According to Paula McSteen’s students, it’s the personal touch that sets her apart as an instructor worthy of the 2019 Research Mentor of the Year Award. Having mentored 29 students since arriving at MU in 2010, McSteen has many grateful mentees.
“She always asked what I was involved in, and she would take careful notes on what I have going on outside of the lab and class,” wrote Zayd Al Rawi in a nomination letter for his mentor. “She always makes sure that I have everything I need to be successful.”
Ethan Zars attributes his Goldwater honorable mention to the scientific rigor he learned from working alongside McSteen in the lab.
“That’s one of the great things about Dr. McSteen as an advisor — she doesn’t just tell students how to do things,” Zars says. “She explains the science behind the technique so you understand what is going on.”
The vast majority of McSteen’s students have presented research on campus and nationally. This semester, three undergraduate students from her lab and three undergraduate students who worked in her lab in summer 2018 presented posters at the national Maize Genetics Conferences in St Louis. Six of her students have presented at conferences as freshmen.
Another student, Amanda Blythe, credits McSteen with helping her read the professional and academic terrain.
“Although Dr. McSteen’s research focuses on corn development, she knows that my long-term career interests are in disease development,” Blythe says. “With her help, I have secured an internship at Pfizer pharmaceuticals and a summer research position at Vanderbilt University, which have ultimately helped me land a position in Vanderbilt’s Interdisciplinary Graduate PhD Program where I will study cancer biology.”
For McSteen, the joy of the professor-student relationship is truly mutual.
“Mentorship is one the most important and enjoyable aspects of my job,” McSteen says. “To see students grow and flourish and get to do whatever it is that they want to do in life is very rewarding.”