By News Office Staff | Photos by Robert Kozloff | Videos by UChicago Creative
The Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring recognizes regular, full-time faculty members in the four divisions and the Divinity School for exemplary graduate teaching.
Andrew Campbell, PhD’93, received his doctorate under the supervision of Dion Heinz, professor in geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago. Now Campbell’s first UChicago student, Rebecca Fischer, will complete her doctorate shortly after he receives a Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring.
“She came with me from my previous institution almost five years ago,” Campbell said. “She was a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellow, she’s about to start a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Fellowship, and she already has two faculty job offers from prestigious universities in hand. She’s well set for making a name for herself in our field.”
All three of the graduate students in Campbell’s research group reflect his teaching and mentoring savvy. Second-year Lily Thompson, and third-year Bethany Chidester, are both NSF Graduate Fellows.
Thompson said she came to UChicago because she and Campbell shared many common interests in mineral physics, but also because of his flexibility. “I wanted to learn techniques that his group had never used before. He was incredibly supportive.”
It’s easy for graduate students to become singularly focused on their research. But Daisy Delogu encourages her students to keep their minds open and their intellectual horizons broad.
While she hopes her students come away from her courses with a love of the Middle Ages, “my interests are not limited to late medieval French literature, and I don’t think anyone else’s should be either,” Delogu says. “The best students, and maybe the best teachers, are the ones that find interest in all kinds of objects.”
A sense of perspective is equally important outside the classroom. “All of us are trying to balance lots of different things, not just our work,” says Delogu, who had her first child in graduate school and her second as a junior faculty member. She counsels graduate students to manage time effectively so they can devote attention to the non-academic aspects of their lives—and makes a conscious effort to practice what she preaches.
In designing graduate courses, Delogu often relies on her own curiosity. “I teach things because I want to read them,” she explains. “Getting to talk about something that’s new to me with a group of people for whom it’s also new is invigorating, and a lot of fun.”
Linguistics is a hybrid field. Like the social sciences, it relies on quantitative analysis and empirical fact. Like the humanities, it requires the ability to advance an argument through clear, cogent prose.
“Students get caught up in the scientific part of it, and forget the communicative part,” says Chris Kennedy. In his work with graduate students, “70 percent of what I do is to try to teach them how to write and communicate.”
Fortunately, Kennedy is surrounded by an exceptionally adventurous group of graduate students. He credits UChicago’s undergraduates with asking questions that challenge graduate students and encourage them to “think in a way that’s less conservative and more risky,” he says. “Our graduate students are willing to try things that are off a safe and steady path.”
This quality comes in handy for Kennedy, too—the students’ fresh ideas “open the door to new ways of thinking about things that I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.”
John Levi Martin has been called an “intellectual nomad in the universe of sociological inquiry” for his wide-ranging research interests. He is known for his work on social network analysis, social structures, and classical theory.
He often teaches a required class on research design and method for new graduate students to get them ready for their first empirical paper. “It’s a bit like those hydraulic systems that throw an airplane off a carrier,” Martin explains. “It’s designed to rapidly get the students up to speed so that they will be able to fly on their own when the class is over.” He’s currently teaching a seminar on the sociology of war.
He views teaching graduate students as something close to a guild system. “With undergraduates, you blink and they’re gone. I love UChicago undergrads, and teaching them is incredibly fun and a great way of continuing to learn,” says Martin. “With undergraduates, you are teaching skills, the material, and sometimes cool new ways of thinking. With graduate students, they had better already have those things down. Now, we are teaching them a craft.”
Martin says it’s definitely nice to be chosen to receive the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring, but feels a little guilty thinking about how much work the students did to submit their nominations.
When Angela Olinto entered graduate school in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982, there were two women and 60 men in her class. But over her 21 years at the University of Chicago, Olinto has welcomed 10 women and five men as graduate students into her research group, which specializes in particle astrophysics and cosmology.
“It’s thrilling to look back and realize I’ve had about 70 percent women in my group, which is not something I planned,” Olinto says. “It’s been a colorful and brilliant group, lots of different nationalities and personalities, lots of different points of view. I’ve always learned as much from them as I taught them.”
Olinto’s students now have dispersed across the country and around the world. But many of them came together via email to nominate Olinto for the Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring. Coordinating the effort was Olinto’s current graduate student, Ke Fang, who graduates this summer.
“Independent of actually receiving the award, just the nomination itself was a great honor to me,” Olinto says.
Originally published on June 1, 2015.