Mentoring Statement

Mentoring philosophy*

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.

Mentoring style

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.

Lab Code of Conduct

Core Values

Our lab members are committed to making the lab a safe, welcoming, comfortable, and collegial environment for all members and visitors. We are united by our interest in science and our shared commitment to help one another be successful in our professional pursuits, whether in school or our chosen careers. Each of us deserves a happy, healthy, and supportive lab community where we can grow as individuals and identify and carry out these pursuits. We recognize that safe, supportive, and inclusive work environments do not happen on their own; rather, our lab culture is created cumulatively and continuously through the day-to-day interactions we have with one another, including in person, via email, or over Zoom, and whether we are in a professional or a social setting. We welcome and celebrate the individual identities of all lab members and visitors, and harassment or discrimination on any grounds will not be tolerated. It is the responsibility of each of us to create a positive and inclusive community where every person feels comfortable and valued, and all lab members (and visitors) are expected to embody and adhere to this code of conduct.


These reminders apply whether we are in the lab or field, at a conference or workshop, or socializing with one another.

  • Be respectful in all communications.
  • Ethics and integrity matter; hold yourself and others to a high standard.
  • Be supportive and encouraging; do not insult, belittle, or dismiss anyone’s contributions.
  • Be open-minded when learning about new ideas or perspectives.
  • Celebrate one another’s successes, and commiserate when things don’t turn out as we wish.
  • Respect one another’s boundaries, both physical and during verbal or written communication.
  • When giving feedback, be positive and explain your reasoning. Be kind. Don’t use ALL CAPS or lots of exclamation points!!! when giving written feedback.
  • Be mindful of power dynamics and the impact of your words, especially when giving feedback or criticism. Consider a feedback sandwich – begin and end with something positive.
  • When receiving feedback, assume that others are acting in good faith and wish to help you.
  • Make opportunities for other lab members to join in discussions or projects; invite them in.
  • Be mindful that a “joke” to one person may be hurtful to another; think before you speak.
  • Remember that the effects of your words and actions matter more than your intentions; you can do harm without meaning to. If you find yourself in this position, listen without speaking. Offer a genuine apology. Commit to learning and doing better.

Inappropriate behaviors

Inappropriate behaviors may take place in the lab or field, during digital communication, at a conference, or when we are outside our professional contexts and engaging with one another socially. Unacceptable behaviors are unacceptable at all times. They include, but are not limited to: 

  • Offensive verbal comments (including “jokes” or inappropriate comments presented in a joking manner) related to any of the following: sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, ethnicity, race, religion (or lack thereof), age, language fluency or accent, dis/ability status, chronic illness, physical appearance, body size, immigration or citizenship status, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, or any other aspect of one’s appearance or identity.
  • Discrimination or deliberate exclusion based on any of the above.
  • Deliberately mis-gendering someone, either by using the wrong name or pronoun.
  • Inappropriate physical contact or unwelcome sexual attention.
  • Viewing or opening sexual images in public spaces.
  • Deliberate intimidation, stalking, or following.
  • Inappropriately pressuring someone to do or say anything they are not comfortable with.
  • Photography or recording without a person’s consent.
  • Repeated interruptions, or sustained disruption of discussions.
  • Falsely reporting an incident.

Other problematic behaviors to be aware of:

  • Research misconduct (could include fabrication, falsification, plagiarism, misuse of funds, etc.)
  • Using work email ( addresses) for personal matters. This is important! Your UF email is subject to public records requests and Sunshine laws – don’t use it to communicate with your friends and family, for your own safety.


If you experience or witness a violation of this code of conduct, you have every right to communicate your experience and seek assistance and resolution. The reporting procedures below should be followed for issues involving our lab members or visitors, but the links may also be useful if you need to report problems elsewhere at the University of Florida. If you experience harassment or any behavior (physical or verbal) that make you uncomfortable, please do the following: 

  • If you feel comfortable doing so, ask the person to stop; anyone who is asked to stop an inappropriate behavior must comply immediately.
  • If you are the subject or focus of the inappropriate behavior, please follow the steps below. If you witness an inappropriate behavior, please first discuss further action with the person who was the subject, to determine whether they are comfortable with you taking these steps.
  • Document in as much detail as you can what happened – write down the date, time, and location, and any details of what occurred, or print out an email if you received inappropriate email or online communication.
  • If the situation involves a lab member or visitor, please contact Emily right away.
  • If Emily is the cause of your concern, or you do not feel comfortable talking to her, please contact Dr. Christine Davis. Christine is a faculty member in the Biology Department and has agreed to serve as an impartial, external mediator, or can help to start formal reporting procedures, should the need arise.
  • We will attempt to resolve the issue within the lab and to the satisfaction of the reporter. If necessary, or as the reporter wishes, the Biology Department Chair, Graduate Coordinator, or other appropriate departmental or college authorities may be consulted. A formal report can be lodged if necessary, using the links below.
  • Important to know: Emily is considered a “mandatory reporter” at UF, which means that if you disclose acrime to her (in the legal sense, e.g., physical assault, sexual abuse, rape), she is legally obligated to report it to the appropriate authorities, including the campus police. Other lab members (i.e., graduate students, undergraduate students, and postdocs) are not mandatory reporters.
  • Other useful resources:


This code of conduct is based on these documents and resources:

Principal Investigator

Emily B. Sessa

Patricia K. Holmgren Director
William & Lynda Steere Herbarium
The New York Botanical Garden

Adjunct Professor, Biology Department, City University of New York
Courtesy Professor, Biology Department, University of Florida

Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2012
B.A. Cornell University, 2005

CV (current as of October 2022)


Postdocs & Graduate Students

Mwihaki John (MJ), PhD student
Jessie Pelosi, PhD candidate
Lindsey Riibe, MS 2021
Christopher Krieg, PhD 2019
Cody Howard, Postdoc 2020–2022
Jerald Pinson, PhD 2020
Weston Testo, Postdoc 2018-2020
Lauren Trotta, MS 2016
Sally Chambers, Postdoc 2014-2017

Undergraduate Researchers

Kayla Wheatley,
Botany 2022
Haiden Burrichter,
Environmental Science 2023
David Adelhelm,
Botany 2020
Rodrigo Rivero,
Biology 2017
Mary Regan, Agricultural & Biological Engineering 2016
Emily Kim, Microbiology & Cell Sciences 2024
Zach Zeller, Sustainability Studies 2019
Lucy Elkin, Washington & Jefferson College, REU 2019
Emily Lockwood,
Botany 2020
Matthew Richardson, Biology and Statistics 2018
Isabel Mansour, Colorado College, REU 2019
Samantha Chavez, Nutritional Sciences 2018
Naomi Senehi, Environmental Engineering 2017
Maria Rodriguez,
Biology 2018
Kaitlynn Zemaitis, Chemical Engineering 2014
Kerianne Jarnagin,
Biology 2020
Andrea Hammer,
Botany 2018
Ashley Hale, Chemical Engineering 2016
Alan Gonzalez, Wildlife Ecology & Conservation 2016