Faculty Mentor Spotlight: Joe Bozell

April 11, 2018

We talked with Dr. Joe Bozell, CABLE Faculty Mentor from the University of Tennessee. In CABLE, Joe saw an opportunity to provide students with exposure to the bioeconomy that isn't traditionally offered elsewhere. Read on to hear Joe's perspective on what brought him to the program and his advice for current and future students.

Q: What university are you the Faculty Mentor for and what is your area of expertise?

Joe: I’m Faculty Mentor at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Renewable Carbon. My expertise is organic chemistry and synthesis, catalysis and the use of these fields for the conversion of lignin and carbohydrates into biobased chemicals and fuels.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I like to bicycle and read history and science fiction. I’ve also been a musician for many, many years, playing electric bass in a variety of bands. I also dabble in woodworking.

What attracted you to becoming a mentor for the CABLE program and what do you hope to gain from your experience?

The program offered an opportunity to provide students with exposure to a part of the bioeconomy world that isn’t normally offered in a traditional graduate program. That is, we do an excellent job of training students in the scientific aspect of the bioeconomy, biorefining, renewables, etc. However, working in this field also requires that the participants be able to speak a little of the dialect of a number of different upstream and downstream components not related to their field but critical to the industry. This requires learning about how industry works, what their drivers are, understanding a little about related fields in growth, harvest and transportation of biomass, etc., etc. CABLE gives the students some good exposure to these components and offers a nice add-on to their ongoing research activities.

How do you think being a mentor for CABLE Student Delegates will impact their leadership development?

I’ve worked in industry, government research and now, academics. CABLE has offered me an opportunity to draw on the many different experiences from these jobs and pass on suggestions, advice and opportunities to my student delegate as he completes his degree and decides on what his next steps will be.

If you could pass on any wisdom to CABLE Student Delegates, what would you share?

Wow…one of those classic “interview questions”, and a toughie. I think that learning how to listen and how to navigate a sea of multiple opinions and directions is critical. Further, an individual will never go wrong if they are honest and transparent about their intentions. Standing up for one’s own beliefs in a job is fine and important. Disagreeing during a discussion is fine and important…sometimes critical. But it can be done diplomatically and should never be taken personally.

What is the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how is it valuable?

I’ve always found that giving students plenty of opportunity to succeed and fail leads to the best outcomes. If a student comes to me with an idea or new direction, I will almost always say yes, and try to offer suggestions to help move the student forward. Of course, they may fail, but there’s nothing wrong with that, as they will have learned something new and have a better idea of how to fix it, or what not to try the next time. As we carry out laboratory research, my implementation of this lesson is a little narrower than the sense of this question, in that we’re discussing the next set of reactions, the next target, etc. But these concepts apply equally well when used in a new job, in meeting others, and in developing a successful career.