The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Board has chosen Paul Tchounwou, Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH), to receive the 2013 AAAS Mentor Award. This award honors extraordinary leadership to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering fields and will be presented at the AAAS annual meeting in Chicago, 13-17 February 2014.
Professor Tchounwou, many congratulations on your selection for the AAAS Mentor Award. Can you tell us something about your work that is being recognized by this award?
Paul Tchounwou: First of all, I am very honored and privileged for being selected by the AAAS Board as the 2013 Mentor Award recipient. This is a national recognition for my modest contribution to addressing the national need for developing a competitive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce and sustaining the United States’ pre-eminence as a global leader in research innovation and development. For about two decades, I have contributed significantly to this noble cause by recruiting, training and mentoring a large number of STEM students, and especially those from minority and underrepresented groups who are now projected to represent about 50% of the U.S. population by year 2050. So far, I have served on sixty-one doctoral dissertation committees, including 27 as committee chairperson and primary mentor, 26 as committee member, and 12 as external examiner. I have personally mentored and trained 25 minority PhD scholars, 96% of whom have gone on to obtain rewarding STEM jobs in academia, government or industry. Also, I have supervised fourteen master of science theses including 11 as committee chair and 3 as committee member; mentored over 60 undergraduate students and over 100 K-12 students through research training and career development; 6 post-doctoral research associates, 5 visiting scientists, and 11 junior faculty. Through successful grantsmanship, I have also been able to secure over $60 million during the past 17 years to support faculty research and academic program development, as well as student research training and career development.
Do you have any advice for would-be academic mentors at the individual or department level, or for university and institute administration and leadership?
Paul Tchounwou: Mentorship is a very important activity that has a positive impact on academic and professional career development of mentees. It has been shown to increase students’ academic performance and career achievements, as well as academic outcome measures such as grants support, peer-reviewed publications and presentations, promotion and tenure for junior faculty. In STEM fields, an effective mentoring program must provide the skills, knowledge, and experience needed by the mentees to become highly skilled and competitive researchers and to excel in their chosen career path. Also, I believe that mentoring is a shared opportunity for learning and career development. Good mentoring is highly beneficial not just to the mentees but also to the mentors. As they serve and provide opportunities to others, they also feel more responsible and productive thereby improving self-esteem, achieving personal growth and learning more about their interpersonal skills, and being more engaged as team players and effective mentors. Hence, I strongly believe that good mentoring must be built on mutual understanding, respect and trust. I also believe that a strong mentorship must involve a combination of strategic approaches in which the mentor performs different important roles to address the specific research and career development needs of his trainees. He/she should be a dedicated advisor who shares knowledge and provides scientific advice and guidance for project development; a great supporter who gives emotional and moral encouragements; a tutor who provides timely and specific feedback on research progress and trainees’ performance; a sponsor who writes and secures grant funds to support students and providing relevant information for career and professional development; and a role model who serves as a perfect exemplar for his trainees and peers to follow.
Congratulations also on your ten-year anniversary with the IJERPH. Ten years ago you started this open-access journal with MDPI. As Editor-in-Chief, can you tell us something about its aims and scope, your vision for the journal and how it has developed ?
Paul Tchounwou: I collaborated with my MDPI colleague, Dr. Shu-Kun Lin, to establish the IJERPH in 2004. The IJERPH is dedicated to bringing environmental scientists and public health practitioners the best research and innovation at the intersection of environmental health, biomedical and socio-behavioral sciences and clinical practice. Hence, IJERPH focuses on the publication of scientific and technical information on the impacts of natural phenomena and anthropogenic factors on the quality of our environment, the interrelationships between environmental health and the quality of life, as well as the socio-cultural, political, economic, and legal considerations related to environmental stewardship and public health.
The name IJERPH came from the idea that I wanted us to develop a journal that would have a global impact on scientific advancements in the multidisciplinary area of environmental science and public health. So, from inception, we set very high standards by ensuring that IJERPH employs a highly rigorous peer-review process to evaluate the scientific quality of submitted manuscripts. We also made substantial efforts to index our journal in Web of Science, PubMed, etc., and advertise through websites, conferences, emails, etc.
I am indeed very delighted of the progress that IJERPH has made over that past 10 years. It has served as a strong venue to publish original articles, critical reviews, research notes, and short communications in the interdisciplinary area of environmental health sciences and public health. Due to the global interest in IJERPH, we have also been able to publish high quality papers in over 60 special issues of the journal.
I am also very pleased with the direction that IJERPH is heading, as the recent 2012 Journal Citation Reports® (JCR) from Thomson Reuters indicate an impressive 24.5% increase of impact factor for IJERPH; from 1.605 in 2011 to 1.998 in 2012. This impressive increase of impact factor for IJERPH underscores the rigorous peer review process and the high quality of scientific papers that have been published. It clearly demonstrates the important role IJERPH has played and will continue to play in advancing scientific knowledge and protecting the environment and human health. I would like to thank the editorial board members, contributors, referees, and readers for their excellent contributions to IJERPH.