The bonds formed between Katelyn Goetz (’11) and her professor, Oana Jurchescu, when she was an undergraduate physics major led her to stay at Wake Forest for her graduate work in physics.
“She has been an advocate for everything that I’ve done,” says Goetz, who is continuing to work with Jurchescu while pursuing a Ph.D. in physics. “She is always encouraging — even if an experiment goes wrong, she’ll say it will go better the next time.”
(Editor’s Note: This is a series of stories on mentoring relationships between faculty and students. For more stories of “Face Time,” see the Spring 2012 issue of Wake Forest Magazine.)
Goetz still recalls one experience her senior year that showed Jurchescu’s willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty. Jurchescu, an assistant professor of physics, had encouraged Goetz to make a presentation at the 2010 International Plastics Conference in Dresden, Germany.
Two days before she was scheduled to leave for the conference, Goetz was jolted awake by an early morning phone call from conference organizers. Change of plans: scrap her poster presentation and instead prepare a 15-minute talk for an audience of leading scientists and researchers in materials research.
She immediately headed to Olin Physical Laboratory and huddled with Jurchescu to figure out what to do. “She helped me put together a presentation right then and there, and then practiced it with me for the next two days,” says Goetz. Thanks to hours of one-on-one coaching with Jurchescu, Goetz pulled off a successful presentation.
It was the type of experience and attention Goetz has come to appreciate from Jurchescu since joining her research group at the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials during her junior year. She received a Wake Forest Research Fellowship to work with Jurchescu as an undergraduate; a National Science Foundation grant is supporting her continuing work with Jurchescu. Professor and student have already co-authored two research manuscripts published in leading scientific journals.
The key to building relationships with students is trust, teamwork and creating an environment where failure is allowed as part of the research process, says Jurchescu, a native of Romania who completed her graduate work in the Netherlands and joined the faculty in 2009.
It’s about showing interest in a student’s personal and academic growth, not just in their research projects. “There’s no greater reward than to see them growing from curious students into independent researchers,” Jurchescu says.