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The ABCT Spotlight on a Mentor program aims to highlight exceptional mentors among the membership ranks of ABCT. In this edition we present an interview with our most recent spotlighted mentor, Dr. Jennifer Read. Dr. Read completed her B.A. at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. She received her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rhode Island in 2000 after completing her pre-doctoral internship at the Brown University Consortium. Dr. Read completed an NIAAA-funded T32 Fellowship at Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies from 2000-2003. After this, she joined the Clinical Psychology Department faculty at the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, NY. There, she currently is a Professor of Psychology, and the Director of Clinical Training. She mentors Clinical Psychology doctoral students, teaches, and provides clinical supervision at the University’s clinic.
Dr. Read’s research focuses on the individual and environmental factors that influence heavy and problematic substance use in young adults. This includes factors such as personality, gender, affective state, cognitions, and social influences. Much of Dr. Read’s research has examined how trauma and post-traumatic stress may influence or be influenced by substance use, particularly in young adults. With her students and other colleagues, she has published over 100 articles on these topics. Further, with her colleague Dr. Paige Ouimette, she has co-edited a book on the intersection between PTSD and substance use, titled Trauma and Substance Abuse: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment of Comorbid Disorders.
Dr. Read was nominated for the Spotlight on a Mentor recognition by research assistants, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and colleagues, a testament to her far-reaching talent as a mentor to trainees and collaborators across developmental level. These letters praised Dr. Read as a research and professional mentor, clinical supervisor, and psychopathology professor. Doctoral student Courtney Motschman described Dr. Read’s ability to tailor mentorship to each student’s needs: “Dr. Read has taught me that being a successful mentor is about meeting students where they are. Some students are stronger than others in certain domains upon entering the program, and her mentorship helps students to develop fundamental skills first, if necessary, before progressing to more advanced skills. This allows every student to improve and grow without feeling overwhelmed or reluctant to ask for assistance.”
Common to nearly all of her nomination letters was a description of Dr. Read’s practice of requiring that her students set short- and long- term goals for themselves at the beginning of the semester and evaluate progress on these goals throughout the semester. This model was regarded as tremendously influential and effective by Dr. Read’s trainees. As articulated by Rachel Bachrach: “These goals helped both Jen and her mentees stay on track so that each of us obtained the individual experience necessary to pursue relevant career opportunities after graduation.”
Many of Dr. Read’s students and trainees described her willingness to devote time to her mentees in a way that conveyed support and respect. Rachel Bachrach wrote, “[Dr. Read’s] availability and kindness taught me that mentoring is not just about dictating, but instead a partnership and collaboration between two individuals striving for the same goal. Jen also modeled how to balance work-life and family-life, which I continue to appreciate as a currently working mother. It is extraordinarily helpful to see a woman with a family succeed in academia, as unfortunately, these examples can be scarce.” Samuel Meisel reflected similar sentiments: “Although Dr. Read would be deserving of receiving recognition for her mentorship solely based on her ability to help students grow as clinicians, what makes her a truly exceptional mentor is the extra time and effort she puts into her clinical supervising that makes students feel supported, respected, and valued.” Lauren Rodriguez also wrote about Dr. Read’s availability to her students: “…Jen is unique in that she regularly seeks feedback from her students on her own performance as a mentor. Her accessibility and approachability are two characteristics I have really valued as a first year graduate student… She is truly an inspiration and is someone to look up to and admire. If in my future I am successful, I will be exactly like Jennifer Read.”
Dr. Read was widely praised as a clinical supervisor as well as a research mentor. Sharon Radomski described her experience this way: “As a clinical supervisor, Dr. Read challenged me more than any other supervisor I had during my time at UB. She helped me to become more succinct in describing my cases verbally, in my notes, and in my reports. She refined my clinical skills by reviewing tape of my sessions with me (sometimes moment by moment), challenging me to think of a circumstance from multiple perspectives, or encouraging me to consider how my beliefs and values may influence my clinical interactions. I also really appreciated that she introduced me to the role of clinical supervisor by having me provide supervision to a classmate.” Jessica Blayney also wrote about Dr. Read’s skill as a clinical supervisor: “…Jen promotes flexibility in clinical work, especially with more complex cases. She urges her students to think about the short- and long-term goals for each client. This not only keeps you organized session-to-session, but also prevents unnecessary deviation from the treatment plan.”
Articulating the sentiments of many of Dr. Read’s nomination letters, Gregory Egerton illustrated Dr. Read’s model of mentorship using a phrase that she uses in her work with graduate students:
…Jen says… ‘I work hard for you, you work hard for you, you work hard for me, and we work hard for each other.’ Despite its simplicity, this quote reflects the essential elements of the mentorship philosophy embodied by Jen in every aspect of her work with her students. First, Jen is an extremely diligent, thoughtful, and hard-working mentor who cares deeply about the welfare of her students (“I work hard for you…”). Second, Jen’s thoughtfulness and diligence in her work as a mentor encourages this behavior by her students for themselves and for her (“…you work hard for you, you work hard for me…”). Finally, Jen’s relationship to her students is collaborative, cooperative and reciprocal, and is based on the unique connection she shares with them (“…we work hard for each other.”). More broadly, this statement symbolizes the openness and supportiveness of Jen’s mentorship, and that she truly works with her students
Dr. Read responded to questions from ABCT’s Academic Training and Education Standards Committee about her experience and goals as a mentor, as well as her mentorship philosophy and mentorship practices.
For how long have you been a member of ABCT?
I have been a member of ABCT since I was a graduate student, so for about 20 years. The ABCT conference has been a mainstay for me ever since I first started coming in my first or second year of grad school.
For how long have you engaged in the type of mentoring that you engage in now?
I started mentoring doctoral trainees when I came here to the University at Buffalo in 2003. However, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been engaged in exactly the kind of mentoring that I’m engaged in now for 13 years. It’s really evolved over the years, and I keep tweaking as I go.
What type of mentor do you aspire to be? Do you have a mentorship philosophy?
I believe that my job as a mentor is to empower students. This involves helping students to learn what they need to know, to support and guide them as they master various challenges along the way, and to instill in them the confidence that they will need to pursue their interests and ambitions. The best part of being a mentor is to see students come into their own professionally, as they begin to see their own potential, and to know that you have played a role in that evolution.
My philosophy about the mentoring relationship is one that I routinely share with my students. I believe that a successful mentoring relationship is a mutual one, where both the mentor and the mentee are giving and taking in equal parts. If at any point one person is giving or taking too much, it all falls apart. This model also depends on a lot of open communication, so that together you can evaluate how the balance is working, and to make adjustments from time to time, as needed.
What practices do you engage in that foster your mentorship style?
I strive to be very direct and open. I don’t want mentees to feel that they have to guess about what I’m thinking or what I expect. I try to be quick to praise students when they’ve done something well, but I also will be honest with them if I think they’ve missed the mark. I expect them to do the same for me. This is how we both will be the best we can be.
Related to this, I work to create an environment that fosters a strong working relationship. I want students to feel comfortable enough to tell me honestly when they are struggling, or have concerns, or when something isn’t working in our mentoring collaboration. They will only do this if I consistently make open communication the standard, and model it myself. To this end, I try to be approachable and receptive, and to actively solicit constructive feedback.
In collaboration with my students, I engage in both short and long-term planning for their professional success. Every semester I ask all of my students to make a list of their goals for the semester, their goals for the year, and their long-term plans. We meet to discuss these goals at the beginning and end of the semester and use this time to note accomplishments, to identify barriers to progress, and to strategize about how best to overcome those barriers. We also use these meetings as a time to check in about how things are going more generally. Thinking about short-term progress with an eye toward longer-term goals really helps to keep us on track for achieving the student’s own aspirations and objectives.
I work collaboratively with students. I don’t see myself as the boss, or the expert. Some of my best mentoring experiences have been with students who inspired me to take my research in a new direction, or to think about a problem in a different way. I learn a lot from my students, and I value that.
I believe that one of the most important things that I can do as a mentor is to help my students come to trust in their own abilities and judgement. This really guides how I approach working with students in almost any setting, research or clinical. I try to serve as a sounding board, to push a bit, to challenge, to help the student find her or his own view or perspective.
I care about my students as people, and I want them to know that. Even though things are busy for all of us, it’s important to check in from time to time to see how things are going, and what s/he is up to – not just in work-wise, but outside of work as well.
I try to portray a realistic view of myself and my professional life. This involves sharing my failures as well as my successes. It’s important for students to know that everyone – no matter how accomplished or talented – falls down sometimes. It’s OK. You just pick yourself back up and keep trying. I think if I normalize that for them, then they’ll have more realistic expectations for themselves and their careers.
What are your strengths as a mentor?
I care about being a good mentor. It’s something that is important to me and that I work hard at. I do a lot of reading and thinking about this topic, and often share these endeavors with my students.
I get excited about students’ ideas and work with them to see those ideas come to fruition. I love when a student comes to me with an idea for a project that they are enthusiastic about, and we work on it together to think through the all of angles, finding a way to make it work.
I invest in my students. What they want for themselves is important to me. I’ll work hard to help them achieve their goals. I revel in their successes and feel the sting along with them when they experience disappointment. Your students are only your students for a little while. After that, they are your colleagues, your collaborators, and your friends. It is a long-term relationship, and the investment in that relationship is an important one.
I think I’m good at recognizing the unique strengths that students bring to the table, and also at helping them to see and appreciate those strengths as well. I also have been successful at combining forces with other students or faculty to maximize on individual strengths and to create really strong and productive collaborations.
I create a positive and enjoyable environment for professional development. People thrive when they are happy and comfortable, and where there is a culture of caring about and helping one another. Everyone in my lab is a part of the team, and we are working together for our individual and shared success. For nearly 15 years, my lab has been an enjoyable and supportive place for students to get intellectually engaged, and to learn and develop. I feel very proud of this.
Whom do you perceive to be your most influential mentors? Describe the main lessons that you have learned from your mentors.
I’ve learned a lot from and been supported by so many people along my professional career. It’s hard to choose just a few.
Mark Wood was my first mentor in the field of addictions when I was a graduate student. He had a profound influence on my early professional development. One of the most important things I learned from him was that you should take your work seriously, but not yourself seriously. He also taught me to set high expectations for myself, and to never give anything less than the best I could do. He was simultaneously my toughest critic and my biggest fan. Both were important and powerful motivators. He passed away not long ago and I think of him often, particularly in my interactions with my own students.
I completed my post-doctoral work at Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies and there I received really good mentorship from so many people. Peter Monti and Tony Spirito in particular were incredibly important to me in helping me think about my own career aspirations, and providing me with resources, support, and encouragement to reach for those aspirations.
What do you tend to look for in potential mentees?
Intellectual curiosity, enthusiasm for the field, academic aptitude, and relevant experience all are important. In addition to these, I’ve come to believe that it’s often some of the personal characteristics that are the most critical to long-term success. Therefore, I also look for someone who is motivated, who is a hard worker, who is persistent, who will both give and take feedback. I also really appreciate students who have a sense of humor. It makes the work more fun if you can laugh from time to time.
What advice would you give to other professionals in your field who are starting out as mentors?
Just be authentic. I think especially earlier in their careers, beginning mentors may feel that they have to project an image of authority or total mastery to their mentees. Instead, my recommendation would be to trust in yourself that you have something to offer. You don’t need to create an image.
What do you enjoy doing for fun/relaxation?
My husband and two daughters are my main, go-to people for fun and (sometimes) relaxation. There are other things too, though. I’ve been a runner my whole adult life and I’ve found that this is an important source of rejuvenation and mood management. More recently I’ve also taken up spinning and cycling and I enjoy these a great deal as well. I’m an avid reader and have been in the same book club for 12 years. I also love to travel and have been fortunate to combine some of my work activities with travel to some really interesting places, including Cambodia, Singapore, and Vietnam.