John Ruhl’s commitment to student success earns him Diekhoff Award for Mentoring

John RuhlJohn Ruhl, the Connecticut Professor of Physics and Astronomy, has won a 2016 John S. Diekhoff Award for Distinguished Graduate Student Mentoring—despite that he says he doesn’t consciously mentor.

“We train graduate students using an apprenticeship model—we work side by side for a long time,” Ruhl said. “We get to know them well, value them as colleagues and we want to see them do well, see them move into what they want to do.”

His goal is to challenge his graduate students, but not overwhelm them. He wants them to have fun, but be productive.

A current graduate student who nominated him for the award praised his methods.

“From spending late nights in the lab turning screws to help his students meet critical hardware deadlines to initiating conversations about post-degree options, Professor Ruhl does whatever he can to help his graduate students succeed,” she told the award committee.

“His approach to mentoring takes a very long-term view, taking into account mainly what is best for his students and what will help them achieve their long-term goals.”

Ruhl also instructs by example, she said, whether fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and encouragement in his lab or remaining cool and focused while trouble-shooting temperamental hardware near deadline.

The university created the Diekhoff Award in 1978 to recognize outstanding contributions to the education of graduate students through advising, mentoring and classroom teaching. Two faculty are chosen annually for serving as outstanding mentors to graduate students, connecting them with experts in their discipline, engaging them academically and actively promoting their professional development.

Ruhl “has a good balance between hands-on and hands-off,” a recent PhD graduate said. “Somehow… he manages to give you your own personal space to succeed and own the success, yet simultaneously be involved and supportive. It’s a great mix.”

The graduate said that, from their very first meeting, which included technical and career discussions, Ruhl helped shape his research and career.

“John supported me in my recent career transition in a huge way,” the recent PhD graduate said. While he was working on a project at Princeton University, Ruhl flew him back to campus to meet an Arizona State University professor who was visiting for a day.

They met and talked and agreed to meet again. Soon after the second meeting, the professor offered—and the then-graduate student accepted—a postdoctoral fellowship at Arizona State.

Ruhl said he was “really touched” after learning of his Diekhoff nomination and support.

“I enjoy my graduate students and think a lot of them,” he said. “You want to do right by your students so that they can go on to the great things they can and want to do. The award itself is a small note in the bigger picture: that we value graduate students as an institution. I think that’s the more important thing.”