Xiaosong values teaching both undergraduate and graduate students and acknowledges each audience needs something different from him. With graduate students, he enjoys being a mentor.
For me, my graduate students are my family. I’m their professor, yes, but I’m more of a colleague and a friend.
— Xiaosong Li
As a professor of chemistry and the co-associate chair for graduate education at the University of Washington, Xiaosong Li works closely with both undergraduate and graduate students — and he values the different experiences of teaching both cohorts.
“Undergraduate students often have less background on a subject, so when you watch them learn new things, it’s really rewarding,” Xiaosong said. “With graduate students it’s different: when they start working with me, I tell them, ‘I’m your mentor, and I’m here to support you.’”
Xiaosong, a computational chemist with a background in computer science, has watched his “family” of students grow in his 15 years of teaching at the UW.
“One amazing thing about teaching at one place this long is when students you taught 10 years ago come back to visit you,” he said. “I even get postcards from past students. It’s always good to connect with students in a different capacity, after they’ve gone on to their own careers.”
For Xiaosong, working with graduate students is an opportunity to help his students grow into those particular careers.
“My goal is to help them land their dream job,” Xiaosong said. “In order to achieve that goal, we define our research projects together, we work hard together and we make it happen.”
Xiaosong’s past students have gone on to jobs at universities, national labs, Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. But one former graduate student who shared Xiaosong’s passion for education is especially memorable: after graduation, the student’s dream was to teach high school chemistry.
“He was a phenomenal student, and that was his goal,” Xiaosong said of the student, who now teaches at a Las Vegas high school. “I supported him and helped him get there, and it was inspiring.”