Dr. Michael E. Robinson
UF Department of Clinical and Health Psychology
2011-2012 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
I don’t believe that I have any innovative, magical methods or philosophy of mentoring. Rather, I simply devote considerable time, effort, thought, and dedication to the task. Mentoring is the single most rewarding part of my job as a University Professor. Integration, relevance and adherence to learning principles are the terms that best characterize my mentoring or teaching philosophy. I believe that these concepts are critical at all levels and types of learning. Students are more likely to be interested in and retain the material when it is relevant to their professional goals and when it integrates theory and practice.
Our profession (Clinical Psychology) has adopted an overall philosophy that integrates research and practice and has been coined the “Scientist-Practitioner” model of education and training. Both research and practice are enhanced when they are integrated and when the material content is relevant. As an example of integration, several years ago our faculty revamped the curriculum for the Clinical Psychology Program. At that time, I had been teaching the Research Design and Methods courses. I suggested, developed, and taught a course sequence that integrated Measurement, Design, and Statistics. Prior to that, statistics was taught in another department, while design was taught in our department, with no integration.
I also employ the psychological principles of learning that are an integral part of training for any psychologist. Operant conditioning of student behavior is key to my mentoring philosophy. Scholarly behavior such as inquisitiveness, empirical thinking, hypothesis generation, and informed skepticism are reinforced through praise, and attention from me as a mentor, and through public acknowledgement. Graded exposure to public speaking in a supportive environment, with constructive feedback is empirically validated as a clinical tool, and relevant to teaching environments as well.
Most of my mentoring is at the graduate level. For most students this is a time of transition from an undergraduate style of learning that tends to be more structured and instructor driven. As a graduate student and then as a professional, independence in learning is a critical feature of success. My philosophy and my mentoring style reinforce and encourage independence in learning. I believe that it is critical to students to have success experience in self-directed learning to achieve the confidence to become self-sufficient.
A major arena of my mentoring is the laboratory. The same themes pervade this arena as others. I have had the privilege of being able to integrate research and practice here as well. Much of my research and that of my students involves medical patients. The research inevitably informs clinical practice, and the clinical practice has generated a number of research ideas and projects. Modeling this behavior and involving students in this process is core to my mentoring philosophy and practice.
To date, I have graduated 25 Ph.D. students and 11 post-doctoral fellows. I support an average of 3 undergraduate research trainees per year as well. For students of clinical psychology, there are two main career paths: academic or clinical practice. Of the aforementioned trainees, all are employed in one or the other tracks consistent with their professional goals. I have also served as mentor for international students (Denmark, Jordan) and mentored several junior level Psychologists, Physicians, Dentists, and Nurses here at the University of Florida. Concrete evidence of student quality and productivity is evidenced by their participation as valued co-authors on the majority of over 200 peer-reviewed publications.
The interaction with students at all levels of training, and in all arenas of training is one of my primary motivators. Integral to my philosophy of mentoring is the belief that students begin their academic careers as inquisitive, motivated learners. We as teachers and mentors need to provide the stimulation, the modeling, and the reinforcement for the students to become productive, independent, and satisfied professionals. Without that key guidance students are often overwhelmed, and disenchanted by the obstacles and challenges they face in their academic careers.
I attempt to maintain an active lab of 5 Ph.D. students and 1 post-doctoral fellow in my lab. These trainees also have considerable exposure to seasoned researchers across all colleges of the Health Science Center. I work hard at, and have been successful at creating an academic culture in the lab that allows for mentoring within the trainee ranks. I feel strongly that collaborative research is ecologically valid, and that it should be represented within the laboratory culture. We have weekly laboratory meetings as well as individual meetings with each trainee. Students are involved in our multidisciplinary research teams that comprise faculty from PHHP, Medicine, Nursing, and Dentistry. All students are expected to attend national research meetings to present their data. I provide support to each student who presents at Scientific Meetings, and usually attend with them to facilitate presentations, and encourage networking with researchers from other institutions.
Mentorship at the graduate student to junior Professor levels needs to involve more than instruction in laboratory tasks, grant development, advanced writing, and collaboration skills. Professional development in terms of skills needed to navigate University systems, grant agencies, licensing boards, Institutional Review Boards, and the tenure process for those pursuing academia is important. To this end, I regularly share anecdotes, didactic instruction, and foster discussion on how these systems work, in my experience, as preparation for trainees’ roles as independent professionals.
Finally, I believe that mentorship should mirror the developmental progression of the trainee. All students should be treated with respect at all levels of development. Earlier in development, mentoring is more directive and structured, later my mentoring style is less directive, fostering independent thinking. Finally, I move my mentorship style to reflect more of a junior colleague interaction with trainees, as a transition to status as a full collaborator and independence. This is a process that to date, never ends. I continue to mentor students, post-doc fellows, and junior faculty long after they have left the University of Florida. At this point we call it consultation. I consider it the right thing to do, and a privilege for as long as it takes.