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Dr. Janise McNair

Associate Professor

UF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

2014-2015 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner

I am truly honored to have been nominated to receive the Doctoral Mentoring Award. It is a highlight of my position that I get to conduct high quality research on important topics, while mentoring excellent students in the next step toward achieving their dreams. I have always had a passion for helping students learn, not only about electrical and computer engineering, but also about how to achieve success in their career and life goals.

My mentoring philosophy is personal empowerment, i.e., “teaching a person to fish.” I implement my philosophy by first spending some time to help my students identify their dream career, and how they might become a valuable resource in society. Then, I help them form goals and objectives toward achieving their dream. Along the way, we look for milestones and checkpoints that will make their progress evident, and I provide opportunities for experiences and responsibilities that reflect their growing capabilities and independence. Finally, I try to keep my students aware of their community – both the laboratory and society, and to keep them engaged and connected as colleagues and friends. When I was a PhD student, my own dissertation advisor promoted this philosophy, and it has made a significant difference in my career path, as well as in the way I mentor my students. In short, I feel that my role as a doctoral advisor is to help my doctoral students dream big, learn continually, embrace new experiences, and engage with community and society.

Dreaming Big. Asking a doctoral engineering student what is their ideal career at first seems like an obvious question, but I have great interest in the conversations that follow. Once the dream is expressed, I can help a student devise a plan to pursue that dream, which includes the benchmarks, check points and outcomes that are needed for their doctoral degree. For me, the dream is always key to helping the student find their internal motivation to work hard and continue on, even during the difficult and challenging times. The students I have mentored have had a variety of dreams. They are now successful faculty at universities (Loyola Marymount, University of Puerto Rico), managers at top engineering companies and start-ups (Microsoft, Boeing, Current Technologies), technical specialists at law firms (Wilson, Hamm and Holman), and founders of their own start-up companies (1Degree). It gives me great pleasure to have been a part of their growing success.

Learning Continually. It is very important for any student to achieve technical competence in their field. I want my students to have high expectations that they will be able to write, present, teach, and make significant contributions to our field. In engineering, writing and presentation are often challenging skills to learn. I make sure each student takes the lead in writing and presentation at first. Then, I sit with them and show them how to better organize their thoughts, highlight their novel contributions, and identify portions that need more data or analysis. This takes time to accomplish, but once it is done, the student is able to improve their approach and now has a process in place that they can use for the rest of their time as a doctoral student and for the rest of their career. Simulation and experimentation are also important in my field. Every student is expected to become proficient in the tools of their area. Many of my doctoral students have custom designed their own simulation tools and test beds (DRAGON, Opnet WiMax Simulator, ns-3 satellite communication modules) that have been solicited and used by the US Navy, SAE, the US Army, andNASA.

Embrace New Experiences. It is my goal that each of my students will be prepared to choose from a variety of engineering careers when they graduate, from faculty to industry to start-up. To do this, I need to make sure they gain experience and confidence in a wide variety of areas. I encourage each of my doctoral students to teach at least one guest lecture in my course. For those who want an academic career, I ask them to supervise a project assignment or take on a teaching assistant position. I send my doctoral students to conferences to present research and network with other professionals and bring project-funded students to onsite project meetings. I am grateful for the opportunities my PhD advisor offered to meet people from different cultures and to travel the world as a graduate student. Now, it is important to me to manage a diverse group of students. My doctoral student groups have so far contained students from China, India, Latin America, the Caribbean, the USA, and theUAE. I’ve enjoyed sending a student from India to a conference in Spain; a student from China to a conference in Mexico City, or a student from the USA to a conference in Shanghai. I encourage my doctoral students to help me with grant proposal submission and I discuss the administrative side of academia so they will have some experience before they are sitting behind the desk as a faculty member. It is amazing how a few new experiences can increase their ability to engage personally and professionally on an international level.

Engage with Community and Society. As a faculty mentor, I try to help my students engage problems in their area of expertise, and I encourage them as well to pursue their own interests that engage problems that are important for society. The National Science Foundation refers to these areas as broader impacts. One of my interests is diversity. Beyond enjoying the diverse cultures in my group, I also have a passion to increase the numbers of US students, female students, and under-represented minority (URM) students that are getting doctoral degrees in electrical and computer engineering. I seek out and recruit graduate students in these categories and mentor them through successful doctoral programs. In the past five years, I have had the pleasure of graduating five PhD students in these categories, including three URMstudents. (Unfortunately, my small number is significant.) My students have gone on to have great careers in their field of study –at Boeing, in academia, and at a social networking start-up company.

Finally, as a doctoral advisor, I encourage comradery, social events, and helping each other—especially among my diverse group of students. My students proofread each other’s papers, they critique each other’s presentations, they car pool to events, they make plans together for the future of the lab, and they mentor each other. In some small way, I hope I am teaching them to embrace their differences and engage their similarities, and that these social skills will continue with them in their careers as well as other areas of life.

Being a doctoral advisor is great. I get to conduct high quality research on important topics, while mentoring excellent students in the next step toward achieving their dreams. I get to impact society through great projects that are of interest to government agencies and industry, as well as through adding to the number of highly skilled and qualified engineering professionals in the world at the doctoral level, which includes all nationalities, but also paying attention to the need for more women, under-represented minorities, and US doctoral graduates in electrical and computer engineering. Just as my PhD advisor influenced me, I hope that I can influence my students and continue the path of dreaming, learning, experiencing, and engaging. These varying aspects of my career are gratifying for me. This is my dream career.