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Provost's Award for Faculty Excellence in Undergraduate Research Mentoring

2016 Recipient

Ralph Garruto

Ralph Garruto

Research Professor of Biomedical Anthropology
Research Interests: Neurodegenerative disorders, food chain disorders, health transition studies, obesity and bionutrition, malaria, Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, and prion diseases

Mentoring Philosophy

"My mentoring philosophy is to involve undergraduate students in long-term research, allowing them enough time to become knowledgeable, proficient and productive during their research experience. It is extremely important in my view to expose students early to research as freshman and sophomores rather than as juniors and seniors. Early and long te1m exposure to research is key for them to develop a research framework, an extensive and honed toolkit, the ability to analyze and interpret their scientific results, and have the time necessary to produce a final product, be it a research manuscript, a patent, or an engineered prototype. As part of this concept, we have proposed and had approved and partially funded, a new academic Freshman Research Emersion Stream called "Molecular and Biomedical Anthropology" supported by current and pending grants of which I am a Co-PI.


For undergraduate students, my research philosophy is to take and mentor them through the process of solving research problems. My research is international so students have the opportunity, whether conducting fieldwork overseas with me or working at the laboratory bench at Binghamton University, to understand and appreciate the diversity of cultural practices and views associated with health and illness globally. Students become aware that what is acceptable practice, or ethical in one society is often taboo and unethical in another. It also makes students aware of how disease transmission and health problems emerge and that what happens in Africa, the Pacific Islands or China is of significant importance to the health of European and American populations. Students also begin to understand that health and disease are inextricably tied to cultural, economic, and political issues and that many developing nations today are in a new health transition where infectious diseases continue as new problems of chronic disease emerge (i.e. obesity, diabetes and heart disease) often swamping their already overburdened and ineffective health care delivery systems. Thus, an international research perspective brings home to students the many issues that need both global as well as local solutions which they, as potential scientists and scholars, are a part of during their research tenure in my laboratory.


I currently have 50 undergraduate students involved in national and international research projects. Undergraduate students minimally put in 10 hours a week during the academic year and usually 40 hours a week during the summer and take my new Research Methods courses Anth 393 and 493. I also foster a strong espirit de corps among my students which I find is important and necessary where interdisciplinary team based research is conducted. I am fully accessible to the students and meet with them individually and as a research team to discuss concepts, formulate and articulate research questions, develop hypotheses and workable research designs, interpret results, debate their conclusions and formulate new questions.


Another aspect of my research philosophy is to immerse myself both physically and mentally in their field and laboratory research which helps to cement personal and professional bonds. This direct physical and mental participation on a mentor's part in the research process not only helps build espirit de corps but leads to better project integration and understanding of all facets of the research. A research project ends with communication, both oral and written, of their research results. Students are made aware that as future scientists, scholars and professionals they must be able to effectively communicate.  In my research mentoring, I concentrate on visual, oral, and written communication skills in order to develop versatile professionals. Students design problems, the methods to solve them, explain their results, the potential problems they might encounter, and the potential solutions to resolve those problems. Thus, in 2016, I had 7 undergraduate students presenting research posters at the Binghamton Biomedical Research Conference, a regional scientific meeting, followed by Binghamton University Research Days. In 2015, three of my undergraduate students presented their research at an international meeting, the Human Biology Association (National Scientific Meeting) in St. Louis, Missouri, and this year, two others will be presenting at the same meeting on April 12 in Atlanta, Georgia.


Finally, it is important to train students in interdisciplinary research. I am trained as an interdisciplinary scientist in zoology, anthropology, human population biology, epidemiology and in the neurosciences. The undergraduate students who work on research projects in my laboratory come from many disciplinary areas including biochemistry, biology, environmental science, accounting, mathematics and integrative neurosciences, as well as from biological and biomedical anthropology with minors in Studio Art, Sociology, German, Spanish and English. When students meet to discuss their research, initially they often approach it from their own disciplinary framework, but by working alongside peers from different disciplines, they eventually learn to appreciate and often utilize approaches and info1mation from other disciplinary areas. Thus, my overall research mentoring philosophy is early, long te1m immersion in research that is holistic, integrative and interdisciplinary."

Last Updated: 6/3/16