Meet Beth Mayer-Davis, graduate school dean

The nutrition researcher talks about supporting students beyond the classroom to develop the next generation of leaders.

Dean Beth Mayer-Davis smiling at the camera in a striped collared shirt with architectural columns in the background.
Beth Mayer-Davis (Jon Gardiner/UNC-Chapel Hill)

This story continues The Well’s series of Q&As with Carolina’s newest deans. Find earlier stories at our website.

Beth Mayer-Davis is the dean of The Graduate School and the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of Nutrition and Medicine. She has focused her career on diabetes, including the epidemiology and natural history of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in children and adults and also co-directs the Nutrition Obesity Research Center. Formerly the chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, Mayer-Davis has and continues to mentor numerous graduate students. She is passionate about graduate students having access to professional development and mental health and well-being tools to support them during their time at Carolina.

What’s one surprising thing you’ve learned about your school since you began?

The Graduate School, founded 120 years ago this year, is proudly public and has a longstanding commitment to our students to be at the forefront of the evolving landscape of graduate education. Since becoming dean, I’ve learned that The Graduate School supports our students in numerous ways including, and beyond, the academic realm. From providing a range of professional development opportunities, to a wealth of activities that support our students who come from a variety of life experiences and backgrounds, we aim to ensure the best possible graduate education experience in which students can thrive.

Graduate students at Carolina gain intangible skills and have the opportunity to build communities that matter to them — communities where they can focus on thriving beyond the classroom or lab. Providing support for mental health and well-being efforts are just a couple of ways in which this work is accomplished. In mid-February, The Graduate School and several partners hosted a well-being expo, which drew more than 500 graduate and professional student participants — a testament to the ways in which we respond to what our students need. We aim to prepare graduate students for the future — including for roles in the workforce that might not yet exist. The Graduate School serves nearly 10,000 graduate students annually, and we have a moral obligation to advocate for them so they can flourish.

How is your school fulfilling Carolina’s mission of teaching, research and public service?

The Graduate School champions graduate education and how it serves as an engine of opportunity to serve our state and beyond. Our graduate students are critical in fulfilling the University’s teaching mission, not simply as recipients of fantastic training, but importantly as excellent teachers and mentors of undergraduate and more junior graduate students. And our graduate students often drive the creation of new knowledge and creative expression through their work with their faculty mentors. Many of their projects will be critical to solving the major challenges of our day. The burgeoning economy in North Carolina, with many existing and emerging workforce needs, is dependent on a future-focused commitment to graduate education. Put simply: The fastest-growing occupations in the state require graduate education, and our continued investment in graduate education will ensure that we’re preparing the next generation of leaders with the skills they need to succeed. During fall 2022, I had the opportunity to travel on the Tar Heel Bus Tour. From Kitty Hawk to Roxboro, I saw Carolina’s mission in action — and how graduate education is part of how we can ensure a bright future for our state. The Tar Heel Bus Tour gave me perspective on the complexities of our state’s history and how we all benefit from innovative ideas, solutions and the strengths of our communities.

What’s one example of how you are addressing a current top priority for your school?

The Graduate School needs to ensure that we foster an environment that’s most conducive for our students to thrive. We need to care for our graduate students during their time at Carolina and engage in thoughtful, robust growth of our graduate programs without compromising our commitment to excellence. Graduate students are often at the forefront of how we generate new knowledge — and how to apply that research so it has an impact in our state. Whether our graduate students pursue a career in academia or elsewhere in the workforce, by strategically investing in graduate education and professional development, we can solve the grand challenges of our time. We are listening and learning from our graduate students and from units around campus as we envision the future of graduate education at Carolina. With a constant need for new ideas and with a rapidly evolving workforce, Carolina is well positioned to lead in the Triangle, in our state and beyond.

In addition to your service as dean of The Graduate School, you maintain a research agenda and actively mentor graduate students. Why is that important to you?

Before becoming dean, I served for eight years as the chair of the department of nutrition at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, maintaining an active program of research in Type 1 diabetes and nutrition. Now in my role as dean, I am continuing that work (with a reduced scope), and I still meet weekly with my graduate students who are a never-ending source of inspiration and joy. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue to mentor students. My approach to research actively cultivates a supportive, mission-driven and creative research team environment in which people are supported — as individuals and as teams. Graduate students serve our University at the crossroads of research and mission; that’s part of how we provide research with impact. Seeing our graduate students’ work firsthand provides a perspective that I bring to my role as dean. Students across our campus continue to inspire me as they grow and become experts in their fields. For students whom I directly mentor, and for all our students at Carolina, I hope that they carry with them a mission-oriented perspective in order to promote the health and prosperity of North Carolina, our nation and the world.