Last year, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience Jessica Boyette-Davis, who studies pain and addiction, had an idea for a new research study. Many scientists have examined estrogen and pain response in females, but Boyette-Davis suspected there was more to learn about the connections between pain and testosterone. She pitched her idea to Meggan Archey ’16, who had done research in Boyette-Davis’ lab before. “I was curious if she’d have any input, or if she’d just say, ‘Oh, that sounds good, let’s do that,’” Boyette-Davis says.
Archey did have input. Over the next two weeks she dropped by her professor’s office several times to brainstorm directions for the research. The two ran the study together and then prepared to analyze the data. Boyette-Davis had come up with a way to interpret the data, but her student had a completely different idea. “And it was such a good idea!” Boyette-Davis says. Ultimately, the two wrote up Archey’s idea and submitted the study for publication.
“That’s what mentoring should be,” Boyette-Davis says. “I provide students with some overarching framework, but then they take off and do a lot of the thinking themselves, and I’m just there to guide it.”
Boyette got her first taste of mentoring when she was completing a postdoctoral fellowship at MD Anderson Cancer Center. There, she had a chance to guide students in complex research studies. She noted that her mentor at MD Anderson encouraged students to develop themselves as scientists and pursue new ideas. And she learned that an effective mentor can be warm and friendly while also setting high work standards for her mentees.
And she made an important discovery: “I realized I was more excited about mentoring than I was about the actual results of the study we were working on,” Boyette-Davis says. “I love doing research, and I love science, but I found that my best days were when I interacted with the students.” She decided to work at a university that focused on teaching and fostering close relationships between students and faculty — a path that led her to St. Edward’s.
Today, Boyette-Davis reminds her students to pursue a field that energizes them the way mentoring energized her. A conversation about which classes to take next semester can quickly turn into a heartfelt discussion about whether a student is on the right life path. “It’s hard, because I don’t ever want to tell a student what she should do,” Boyette-Davis says. But if she hears a student talk longingly about changing majors or career directions, she urges her mentee to take the long view. Switching paths now might mean an extra six months in college, but it could mean a lifetime of greater career satisfaction. Boyette-Davis would know: as an undergraduate, she declared a business major but switched to psychology, a subject that’s been a better fit in the long run.
“One thing I tell students is that you have to be really honest with yourself about who you are,” Boyette-Davis says. “Because if you’re not, you’re going to be making decisions for someone else all the time, and it’s going to lead to a lot of dissatisfaction in life. Get to know yourself and figure out what your motivations are. You go to college to figure that out and build your career goals on those things.”
By Robyn Ross
Photography by Whitney Devin ’10