Joshua Zide was chosen for the 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award

Achieving a doctoral degree is a strenuous and demanding business that can strain every neuron a student can muster.

Having an adviser of the caliber of Joshua Zide, professor of materials science and engineering, who brings a unique blend of service, compassion and research excellence to the task, can make a profound difference for students.

For his commitment to student success professionally and personally, Zide has won the University of Delaware’s 2022 Outstanding Doctoral Advising and Mentoring Award.

The award is given annually to a faculty member whose dedication and commitment to excellence in graduate training have made “a significant contribution to the quality of life and professional development of graduate students” at UD.

“Josh’s style of mentorship is best captured by the concept of servant leadership,” doctoral student James Bork wrote in his letter of nomination, “which constitutes an inversion of the traditional boss/subordinate hierarchy. He believes that his role is to support us and our work, not the inverse. This is well illustrated by his repeated emphasis to us that ‘You don’t work for me. Instead, I work with you.’”

Zide heard something similar when he was a student and realized the impact that approach had on him. He was at a project review meeting and the comment came from his doctoral adviser — Prof. Art Gossard at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“He said, ‘I’m Art Gossard and I work with Joshua,’” Zide recalled. “Not ‘I advise Joshua’ or ‘Joshua works for me.’ Art is a famous, well-respected scientist who has had an incredibly distinguished career, and that single comment made me realize that the framing really matters and that I was the owner of my effort. I knew that was the kind of adviser I wanted to be.”

He has achieved that goal, his students say. They have high confidence both in his scholarship and the values he underscores as they work together.

“Josh’s unique student-oriented approach fosters an almost parental relationship with us students,” Bork wrote, “one where not only is our performance as a researcher important, but also our mental and emotional wellbeing.”

Those qualities were especially welcome as the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic bit into everyone’s lives, exacerbating already difficult conditions, Bork said. Zide offered assistance at every team meeting and kept in touch often by text or other messages to help students stay connected and navigate the changes, he said.

Zide customizes his advising methods to meet student’s different needs, doctoral student Lauren Nowicki McCabe said in her nomination letter.

“This could be either weekly or as-needed individual meetings, offering extra practice on presentations, extra attention given to editing student writing, tutoring in concepts from classes he didn’t even teach, running down to the lab as a sanity check during equipment maintenance, and the list goes on and on,” she wrote.

McCabe also noted Zide’s “dad jokes” — “which always helps everyone roll their eyes and feel at ease” — and the occasional visits of Zide’s dogs to help students de-stress.

“He has cheered with me when my experiments work, knocked on wood for the ones that we’re excited about and groaned with me when things went disastrously wrong,” McCabe wrote.

A student who was not among his advisees but took Zide’s course on Epitaxial Growth and Band Engineering in 2019, wrote that the experience was not only outstanding academically but also transformative personally.

Zide’s “expert guidance helped me to navigate through academic struggles and his kindred spirit and kindness helped me to regain my self-esteem and confidence,” wrote Kazy Fayeen Shariar, now an engineer with GlobalFoundries. “His mentoring and guidance ultimately helped me reach graduation.”

Zide’s research in nanoscale engineering, specifically in the use of molecular beam epitaxy for engineering new semiconductors and nanocomposites, has been recognized with awards throughout his career. Last year, for example, he was elected a fellow of AVS, recognizing sustained and outstanding contributions in materials, interfaces and processes.

As he excels in these endeavors, he brings students into that environment of excellence, helping them to hone their research skills, find their footing as scientists in advanced engineering and navigate the many challenges that arise along the way.

“I think that I excel in my research precisely because I enable my students to bring their best selves to their work,” he said. “Time management is, of course, always a struggle, but everyone has to choose what’s important to them and for me it’s making sure to look after people. Mostly, I can’t imagine someone coming to me and saying they’re in a crisis and saying, ‘Sorry, not my problem.’”

Bork said making time to help and care for others is central to Zide’s approach to research and life.

“He frequently encourages us to be ‘good neighbors’ to others and insists that time spent helping others is equally as important as time making progress on my research,” Bork said. “And while Josh would be slow to claim credit for the accomplishments of his students, it’s his example from which I’ve learned how to nurture my professional life without losing sight of the bigger picture and his supportiveness that enables me to do so.”

Zide has chaired seven doctoral thesis committees, two master’s thesis committees and served as a member of 45 other thesis committees in materials science and engineering and across campus.

His students have earned many significant awards, including competitive doctoral and graduate fellowships and awards for service, research, teaching and professional development.

“This impressive number of awards for his current and past students clearly is indication of his strong mentorship and energetic support of his students as they work in the classroom and laboratory under his leadership,” wrote Darrin Pochan, chair and professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, in his letter of nomination. “His students have also been excellent citizens of the department in both explicit service capacity as well as implicit support of the welcoming and vigorous culture.”

In addition to his research, teaching and advising work, Zide directs the Materials Science and Engineering Graduate Program, was co-founder of the popular “Words for Nerds” program that aims to help students excel in science communication, and is co-director of the Materials Growth Facility. He also serves as associate editor of the Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology.

Zide, who joined the UD faculty in 2007, earned his bachelor’s degree at Stanford University and his doctorate at the University of California, Santa Barbara.