Scientists selected for the Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship

Scientists selected for the Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Award for dedication to mentorship and training named for former NINDS director

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has announced the first recipients of the Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship.

“We congratulate all the grantees. This award reflects the importance NINDS places on strong mentorship and grows out of our efforts to support the development of the next generation of neuroscientists,” said Walter Koroshetz, M.D., director of NINDS. “A good mentor is often what inspires young researchers to continue pursuing scientific careers and we are thrilled to support this important award named after Story Landis.”

Story Landis, Ph.D., was the director of NINDS from 2003-2014 and established programs to help promote the development of neuroscientists. Dr. Landis was a noted mentor, providing guidance to researchers at all stages of their careers.

The Landis Award will be granted annually, with five researchers receiving $100,000 to support their efforts in advancing the careers of students and postdoctoral fellows in their laboratories. Nominations for the award are sent from current and/or former trainees.

Each year, nominations will be accepted for researchers who are at a specific career stage: junior, mid-career or senior faculty. The inaugural group of grantees are junior faculty members, who began tenure-track positions within the past 5-12 years.

This year, NINDS will be seeking nominations for mid-career researchers, who are 13 - 20 years from the start of their first tenure-track or equivalent faculty position.

“Although we planned to present five awards this year, the review committee felt very strongly that the six junior researchers below were all deserving of this recognition,” said Stephen Korn, Ph.D., the director of NINDS’ Office of Training and Workforce Development. 

The 2018 grantees are:

  • Daniel Alfonso Colon-Ramos, Ph.D., Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
    The focus of Dr. Colon-Ramos’ research is how brain cells figure out which cells they are supposed to connect with and how that wiring can change during certain behaviors. Dr. Colon-Ramos’ trainees describe his endless enthusiasm and energy for supporting their research and career goals. Trainees described lab life rife with stories and parables that he uses to help trainees overcome their personal and professional challenges to accomplish their goals. In addition to his research and teaching duties, Dr. Colon-Ramos oversees a large mentorship network, which he created when he was a postdoctoral fellow.
     
  • Chris Dulla, Ph.D., Tufts University in Boston
    Dr. Dulla’s research focuses on neurotransmission, the way that brain cells talk to one another, and how problems with neuronal communication can lead to disorders such as epilepsy. Dr. Dulla has mentored a widely diverse set of trainees and has established a system whereby everyone has a project tailored to their background and interests. Dr. Dulla’s students have their own individual projects, and collaborate and contribute to the larger goals of the lab, which provides them with both ownership of a specific project and the opportunity to work in teams and learn a wide variety of techniques.  Dr. Dulla is locally considered a person to call on when students have career challenges to overcome.
     
  • Matthew Gentry, Ph.D., University of Kentucky in Lexington
    Dr. Gentry’s team studies how glycogen molecules are broken down to provide fuel for cells. Problems with this process can result in Lafora disease, a form of epilepsy. Many of Dr. Gentry’s former trainees noted that he has had a tremendous impact on their lives. Projects are designed specifically with a student’s goals and career desires in mind, including providing appropriate training for those interested in non-research careers. Dr. Gentry creates  a detailed mentorship plan with trainees early in their careers, that includes developing their own projects and sending students to other labs, both nationally and internationally, when they need to learn specific skills not available in his lab.
     
  • Sarah Kucenas, Ph.D., University of Virginia in Charlottesville
    Dr. Kucenas’ lab investigates the role of glia, brain cells traditionally thought of primarily as support cells, but have recently been shown to play roles in cellular communication, development and many diseases. Dr. Kucenas’ trainees emphasized her ability to lead by example, particularly in helping them understand how to balance and achieve all of their personal and professional goals. Dr. Kucenas’ mentoring approach focuses on encouraging trainees to “get out of the box,” make big contributions to the field and to strive for creative solutions to problems. Students all describe as a highlight of their training Dr. Kucenas spending many hours sitting with them at the bench to analyze and discuss their data. Dr. Kucenas was described as providing both high-caliber constructive criticism and incredible support, treating all in the lab as equals, so that each trainee was pushed to achieve the highest possible goals.
     
  • Avital Rodal, Ph.D., Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts
    Dr. Rodal’s research focuses on the structures that transport cellular cargo, such as proteins and molecules, throughout brain cells that are critical for cellular communication and a variety of functions. Trainees described Dr. Rodal’s dedication to helping each student identify skills they will need for their careers, in light of their research and career interests, and helping them meet those goals. Dr. Rodal was also described as going out of her way on many occasions to help students network, with all students being introduced to key scientists nationwide in their areas of interest. Dr. Rodal has initiated a number of mentorship programs at Brandeis and is considered someone who has created an even higher standard of mentorship in an institution already known to place high value on mentorship.
     
  • Anne Schaefer, M.D., Ph.D., Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City
    Dr. Schaefer’s research centers on how brain cells are affected by epigenetic changes, in which molecules alter the way genes function without changing the DNA code. Many neurological disorders can be traced back to epigenetic mechanisms. Dr. Schaefer’s mentees described her as irresistibly enthusiastic, with an infectious passion, and enumerate many instances when she provided inspiration sitting at the bench with trainees during data collection and analysis. Trainees recount being pushed to their limits, with demands for rigor, careful attention to scientific process and attention to scientific importance, yet with compassion, patience, and support. Dr. Schaefer was described as deeply caring about everybody in her lab, no matter their position or ability level, with many examples about the ways in which she had a lasting impact on their careers.

For more information, please visit:

ninds.nih.gov

Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship

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The NINDS is the nation’s leading funder of research on the brain and nervous system. The mission of NINDS is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

Photo of Dr. Story Landis, former NINDS director

Story Landis, Ph.D., led efforts at NINDS to establish programs for mentoring and training neuroscience researchers. Image courtesy of NINDS.