The two most important elements of my mentoring philosophy are that I am colleague-focused, and unconditionally supportive. This means that I see my students and postdocs as partners, collaborators, and as my current and future colleagues. I treat them with the same respect and appreciation I would any senior scientist. My goal is to help my lab members be successful on a path that will lead to the happiest and most fulfilling life possible, whatever that means for each of them. For some students it may be pursuing a career in academia, while for others it might mean working for the national park service, or pursuing a career as an artist or writer. Success as a mentor, to me, means that my people are happy and healthy, above everything else, and that they trust me always to be on their side and to be an advocate for them.
*This is modified from a response I wrote for a faculty profile by the Society for the Study of Evolution.
On a day-to-day basis, my role as a mentor is to help students navigate the landscapes of science and academia in order to become successful researchers, whether or not they ultimately pursue research as a career or enter academia (one needs to understand it to some degree to make it through grad school!). Every student brings their own unique blend of prior knowledge, interests, and skills to our relationship, and the unique piece of the puzzle that I can fill in is knowledge of the field. Typically my students come into the graduate program with an idea of what they want to work on, usually a group of plants or a question they’re interested in. Because I know the literature, and who is working on what, I can guide them to papers they should read, journals they should follow, tutorials or short courses they should take, and people they should reach out to who would be good collaborators or resources. This is my primary role for my students: advising, in the dictionary-definition sense of “offering suggestions about the best course of action”**. Of course, we are all human beings too, and I celebrate my students’ individuality, diversity, and personal interests as well. I strive to set an example of good work-life balance for everyone in my lab, and I hope I create an environment where they know they should NOT be in the lab every weekend or every evening. I want the lab to be a place everyone looks forward to coming to (myself included), and not a place that causes suffering or anxiety. To this end, it’s also very important to me that lab meetings are relaxed and fun. For example, in a few past semesters we have read a book together and had biweekly lab meetings at various watering holes around Gainesville to discuss the chapters. My students are all lovely, fun, nice people, and socializing together is always rewarding and often hilarious.
**New Oxford American Dictionary
Graduate student research
My students work on a wide range of projects that they develop independently, with guidance from me. Our lab does not follow an NIH-style model where each person is working on a slice of one large grant; rather, we are all working on and developing our own primary questions and research interests. We are joined intellectually by a broad, shared interest in plant evolution, and more narrowly by our organismal focus on ferns and lycophytes. As a prospective advisor, I am especially qualified to help students develop projects in the areas of plant systematics and evolution, phylogenetics, reticulate evolution and polyploidy, diversification, historical biogeography, community assembly, and fern gametophyte ecology. Students are encouraged (and expected) to seek funding for their own research, and I help extensively with identifying funding sources and with the proposal writing process. Depending on the area of a student’s research, I may also be able to supplement funds obtained independently with additional monies.
Sessa Lab Newsletter #1
Fall 2019 (covers Fall 2018 through Summer 2019)
Postdoctoral Research Associate
Ph.D. University of Vermont, 2017
B.S. Colgate University, 2012
M.S. UNC-Wilmington, 2014
B.A. Austin State University, 2012
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B.S. Portland State University, 2014
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B.A. SUNY Buffalo, 2019
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B.A. University of Florida, expected 2020
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