In recognition of the quality mentorship provided to graduate students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Brenda Davy, professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, received the Outstanding Mentor Award from Virginia Tech’s Graduate School.

Davy came to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in 2003 and has mentored 14 master’s and 10 Ph.D. students, and currently advises one master’s and one Ph.D. student. Three of the Ph.D. students Davy has mentored have received the Outstanding Recent Graduate Alumnus Award for the Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise.

“When you see your students doing well, publishing their papers, and going on to have successful careers, that’s when you get the feeling that you’re on the right track when mentoring,” Davy said, who received her Ph.D. in human nutrition from Colorado State University and her M.S. in exercise physiology from Virginia Tech. “That’s what makes this award meaningful – seeing the students with which we’ve worked so closely be successful.”

Many of the students mentored by Davy are already registered dietitians or students in dietetics who want to become registered dietitians, something Davy takes into account when mentoring.

“They want to be practicing dietitians in settings such as hospitals, and their projects need to reflect that,” Davy said. “Their research interests are most likely different from a student who wants to become an academic research scientist, so I need to help tweak projects and the research experience so the student can derive the most meaning from their work.”

Davy refined her formula for being a mentor as she gained experience as a faculty member.

“When you’re beginning your career as a faculty member, you’re still figuring out the job, you're still learning the position, you're learning about research, setting up your laboratory, and developing a research agenda,” Davy said. “Adding mentorship into the mix is another new experience that you're trying to figure out for yourself as a new faculty member. My approach now is a little bit different, since I have an established research program. I also have a general framework in my head on how to approach graduate student mentoring.”

Davy stressed, however, that it’s important to find what works for each specific student.

“Some faculty are more hands-off, some faculty are more hands-on, some are very structured with training their graduate students, while some are not at all structured. All of those methods can work,” Davy said. “There's no one right way to be a mentor.”

—    Written by Max Esterhuizen