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Jon Estrada

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Mentoring Plan for PhD Students

Communication and Meetings

How would you describe your advising style? Does your approach vary over the course of a student's progress within their degree?

I usually describe my own advising style as "a helpful passenger in the car you are driving". My philosophy is that your Ph.D. is your own, and for this exact reason, my style is customized to each one of my students. Growth into an independent researcher is a critical part of the Ph.D. process, so it is critical for my mentoring style to reflect where each student is presently. 

What is the best way/technology for students to contact you? Are there time frames in which students should expect to hear from you?

Generally, I prefer my students to contact me using Slack and not email, as I've found the turnaround time can be quicker. I have two young children, so I'm typically unavailable during the hours of 5-9pm or so, but am usually in my office during the day and am available to respond at night (and sometimes at odd hours, as I like e.g. writing code at night). I don't expect my students to work the same hours as each other or me! I do, however, ask for transparency of preferences around responses and feedback.  

How often do you plan to meet with students one-on-one (be as specific as possible, it's okay to describe multiple styles that may vary with student needs)? Is an agenda required? How long are meetings?

I prefer to see each student at minimum twice a week—once in an individual meeting and once during group meeting. For some students, they prefer to ask everything in an hour-long time slot. For others, I have quick 15-minute drop-ins multiple times a week. I leave agenda-making to the individual student preference, but note that it is often quite useful as a written record. 

Do you have regular group meetings? What does student participation look like in a group meeting?

Our typical weekly lab meetings are usually one-to-two hours, and each student presents an informal update with a single slide. Lab meeting is also used for practice presentations as e.g. conferences approach. My approach is also quite collaborative, so we have multiple projects with larger group meetings run usually in a one-person-presents style. 

Research and Teaching Expectations

Describe your students' primary area(s) of responsibility and expectations (e.g., reading peer-reviewed literature, in-lab working hours, etc.).

Students from my group learn experimental solid mechanics with a focus in continuum behavior, and gain skills in theoretical solid mechanics as well as computational methods. Performing experiments, leveraging continuum theory and materials behavior, and writing code for modeling phenomena and performing data analysis are the bones of our operation. 

How do you decide authorship and/or authorship order?

Authorship is decided by contribution to the work, and we follow the convention of solid mechanics where advisory roles are listed at the end of the author list. If equal contributions to the work have been made by two students, co-first authorship is appropriate. Our group discusses authorship candidly and comes to a group consensus. 

Do you ask students in your group to serve as a GSI over the course of their program?

Yes—learning to positively communicate with and inspire mechanics learners is a fundamentally critical aspect of technical communication. If a student expresses an interest in the teaching profession and wants to GSI, we will happily facilitate this. Moreover, I have ongoing work with Michigan Engineering's Center for Research in Learning and Teaching that we have leveraged toward professional development for students.  

Do you have general expectations for graduation?

Your Ph.D. is a measure of being an independent researcher—from my group, with a specialty in experimental solid mechanics—and everyone comes in with different levels of expertise, formal training in the field, etc. I expect each of my students to be first author on 3-4 manuscripts before graduation, with the goal of those comprising the main story of the dissertation. 

Are you supportive of your students going on internships? If so, is there a time of year that is best? How many internships can they do?

My goal as a mentor is to support what my students want to do long-term. If this includes work with other organizations (e.g. national labs), I am supportive of this. However, the summer is often the best time to do research, as our primary conferences occur over the summer and there's more space on campus off the academic year. For this reason, summer internships would generally be less aligned with my group's typical operation.  

Opportunities for Feedback

How do you provide students with feedback regarding overall progress, research activities, etc.?

I give feedback in regular 1:1 meetings which occur weekly, and we have approximately semesterly progress discussions. My preference on research activities is just to be kept in the loop; my goal is to give well-informed advice! In research meetings, I ask a lot of questions, usually to understand the details of something. Usually feedback comes out of this process organically.

How far in advance of a deadline should a student expect to provide written work for feedback, such as publication drafts?

This depends on the career stage of the student and the importance of the document. For an abstract submission, a couple of days to a week is sufficient. For a manuscript, the editing process takes longer, so a draft has to be put together a couple of weeks before a deadline. For the latter, I'll be involved in the process; any requirements will be communicated. 

How do you solicit feedback from your students?

I solicit feedback directly in both 1:1s and lab meetings, and will reaffirm that my job here is to help my students achieve what they strive to achieve. 

Conference Attendance

Which meetings do your students generally attend? What funding is available to attend these meetings?

My students usually attend the Society of Experimental Mechanics and Society of Engineering Science annual conferences. We usually can support one funded conference per student on sponsored grants, not including Rackham travel support.  

Time Away from Campus

Discuss expectations regarding vacations and time away from campus and how best to plan for them. What is the time-frame for notification regarding anticipated absences?

Usually I request two weeks notice if you're looking to take vacation where you'll be completely off the grid, just to ensure research continuity. As a rule of thumb, four weeks outside of standard University holiday is appropriate, but I trust my students to take vacation as they need it.  For international students, I understand there are practical limitations to travel. I'm happy to (and have experience in) work(ing) around those schedules on a case-by-case basis.  

Are there specific standard times that students in your group generally take vacation?

Usually the whole group (myself included) takes the break from Dec ~23–Jan 3 or so. We usually coordinate personal time over the summer in advance to avoid vacation overlap with conferences.  

What do you do to facilitate students taking time off (e.g., do you proactively encourage people to take vacation after major deadlines)?

I encourage my students to take time after conferences and summer deadlines. 

Additional Information

Are there any additional points that you would like to share?

As a first-gen Latino faculty member, I care deeply about equity in academia. This cuts across teaching, research, and service. Generally, the best engagement in my group happens when we're trying to positively impact people. 

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