Achieving a PhD is an arduous and demanding business that can tax every neuron a student can muster.
Having an advisor of the caliber of Joshua Zide, Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, who brings a unique blend of service, compassion and research excellence to the task can make a world of difference for students.
For his dedication to the professional and personal success of students, Zide has won the University of Delaware’s 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award.
The award is presented annually to a faculty member whose dedication and commitment to excellence in graduate education has made “a significant contribution to the quality of life and professional development of graduates” at UD.
“Josh’s style of mentorship is best described through the concept of servant leadership,” wrote graduate student James Bork in his nomination letter, “which represents an inversion of the traditional boss/subordinate hierarchy. He believes his role is to support us and our work, not the other way around. This is made clear by his repeated emphasis to us: “You do not work for me. Instead, I work with you.’”
Zide had heard something similar as a student and realized the effect that approach had on him. He was at a project briefing and the comment came from his supervisor – Prof. Art Gossard of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
“He said, ‘I’m Art Gossard and I work with Joshua,'” Zide recalled. “Not ‘I’m guessing Joshua’ or ‘Joshua works for me.’ Art is a famous, well-respected scientist who has had an incredibly remarkable career, and that one comment made me realize that the setting really matters and that I own my efforts. I knew this was the kind of consultant I wanted to be.”
He has achieved this goal, say his students. They have great confidence in both his science and the values he emphasizes in their collaboration.
“Josh’s unique student-centred approach fosters an almost parental relationship with us students,” Bork wrote, “a relationship in which not only our performance as researchers is important, but also our mental and emotional well-being.”
Those qualities are especially welcome as the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic invades everyone’s life, exacerbating already difficult conditions, Bork said. Zide offered support at every team meeting and often stayed in touch via text or other messages to help students stay connected and navigate the changes, he said.
Zide tailors its counseling methods to the diverse needs of students, graduate student Lauren Nowicki McCabe said in her nomination letter.
“These can be either weekly or individual meetings as needed, providing extra practice of presentations, extra attention to editing student writing, teaching concepts from classes he hasn’t even taught, and going to the lab while gearing up to do the.” Health check maintenance, and the list goes on and on,” she wrote.
McCabe also noted Zide’s “dad jokes” — “which help everyone roll their eyes and feel good” — and the occasional visits from Zide’s dogs to help students relieve stress.
“He cheered with me when my experiments worked, knocked on wood for those we looked forward to, and groaned with me when things went disastrously wrong,” McCabe wrote.
A student who was not among his advisors but took Zide’s 2019 course on epitaxial growth and tape engineering wrote that the experience was not only academically outstanding but also personally transformative.
“Zide’s expert guidance helped me navigate academic problems, and his kindred spirit and kindness helped me regain my self-esteem and confidence,” wrote Kazy Fayeen Shariar, now an engineer at GlobalFoundries. “His mentoring and guidance ultimately helped me achieve my degree.”
Zide’s research in the nanoscale, particularly in the use of molecular beam epitaxy to develop new semiconductors and nanocomposites, has been recognized with awards throughout his career. For example, last year he was elected a Fellow of the AVS in recognition of sustained and outstanding contributions to materials, interfaces and processes.
As he excels in these endeavors, he brings students into this environment of excellence, helping them hone their research skills, gain a foothold as scientists in advanced engineering, and meet the many challenges that arise along the way.
“I think that I excel in my research precisely because I enable my students to bring their best to their work,” he said. “Time management is always a struggle, of course, but everyone has to decide what’s important to them, and for me it means caring about people. Most of the time, I can’t imagine someone coming up to me and saying they’re in a crisis and saying, ‘Sorry, not my problem.'”
Bork said making time to help and care for others is central to Zide’s approach to research and life.
“He frequently encourages us to be ‘good neighbors’ to others and insists that the time I spend helping others is just as important as the time I spend making progress with my research,” Bork said . “And while Josh would be slow to recognize the achievements of his students, it is his example from which I have learned how to advance my professional life without losing sight of the bigger picture and his support that allows me to do so to do.”
Zide has chaired seven doctoral committees, two master’s thesis committees, and served on 45 other doctoral committees in materials science and engineering and across campus.
Its students have received many significant awards, including competitive doctoral and graduate scholarships, and awards for service, research, teaching, and professional development.
“This impressive tally of awards for his current and alumni students is a clear indication of his strong mentorship and active support of his students in classroom and laboratory work under his direction,” wrote Darrin Pochan, chair and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in his nomination letter. “His students were also outstanding citizens of the department, both in their expressed service capacity and their implicit support of the welcoming and vibrant culture.”
In addition to his research, teaching, and consulting work, Zide directs the graduate program in materials science and engineering, co-founded the popular Words for Nerds program, which aims to help students excel in science communication, and is co-director of the Materials Growth Facility. He is also Associate Editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology.
Zide, who joined the UD faculty in 2007, received his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara.