Segura Lab Member, Katrina Wilson, receives Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring

By Brittany Vekstein

Katrina Wilson is a PhD candidate in biomedical engineering and a Duke University graduate student in Segura Lab led by MEDx investigator, Tatiana Segura, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering in the Pratt School of Engineering. 

Originally from Beaverton, Oregon, Wilson studied chemistry and biology at the University of Redlands and went on to pursue her master's degree in chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, before coming to Duke. She has been working in Segura Lab for four and a half years studying biomaterials for brain repair after stroke. Her current research is focused specifcally on regrowing vessels and recruiting neural progenitor cells after stroke.

Wilson is a 2022 receipient of the Duke Graduate School Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Dr. Segura has been one of her best mentors. Wilson described Segura as accepting, supportive, and encouraging. "Dr. Segura has not only mentored me in the lab, but also with career advice, and in life." said Wilson. "She truly values mentorship and has always been supportive of graduate students mentoring high school and undergraduate students in her lab. Her expectation is that by your second year you take on at least one mentee." 

Congratulations on receiving the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring – can you talk about some of your mentoring experiences, specifically, those who might have impacted you?

Thank you! I’ve been very fortunate to have quite a few mentors throughout my educational experience. In high school I had teachers who really showed they cared and went above and beyond and whom are still in contact with me today. Similarly, in college, I had mentors who got me to where I am today and are still the mentors I go to for advice. Without those mentors, I didn’t even know graduate school was an option, let alone what it was. All of them were very supportive, despite not knowing my background or where I was coming from. I think they saw how much I enjoyed science but also how insecure I often felt, and their encouragement and support above all is what helped me and what I try to also pay forward to all my mentees.

What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor?

Being open-minded and adaptable and supportive are key ones for me. All mentees are different, so understanding how to navigate being a mentor and adapting to different people is important.

How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?

For us, it’s an amazing opportunity to learn what we don’t know and how to become leaders in our respective fields. I also think it opens opportunities of empathy and relationship building. Once you leave graduate school, you will work with teams and mentor those under you or need to navigate communication with those above you -- so, this gives you a great way to understand what methods work best and how to do that.

What does a successful mentoring relationship look like and how do you build this type of relationship?

A successful mentoring relationship is like any other relationship, it must be a two-way street with lots of communication. It’s not a lecture position, and constant feedback from your mentee is a must. Mentees should feel comfortable coming to you for advice and telling you when things aren’t working for them. When I was a graduate resident, we learned about the five stages of high performing teams: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. I apply that to my mentoring as well, and highly recommend it for any team-oriented work. You’ll have times that the performance and work is going great, but everyone should know life happens and things come up, so you’ll always cycle back through those stages.

How has mentorship impacted you, your career goals, and where you are in your studies today?

I think it has personally made me a better problem solver and a better communicator. As far as my studies, I think when you first take on a mentee, it can slow your workflow down but in the long-term it really helps things move faster. Career-wise, it has helped me know that a leadership or mentorship position is key for me. I really enjoy learning and helping people. It may not necessarily be in academia, but still within the sciences.

Read more about Wilson's recent award