Dr. Susan K. Jacobson
UF Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation
2013-2014 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
My philosophy for advising and mentoring graduate students follows the graduate experience from “womb to tomb,” from working with each student on the formation of a research question and experimental design to the publication and presentation of papers, development of a resume, an effective job search, and as a professional colleague. My goal is to maximize the potential of each student. I foster this through weekly meetings with my advisees and regular group lab meetings to discuss current research, practice presentations, and to enable my experienced students to actively share their expertise with new students. The diaspora of my former students has been gratifying as they now provide leadership in our field ranging from university research and teaching in the U.S. to directing the parks and wildlife organizations in Latin America and Africa.
I view graduate education as a cooperative enterprise in which 1 challenge and respond to each graduate student who actively manages and contributes to his/her graduate experience. My enthusiasm for our field helps in my mentoring as I try to define for my students the structure and standards of excellence of graduate work and the natural resources profession. In the past 18 months I graduated 4 PhD students who all garnered excellent post-doctoral research positions as post-doctoral research associates at Purdue, University of Arizona, Yokohama National University, and as research scientist with the Panthera organization. I currently supervise 5 doctoral students and two master’s students and have served as chair for a total of 40 graduate students. The interaction with these bright, creative students is one of the most rewarding and stimulating facets of my job.
My objectives as a doctoral advisor are to enable students to synthesize and develop new information, foster critical thinking, encourage their creativity and independence, and acquire flexibility for achieving success in a professional career. This requires me to remain well informed on new developments in the subject area as well as make critical and creative judgments concerning the main trends in the field. The interdisciplinary nature of our profession results in my lab group being engaged in a number of different and innovative types of studies at one time, making the interaction and feedback among my lab group particularly helpful and stimulating. For example, when three of my doctoral students returned from giving papers at an international conference on “Human Dimensions of Wildlife,” in Colorado, the feedback from my colleagues reported both superb presentations by UF (we practiced as a group beforehand), and innovation in cutting edge science.
Many of my doctoral students take one of my two graduate courses, and also serve as a Teaching Assistant for my upper level undergraduate course, “Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Conservation.” I try to ensure that I provide a significant opportunity for my TAs to gain valuable teaching skills for the future. I involve my TAs in all aspects of the course, from assisting with group activities, presenting a guest lecture, leading a classroom exercise, grading papers, and designing an exam. I believe an effective lecturer must combine the talents of scholar, writer, entertainer, producer, and teacher in ways to promote student learning. I try to model for my TAs the use of a variety of approaches, beyond classroom lectures, to address differences in learning styles and to motivate all students. This includes the use of case studies to develop students’ problem-solving skills; role-playing to develop insight into the complexity of human/natural resource management problems; buzz groups and small group discussions to foster critical thinking, and field trips to emphasize to students the relevance of the course for understanding and making effective contributions to the real world. My goal for my graduate student TAs is that by the end of the course, they have a working knowledge of a number of pedagogical techniques that will enhance their teaching and presentation skills.
I believe it is the advisor’s responsibility to promote students’ abilities and expectations to continue learning after graduation. Toward this end, I focus on stimulating student learning outside class as well as in the classroom. I encourage my students to attend a wide variety of seminars on campus, and I work hard to find funding for them to participate in workshops and meetings that will provide new skill sets that may be important in future job markets. This past year, I applied to and was selected to participate in a 10-day interdisciplinary field project in Belize for faculty mentors and their PhD students, funded by USDA/UF ACE. For Spring Break 2013, I spent 24 hours a day with one of my PhD students developing Reusable Learning Objects on climate change in Belize for use in undergraduate classes. My students have been remarkably successful at garnering research and travel awards to participate in a wide range of activities beyond the classroom. I spend a large amount of time with my advisees reviewing funding sources and polishing grant writing skills to ensure their research and subsequent activities are well supported. This is reflected in the success of my students in receiving research funding from a variety of sources, from the National Science Foundation to the MacArthur Foundation.
My commitment to graduate advising has led to my active involvement in promoting a new vision nationally for education in natural resource management. I have published scholarly articles on interdisciplinary education in Conservation Biology, The Environmental Professional, and Ecopsychology. I also have served on education committees for professional societies, as well as graduate committees at UF for the Center for Latin American Studies, the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and as graduate coordinator for the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. I also established and co-direct the UF Graduate Certificate in Environmental Education and Communications with colleagues in several colleges.
As the Director of the Program for Studies in Tropical Conservation at UF, I informally advise a large number of international students from matriculation to graduation. In the past 10 years, I have garnered more than $1 million in grant support to fund 11 international graduate student fellowships and 40 primarily doctoral student research projects in 15 UF departments in the arena of environment and sustainable development in the past decade. I greatly enjoy my interactions with all of these students, sometimes as primarily the money bag, but for a number of students I provide advice and serve a valuable role as a cheerleader and backstop as they navigate a new culture, language and challenging graduate training.
Recent evidence of my efforts in graduate advising and mentoring include the joint publication of research in high quality journals. In 2012-2013 I published 17 coauthored journal articles with my graduate students. In 2012, I also was selected by our graduate students for the Dept. Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Graduate Faculty of the Year award and by my peers for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Graduate Teacher/Advisor of the Year award. I also was selected as one of only three university-wide 2012 UF Distinguished Teaching Scholars award.
Effective graduate mentoring is one key to a productive profession and healthy society. I will continue to strive for excellence in this arena. I feel extremely fortunate to be able to serve as an advisor/mentor to an array of gifted students who always keep me passionate and engaged and on my toes.