students should embark on a program of continuous self-improvement and as long as they have a dream and are doing something they love, something of value will follow. Hard work is needed to account for many failures and a few wonderful successes. Tenth, I hope to instill in students to keep their life balanced. No job should serve a substitute for his/her family or for a rich personal life. If the student, or anyone for that matter, doesn’t love his/her job, he/she should think of leaving it for a job that they like. Of course, I want them to know that no perfect job exists and all jobs have their frustrations, but the positives should always greatly outweigh the negatives. Eleventh, I want students to feel they can talk to me about any matter and that I will do something about any problem as long as it is possible. A mutual trust between students and me is critical to a productive, happy group. Twelfth, I have impressed on students the importance of oral and written communication in terms of their future. Oftentimes, industrial, governmental, and academic positions hinge primarily upon the seminars and personal interactions students have with their perspective employer.
As Division Head of the Analytical Division of the Department of Chemistry for over 30 years, I’ve kept an open and friendly office for graduate (and undergraduate) students to talk about any problems they may have. Many students over the years have come to me for advice or just as a listener. I believe nearly all undergraduate and graduate students have seen me as a sympathetic, concerned, trustworthy research director, teacher, advisor, friend or faculty member.
I am pleased that many of my graduate students have continued using my key principles in their own careers.