Motivation and outlook

Adam B. Smith

My approach to mentoring is driven by the same motivation that drew me to conservation: I seek to be of service to the world. As a result, I seek to be of service to you and my other mentees, regardless of whether we meet just once for consultation or work together as colleagues for decades. Having followed a non-traditional path to academic research myself, I support you regardless of whether you seek to remain in the research and teaching fields or seek any of life’s other worthy endeavors. My approach to mentoring is informed by my own experiences (both very bad and very good) as a student and experience teaching about 500 students of all levels (kindergarten through graduate). I am interested in whatever you are interested in.


The three roles a mentor plays are: teacher, partner, and cheerleader.  I seek to be each of these as you require throughout your tenure working with me. Since every person is different, I cannot “prescribe” an approach until I work with you a bit, but as time passes, our roles will evolve. Wherever we start, my goal in mentoring is to end as your “cheerleader”—you need to go on and do even greater things, regardless of whether that ends in becoming dean of a prestigious academic department or teaching English to schoolkids in rural Japan.

I offer as much support as I can, but I also expect you to ask for help when you need it, especially when I am unable to provide it. For postdocs (and anyone else interested), this involves developing a personal and individual development plan which we use to design experiences during your tenure with me.

When I cannot provide mentorship in a specific area, I will seek to connect you with people who can.  For example, I have arranged for mentees of historically underrepresented groups to have a secondary advisor who could understand, from personal experience, the situation mentees find themselves in. I am especially sensitive to “non-obvious” minorities (i.e., people who identify with a situation that is not the focus of a particular “ism” like racism, sexism, ageism, etc.) and to people with non-neurotypical mentalities (ASD, VAST/ADHD, etc.).  My experience with non-neurotypicals is informed by living with neurodiverse family members, and involvement in the neurodiversity advocacy community.

I firmly believe in putting one’s identify and health first, before work and before obligations. I encourage mentees to have a healthy work/life integration and to take time off, and expect the same of myself.  I especially encourage anyone working in ecology to actively engage with and experience nature, since that is the reason we are here.


Time is the coin of our lives, and I like to spend mine on mentoring. You can expect to meet with me tête-à-tête on a weekly basis, or more as needed. In turn, if at all possible, I invite and expect you to attend weekly lab meetings.  Most people find that most of their mentoring comes through interaction with their peers, so this is an important part of developing yourself professionally and personally. Since much of our work has become virtual due to the pandemic, I will also attempt to connect you to people in and out of the lab with whom you probably would have connected anyway had meetings been in person.

Finally, I offer “mentoring for life”—a gift given by my own graduate mentor, and one I want to pass on.