A mentor is someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person. While many can be mentors, only a few are as deeply appreciated as Randall W. Engle, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Psychology whose research focuses on understanding attention and working memory.
On behalf of the students and postdocs who have benefitted from Engle’s dedicated mentorship, the Association for Psychological Science (APS) has honored Engle with its 2017 Mentor Award. APS established this annual lifetime achievement award to honor members of the discipline who masterfully help students and others discover and pursue their own career and research goals.
“It is a great honor to be acknowledged by your students who have meant so much to you over the course of your career,” Engle says. “It has been a true joy to work with students who are motivated to become great researchers and teachers in their own right.”
The award is most fitting. As a colleague observes, Engle has invested in the development and success of his academic “offsprings” perhaps even more than in his enormously productive and influential research program.
That colleague is Michael J. Kane, a psychology professor in the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Kane is one of the countless beneficiaries of Engle’s help and advice, beginning when Kane was a postdoctoral fellow working with Engle.
According to Kane, Engle’s successful mentorship comes partly from a deep motivation to see his students succeed. Engle instills confidence in students and postdocs that they will be successful in whatever career they choose.
Engle accomplishes this by modeling the behavior of an exemplary educator and consequential researcher. In addition, Kane says, Engle spends extraordinary amounts of time with students to build foundational knowledge as well as presentation, communication, and project leadership skills.
Mentees have often heard Engle say that if he has to take lead authorship on a paper with a student, it reflects failure on his part, Kane says. It is especially gratifying for Engle to have students as first authors on key publications, Kane suggests, because “his students’ successes are his own.”
“An astonishing number of Engle’s mentees have become exceedingly accomplished scholars, educators, and advocates for psychological science,” Kane says. “And most of them would attribute their success in no small part to Randy’s formal and informal guidance.”
Kane’s personal story demonstrates Engle’s unique gifts as a mentor. At some time in their careers, both he and Engle were working in Georgia and living apart from their wives, who were still living in Columbia, South Carolina.
“Every Friday evening, Randy and I would hop in his pick-up truck in the Georgia Tech parking lot and drive several hours together to Columbia to see our spouses. We’d return every Sunday evening. At the time I was just enjoying my time with a trusted advisor and friend.
“In retrospect, I can unequivocally say that I learned more of value on Interstate 20, about research, teaching, service, and balancing academic and personal life than I have before or since in any classroom, laboratory, or office.
“Variations on my personal story have been playing themselves out year after year, student after student. Psychology owes Randy a great debt of gratitude.”
Engle will receive the award on May 25, 2017, at the APS annual convention in Boston.