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Auxiliary Mentoring

At Vanderbilt, we are committed to helping you, our students, navigate and grow through the rigor of graduate education. We are a community, not just siloed groups. As such, our faculty are committed to helping all trainees, not just those in their own research programs. To extend this commitment, we have assembled a team of faculty to serve as auxiliary mentors for second year students and beyond. The development of such a resource aligns with the recommendations of the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine’s report on effective mentoring in STEMM that encourages students to build a network of multiple mentors during their Ph.D. training, and to include mentors who are outside of their direct reporting relationships ( Vanderbilt’s auxiliary mentors are willing to provide students with their perspective on academic and professional matters. Students who have completed their first year of graduate study can select an auxiliary mentor(s) from among the 11 faculty members listed below.

How can I contact an auxiliary mentor? Students should contact the auxiliary mentor of their choice directly via email if they would like to meet. The chosen mentor might, on occasion, be unavailable due to other obligations and therefore, the student is encouraged to contact second and third mentors. Please note, the existence of this ready group of mentors is not meant to inhibit students from establishing mentoring relationships with other faculty during the course of their training. Students should continue to foster deep connections with their advisor, department, and program.

How can an auxiliary mentor help?  During a meeting, the auxiliary mentor will listen to any question or concern and discuss it with the student. It would be most helpful if the student could frame specific challenges or questions with tangible examples to highlight their concern. The auxiliary mentor may provide their advice about working through an issue with a colleague or supervisor, or will direct the student to the appropriate resource for additional consultation and advice. It is important to note that as faculty members, auxiliary mentors are mandatory reporters to the Title IX and Student Discrimination Office of any complaint of discriminatory behavior by another individual toward the student. The auxiliary mentor may, based on their judgement, report or encourage reporting of any unprofessional behavior towards the student to Project Safe. All other content disclosed by the student will remain strictly confidential unless the student agrees in writing to disclosure.


Auxiliary Mentors

Chris Aiken, Ph.D.

Dr. Chris Aiken studies the molecular biology of HIV infection. He joined the faculty of Vanderbilt in 1995 and has served as Director of Graduate Studies of the Microbe-Host Interactions Ph.D. program since 2006. Eleven graduate students have earned the Ph.D. degree under his mentorship.  His best advice for graduate students is to open a Roth IRA and contribute regularly to it.

Julio Ayala, Ph.D.

Dr. Ayala earned his PhD from the Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics (MPB) at Vanderbilt University. After 8 years as an independent investigator at a private research institute in Florida, Dr. Ayala returned to Vanderbilt in 2017 as an Associate Professor in MPB. Dr. Ayala’s research interests focus on the gut-brain axis and its role in the regulation of body weight.

Breann Brown, Ph.D.

Dr. Brown came to Vanderbilt in 2019 and is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry studying mitochondrial protein assembly controlling metabolism. She is affiliated with the Biochemistry and Chemical and Physical Biology (CPB) graduate programs.

Bruce Carter, Ph.D.

Dr. Carter is a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry, a member of the Training Faculty in the Neuroscience Program and the Director for Graduate Studies in Neuroscience. He is Associate Director for Education and Training in the Brain Institute and an Investigator in the Kennedy Center.

Todd Edwards, Ph.D.

Dr. Edwards is a VU and IGP alumnus, Human Genetics class of 2008, and is currently an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Epidemiology. He is the Associate director of the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute, and the Director of Graduate Studies for the Human Genetics PhD Program. He is a genetic epidemiologist conducting research on the genetic determinants of complex human traits. He works extensively with electronic health records data to develop cohorts for genetic association studies. He works on cardiovascular traits such as blood pressure and hypertension, colorectal cancer, women’s health, and racial disparities traits.

Katherine Friedman, Ph.D.

Kathy Friedman is currently Associate Professor and Vice-Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences, having previously served for many years as the Director of Graduate Studies in Biological Sciences. Her research interests involve DNA replication and DNA repair in a yeast model system and she is a member of the Genome Maintenance group in the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center.

Vivian Gama, Ph.D.

Dr. Vivian Gama been an Assistant Professor for four years in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology. Mentoring and guiding trainees throughout their graduate career has been one of the most fulfilling opportunities she has had in academia.


Borden Lacy, Ph.D.

Borden Lacy is a Professor in the Departments of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology and Biochemistry. She has affiliations with four graduate programs: Biochemistry, Chemical and Physical Biology, Microbe-Host Interactions (MHI), and Molecular Pathology and Immunology (MPI). She is interested in mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis.

Richard O'Brien, Ph.D.

Richard O’Brien is a Professor in the Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics (MPB).  He is the Director of Graduate Studies for the MPB Graduate Program and the Director of the NIDDK-funded T32 Molecular Endocrinology Training Program (METP).  He has extensive experience with both training graduate students and resolving problems that arise during graduate training.

Julie Rhoades, Ph.D.

Dr. Rhoades’ laboratory focuses on tumor-induced bone disease using molecular biology and pre-clinical approaches to identify novel therapeutic targets for reducing tumor growth and bone destruction. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine in the Division of Clinical Pharmacology with appointments the Program in Cancer Biology, Pharmacology, and Biomedical Engineering graduate programs.

William Tansey, Ph.D.

Bill Tansey received his Ph.D. from the University of Sydney in 1991. He performed his postdoctoral studies at Cold Spring Harbor in New York, and stayed on there as faculty until 2009, when he came to Vanderbilt. He is currently Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Biochemistry, and is Ingram Professor of Cancer Research.