Tess Neal

Tess Neal
New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, School of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Dr. Neal defines what a good mentor looks like to me: encouraging you through your failures, providing feedback on your successes, and pushing you to new goals. Dr. Neal has done all these things in the year I have had the privilege of working with her. She has helped foster my curiosity in the field of psychological research, given me opportunities to develop my skills as a professional and independent researcher through our work in her Clinical and Legal Judgement lab, and pushed me toward new challenges, such as leadership and academic publishing. However, she is not focused simply on mentoring to create better professionals, academics, and researchers. Just as keen as she is to fulfill this role, she is as much if not more dedicated to mentoring students as individuals. 

–Jake Plantz

In the four years I have been at ASU, I have mentored 24 students in scientific research skills and professional development my Clinical and Legal Judgment research laboratory (2 PhD psychology-law students, 5 MS psychology students, and 18 undergraduate students). All of them have been underrepresented: nearly all are first-generation college students, most are racial/ethnic minorities, most are women, more than a third are LBGTQ, and roughly half are veterans of the armed services. I relish this mentoring opportunity, and take full advantage of the privilege to help students flourish and find their way as emerging scientists, educators, and professionals. I was hired in 2015 to help establish the new Law and Behavioral Science group here at ASU, which launched in 2016, with a high-quality online master’s program that we launched in 2017, and a new interdisciplinary PhD program that we launched in 2018. 

My students thrive. I pour myself into mentorship, get to know each of my students as individuals, and support their development as humans first and then as scientists, educators, and/or professionals as it makes the most sense for them in their lives (which they determine, of course). I am so proud of my students’ growth, development, and accomplishments. For example, I mentored my first PhD student to apply for the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, and was thrilled for her when she was awarded the fellowship this past year. She is incredible, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to help her flourish. This example is the most visible accomplishment, but all of my other mentees are incredible too, and I am confident they will all make the world a better place, and use the skills and knowledge they gain here with us at ASU to do so.  

I have thought hard about how to create a culture in my lab here in which my graduate students will thrive both as mentees and as mentors. We have an organized tiered mentoring structure, in which the PhD and MS students in the lab receive primary mentorship from me (as do our undergrads), but they also serve as identified mentors to matched undergrads in the lab. I mentor them about mentorship: we read chapters and empirical work about what works best in mentor/mentee relationships and how to establish and maintain successful relationships. We have a mentorship contract process, which sounds intense, but is really just an opportunity for us to all learn about the qualities of successful mentoring relationships and a chance to discuss on a regular basis (i.e., at least at the start of each term) how we want our relationship to be structured, what is working well, and what we’d like to modify. My students learn how to become leaders, how to work effectively with others, how to listen to and understand the needs of other people, and of course, how to do science – and do it well. 

All of my graduate students have been funded through research grants from the National Science Foundation. I’ve been privileged to have been well-funded by the NSF, and I’ve been able to support my students in research assistantships (full- and part-time) through these grants. These experiences help the students learn how to do high-quality, ethical, and robust and reliable research. I practice open science, and mentor all of my students about how to be transparent about all of the details of how science is done: all decisions, methods, data, analyses, preregistered hypotheses, and so forth are available on the Open Science Framework from our lab. Doing open science is challenging, but very worthwhile, and I feel passionate about mentoring my students to understand the value of open science and the desire to pursue it themselves. 

As a final note, I tried to make clear in this statement that I mentor students to thrive within the structure they want to set for themselves. I explicitly do not value one outcome over others (such as seeking only to train future academics), but rather train my mentees to think about variations in what success will look like at the end of their degree programs. Some students might go on to academic careers, but many others will go on to industry, professional settings, and so forth, and I help students learn to value these potential outcomes as success, as our society needs well-educated people in many different roles. This mentorship approach is consistent with ASU’s values. Furthermore, I am a mother of two young children and am a first-generation college student myself. I live my life authentically. I am open with my students about the challenges and benefits of having a young family while being on the tenure track, and also about the challenges of being a first-generation student and trying to learn how to navigate new norms and feel like one belongs in unfamiliar (and often unwelcoming) environments. I love having the chance to help newcomers feel like they can be part of the academic community; it’s one of the best parts of this job! I think my students value my authenticity, whether they come from a background like mine or not, and I hope it makes them feel like they can thrive authentically as they further their professional and academic development. This mentorship approach is also fully consistent with ASU’s values, and I am grateful to be part of this academic community.