For Gordon Bower, PhD, mentoring is a critical part of his job as a psychology professor at Stanford University. And it's a job he does well. The Albert Ray Lang Professor of Psychology has mentored dozens of students who have gone on to become successful in academia, such as John R. Anderson, PhD, who worked with Bower to develop the FRAN simulation of free recall and later the HAM Theory of Memory; Stephen Kosslyn, PhD, John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard University; David Rosenbaum, PhD, a Pennsylvania State University professor; and Robert J. Sternberg, PhD, APA's president-elect.
Bower has served on about 150 student dissertation committees and was the primary adviser on more than 50 of them.
"He's been a very valued mentor to me for my entire career as a psychologist," Sternberg said at a session on mentoring during APA's 2002 Annual Convention. Sternberg said Bower taught him the importance of asking big questions and finding big problems, becoming a leader and not a follower, and the importance of communicating ideas clearly.
Bower--who himself was mentored by Neal Miller and Frank Logan--attributed his success in mentoring to mostly luck and being at a school that attracts good students. "So much of it is being in the right place at the right time," said Bower, adding that dozens of successful students have come through Stanford University since 1959 when he began teaching psychology there. And, he modestly admitted, "maybe my enthusiasm for psychology rubbed off on some of the students."
Bower stresses to his students that they read the research literature actively and try to think of ways they can contribute or go beyond the readings. He encourages his graduate students to follow their own topics of interest, but to try to be at the forefront of new research developments. Honesty is a big part of creating a successful mentor relationship, Bower said, with mentors providing direct feedback about the quality of the mentees' ideas and work. Mentors should be able to help students extend, critique and evaluate their ideas and findings, assist in attaining research grants and funding, and have the confidence to ask questions if the mentee is not being clear.
"Students are my treasures," Bower said. "I get great satisfaction from their accomplishments."