At Hooding, faculty honor ‘tremendous’ advanced degree recipients

Hoodinng photo

by Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications

A brilliant sun above Cannon Green was reflected in the broad smiles of Princeton University’s master’s and doctoral degree recipients, who received their hard-earned regalia at Princeton’s 26th Graduate School Hooding Ceremony on Monday, June 3.

“This ceremony is a welcome opportunity for us to recognize the dedication, effort and intellect that you have brought to your work here,” said Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber. “Your graduate degree is a testament to your talent and commitment, as well as a mark of true excellence in scholarship and research. Congratulations on this tremendous achievement!”

Sarah-Jane Leslie, the Class of 1943 Professor of Philosophy and dean of the Graduate School, welcomed the graduates and their loved ones and thanked “those who helped get them here,” including faculty, staff, family members and friends.

“Our purpose today is to recognize the efforts, dedication and accomplishments of our graduates; to congratulate them for completing master’s and doctoral programs; and to celebrate their transitions into a broad range of careers in which they will make tremendous contributions over the coming years,” Leslie said.

She also acknowledged the nearly 130 faculty members who were there to hood their advisees and mentees. “Their presence and participation reminds us that the journey to an advanced degree is only possible with the continued encouragement, guidance and support of our dedicated faculty,” she said.

The gowns and hoods worn as part of traditional academic regalia trace their history to medieval Europe, when heavy woolen robes were necessities in the cold, stone university halls. Hoods distinguish the wearer both by rank and academic discipline. Each hood is bordered by a velvet band in the color assigned to the academic discipline in which the degree is granted: blue for philosophy (as in doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D.); peacock blue for public affairs; gold for engineering; white for arts and letters; brown for architecture; and light brown for finance. The hood lining shows the colors of the degree-granting university — at Princeton, orange with a black chevron.

“Your hood signifies the knowledge you have gained and the skills you have developed, as well as the fact that you have contributed something genuinely new to an existing body of knowledge,” Leslie told the graduates.

About 180 members of the Ph.D. class of 2019 were hooded by faculty members — a mutual decision of the graduate and the adviser.

“One of the most important parts of the adviser-advisee relationship at the doctoral level is to move beyond the teacher-student dynamic to one in which you think with each other as mutual interlocutors,” said Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies, who hooded Heath Pearson. “Once you get there, it becomes clear that the student is prepared to be a professor and a scholar. Heath is poised to do both in superb ways.”

“I learn as much from my advisees as I hope they do from me — and not just about science, but about life and community,” said Rebecca Burdine, associate professor of molecular biology, who hooded José Pelliccia. “Every advisee that passes through my group changes me in incredible ways. I have no doubt José is going to succeed in whatever he chooses to do. I’ll always be proud to have been part of his journey.”

Diversity Fellow Kimberly Box was hooded by Danelle Devenport, an associate professor of molecular biology. “Danelle has made a huge difference in my life both in and out of the lab,” Box said. “She’s shown me how to be a teacher, mentor and scientist, while also giving me space to be independent and develop other facets of my life that don’t include research.”

Jennifer Rexford, the Gordon Y.S. Wu Professor in Engineering and chair of the Department of Computer Science, hooded advisees Mina Tahmasbi Arashloo and Robert Harrison as well as one other student.

“Working with Jen has completely changed the arc of my life,” Harrison said. “I started working with Jen as a master’s student with no aspirations of joining academia permanently. After working with Jen on a number of research projects and in her classes, I realized that I, too, wanted to be a part of academia and aspired to become the kind of teacher, researcher and mentor that she is.”

Harrison juggled an unusual set of responsibilities during his graduate years, balancing research with his roles as a father and a soldier. “Rob arrived at Princeton three years ago with an unusually tight timeline for completing his dissertation research before assuming a faculty position at West Point,” Rexford said. “Through his relentless focus and dedication, he scaled the many mountains of graduate school life in rapid succession, all while raising five young sons and looking out for his fellow students in the group.”

Newly minted Ph.D. Tahmasbi Arashloo said Rexford’s “wholehearted encouragement … gave me the opportunity and courage to explore, to try out different paths and projects, to fail and start again, and to get to know myself better until I started to converge to the direction that felt right for me.”

“Mina is a quick study, able to get to the essence of difficult and important practical problems, and then bring a wide range of techniques to bear on them,” said Rexford. “These are skills that often require significant time and maturity to develop, making them truly unusual to see in full bloom in a graduate student.”

Anne Kerth was hooded by Tera Hunter, the Edwards Professor of American History and a professor of history and African American studies. Kerth expressed her gratitude for her adviser’s advocacy, support and confidence. “Professor Hunter has dedicated a staggering amount of time, care and energy to my success,” she said. “I’ll never have enough words to thank her for everything she’s done.”

Qasim Zaman, the Robert H. Niehaus ’77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Studies, hooded Emily Goshey, who recalled a time when a lack of childcare forced her to bring her then 4-month-old daughter to a meeting with her adviser. “Professor Zaman was not irritated in the least, and instead of trying to wrap up quickly, he suggested that we continue our meeting walking to see if she preferred moving around,” Goshey said. “It was moments like that, incidents of real accommodation and practical support, that reassured me during the challenging process of being a mother and a Ph.D. student at the same time.”

For his part, Zaman praised Goshey’s “superbly meticulous” work and her “gift for engaging creatively and empathetically” with her research subjects, the little-known Ibadis of Oman. “The work Emily has done in this dissertation is outstanding,” he said. “It will be a model for future work on this subject, and I feel proud to have been associated with it as it took shape over the past several years.”

Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry, hooded advisees Máté Bezdek and Diversity Fellow Nadia Léonard, as well as several other students. “Paul’s passion for science and dedication to his role as an educator have been a source of constant inspiration for me,” said Bezdek, who was one of four winners of the 2019 Jacobus Fellowship, Princeton’s top graduate student honor.

Léonard said she appreciated Chirik’s commitment to mentorship. “I think in graduate school, it can be very easy to get tunnel vision on the technical day-to-day experiments, but Paul has really encouraged me to take a ‘big picture’ approach that I have found invaluable,” said Léonard.

The advanced degree recipients were honored Monday, but their degrees are formally awarded at Princeton’s 272nd Commencement on Tuesday, June 4. The 562 graduate degrees granted during this academic year were:

398 Doctor of Philosophy

67 Master in Public Affairs

27 Master of Architecture

26 Master in Finance

20 Master in Public Policy

14 Master of Science in Engineering

9 Master of Engineering

1 Master of Arts in Near Eastern Studies

Before the degree recipients received their hoods, the ceremonial process was demonstrated by the Princeton Tiger, who received a “Fake Doctor of Hooding Demonstrations.”

The Hooding ceremony also recognized the 2019 recipients of the Graduate Mentoring Awards, presented by Rebecca Graves-Bayazitoglu, director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and associate dean of the college. These awards annually recognize faculty members for their exceptional contributions as mentors to Princeton graduate students. Graves-Bayazitoglu cited the importance of the mentors’ wise counsel as well as their “kindness, acceptance and support — particularly in difficult times.”

This year’s winners are Anna Shields, professor and acting chair of East Asian studies; Erika Milam, professor of history (in absentia); Jonathan Pillow, associate professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute; and Emily Carter, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor in Energy and the Environment, and professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and applied and computational mathematics.

In his remarks, Eisgruber reminded the students they will be joining the company of Princeton graduate alumni including U.S. President James Madison, British mathematician Alan Turing, and moral and political philosopher John Rawls, as well as more recent graduates like Carol Quillen, the 18th president of Davidson College, and Sir Steven Cowley, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in June 2018 for his role in fusion science and who is the director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory.

“Princeton’s graduate alumni continue to play leadership roles in academia, America and the world,” Eisgruber said. 

“These illustrious alumni and many others have pursued careers that exemplify the power of disciplinary knowledge and rigorous graduate training to change the world for the better,” he added. “Your membership in this alumni community is at once an accomplishment and a call to action. I know that each of you will find your own path of service to the nation and to humanity. My colleagues and I look forward to seeing that path unfold in the years ahead.”

The Hooding Ceremony will be available for later viewing online. End-of-the-year activities include the Baccalaureate service on Sunday, June 2; Class Day on June 3; and Commencement on Tuesday, June 4.