This is the first instance of the UF Graduate School’s annual Faculty Doctoral Mentoring Award being simultaneously awarded to two members from the same department.
Congratulations to Drs. Kyle Allen, associate professor, and Kevin Otto, professor and senior associate chair, on receiving the 2022-2023 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award. This honor, based on an extensive review of their credentials, letters of recommendation, and peer and student evaluations, recognizes excellence in mentoring our students.
“One of Dr. Allen’s strengths as a mentor is his ability to adapt his mentorship style to each individual. Through frequent individual development plan meetings, he sincerely listens to our career goals and offers individual-focused mentorship.”
“I have found his mentorship and guidance pivotal in my progression through the Ph.D. program. I came to the University of Florida to work in Dr. Allen’s lab because I realized how important it is to have a great mentor. Since then, I have found that his honesty, communication skills, and hands-on approach to mentorship have been impactful in how I’ve navigated my academic career.”
Dr. Kyle Allen’s statement regarding his approach to mentoring:
As a mentor, I focus on providing individualized development plans for each trainee, while also ensuring that my laboratory provides an inclusive and equitable environment. To achieve this, I have implemented several different strategies – the most important being access through several points of contact and an inclusive and patient laboratory culture. Through this, I help develop trust and transparency between myself and my mentees. Below, I describe several elements of my mentoring style that help accomplish this.
Laboratory Culture: My trainees regularly meet with me through 1-on-1 scheduled meetings, laboratory meetings, and spontaneous interactions within the lab. We also have an annual laboratory retreat focused on culture and milestones. I encourage students to use the laboratory meetings to discuss project milestones, goals, and progress, while using their 1-on-1 meetings to troubleshoot in areas where they are “stuck”. Here, our laboratory meetings become a celebration of our successes and a reflection of how far we have come.
The 1-on-1 meetings provide opportunities for my trainees and I to actively troubleshoot together. This is critical for establishing trust, access, and transparency. I frequently remind students that 1-on-1 meetings are not status updates – they are dedicated troubleshooting time. If we need to look at an instrument, troubleshoot code, or discuss difficulties in a class, that’s what the 1-on-1 time is for. These are my favorite meetings – it keeps me actively engaged in the research and provides ample opportunities to teach and learn (for me and the students!). Next, among the faculty in my department, I’m one of the most likely to be in the laboratory. I love dropping into the lab to see what students are working on, and it provides opportunities for the impromptu discussions that are rare in more structured environments. I drop into the lab 2-3 times a week. This more public mentoring session let students get immediate access to help and provide other students the opportunity to see what their peers are asking of me (which also lowers the threshold to ask for help in the future).
Finally, I hold an annual “360” retreat for my lab, where I review our previous year’s goals, and students anonymously review my mentorship style and help to set the next year’s goals. This has been critical to my growth as a mentor and has changed many of our laboratory’s priorities.
Diversity: Diversity, access, and inclusivity are critically important to creativity and innovation. We provide an environment for ideas to collide and create something better than before. While demographics are not a perfect representation of an inclusive environment, I’m proud of the multiple racial, LGBTIA, and socioeconomic backgrounds represented in my team.
“Dr. Otto has been an outstanding mentor during my doctoral studies and has helped me to develop as a researcher and thinker. His guidance and support have been instrumental in helping me to complete my doctoral dissertation in just 4 years and to graduate with more than 10 peer-reviewed publications. One of the most important aspects of Dr. Otto’s mentorship style is his ability to setup collaborations with world experts as well as letting his students tinker with their own projects. Most of the PhD and master’s students in the Otto lab were part of collaborative studies with scientist from a wide range of fields, from arthritis to diabetes.”
“While I worked as a graduate student for Dr. Otto, he simultaneously mentored 8 other doctoral students, 2-3 master’s students, and a large group of undergraduate students. This demonstrates Dr. Otto’s commitment to mentorship and helping his students succeed. Dr. Otto managed to hold 1- on-1 meetings with each of his doctoral and master’s students in addition to all other meetings, classes, and obligations he had. This is truly incredible given his increase in responsibilities from his promotion to Professor and Senior Associate Chair in the J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering during this time.”
Dr. Kevin Otto’s statement regarding his approach to mentoring:
In my mentoring approach, I believe that research is enabled by people with viewpoint diversity working in safe spaces on multi-disciplinary, collaborative approaches. Thus, I seek to mentor students and post-doctoral fellows to be collaborators in our approach and team-scientists in their future. I work to engage a diverse research environment in the laboratory in order to foster this culture of inclusion. I diversify across rank, including post-doctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduate students, and interns from high schools and other institutions. In addition to this diversity of rank, I aim to recruit laboratory members from diverse scientific programs, including biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science and engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering technology, neuroscience, biological sciences, and chemistry.
The culture of inclusion in our laboratory cultivates successful mentees. As such, the laboratory members have won numerous prestigious local, national, and international awards. The graduate students have won various awards including the Geddes-Laufman-Greatbatch award (given to the best individual researcher in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering), three NIH NRSA Predoctoral fellowships, two NSF GRFP fellowships, and the Student Excellence in Neural Interfacing Award given by the Neural Interfaces Conference.
I actively pursue service opportunities to concurrently provide mentorship. I have provided a significant amount of career advising for graduate students, undergraduate students, and post-doctoral fellows seeking professional advancement or education.
To amplify the mentorship impacts of my service efforts, I have worked in administrative leadership since July 2020. As the Senior Associate Chair of BME, I lead the UF BME Academic Team including the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, the Associate Chair for Undergraduate Studies, the Graduate Coordinator, the Undergraduate Coordinator, the Graduate Academic Advisor, the Undergraduate Academic Advisor, and the Academic Assistant. Leading this team, we work to ensure UF BME’s academic program requirements, policies, procedures, and course offerings contribute to the mission and vision of the department and are aligned with the highest standards for BME programs.
My mentoring has global impact through my national service efforts. Perhaps my highest national service impact is demonstrated leadership in national and international conference organizing and execution. In addition to service, I am also a passionate instructor. Developing novel, relevant coursework is my instructional strength. I have taught 16 different courses: 8 graduate courses (5 of which were new courses that I developed); 3 upper division undergraduate/graduate courses (2 new courses that I developed); 3 fundamental undergraduate courses; and 1 undergraduate elective course. I actively seek to provide novel coursework to students of all levels, but particularly graduate students. I am most honored by societal recognitions, where I have worked tirelessly to serve and inspire the next generation of scientists. I am a Fellow of both the BMES and the American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and a Senior Member of the IEEE.