Categories: Newsletter Issue 2019:3

Great Mentors: Kosali Simon

By: Aparna Soni

Five years ago, on my very first day as a PhD student, I walked in to Kosali Simon’s graduate health policy class feeling anxious, excited, and somewhat terrified after browsing through the seemingly endless list of impressive publications on her CV. As soon as I entered the classroom, I was greeted with a warm smile from Kosali as she handed me a syllabus. “Aparna?” she said as I nodded in amazement. “Welcome to Health Policy.” Before my ego could get too inflated, I realized that she was greeting all 20 of her students by name, not just me, and that she must have taken the time to study the student roster before semester started.

Kosali quickly became my advisor and lifelong mentor. Several things stand out about her:

  • Kosali helps her students establish their professional networks. Before my first ASHEcon conference, Kosali asked me to look through the list of attendees and give her the names of a few people I wanted to meet, so that she could do e-mail introductions beforehand. She also ensured that I got one-on-one time with visiting seminar speakers. Because of her efforts, I had the fortune to work with researchers outside my university, even as a PhD student.
  • When she introduced me to senior researchers, rather than say, “This is my student, Aparna,” she would say, “This is my coauthor, Aparna. She’s a PhD student…” Small difference in semantics, but it made a world of difference for my confidence.
  • She encouraged me to be productive right away. She told me to think of all my term papers not just as class assignments but as future publications. Indeed, my term paper for her health policy class was the foundation for what became our first publication together.
  • As a professor, associate vice provost, prolific researcher, editor of several journals, leader of professional organizations, and parent to six wonderful children, Kosali has unimaginable demands on her time. Yet, she manages to create time whenever her students and mentees need her, day or night (literally). PhD students and junior faculty can tell tales of reaching out to Kosali looking for immediate professional advice and her making time to chat while she was grocery shopping, waiting to board planes, walking across campus, and (my personal favorite) waiting for her pasta to boil.
  • In addition to being a wonderful professional mentor, Kosali is a thoughtful and caring person. She frequently hosts family get-togethers for faculty and PhD students, and she celebrates our achievements. When the spouse of one of our assistant professors passed his citizenship test, Kosali organized a red, white, & blue-themed lunch party to celebrate. When two junior faculty received prestigious awards, she arranged a brunch extravaganza after our weekly seminar. To celebrate my dissertation defense, Kosali went out of her way to make a vegan chocolate cake (which my family and I agree is one of the best cakes we’ve had to date!).

I consider myself lucky to have found someone this invested in my success and hope to pay it forward.

Aparna Soni is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Policy at American University.