The 2018 winners of the Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship are junior faculty members, who began tenure-track positions within the past 5-12 years. These inaugural winners are truly exceptional in their ability to balance outstanding mentoring with cultivating a rigorous scientific perspective in their trainees.
These scientists empowered trainees by giving them leading roles on projects as well as opportunities to contribute to other team projects. They specifically tailored projects to the trainee’s background and goals, and provided them with opportunities to learn tools and techniques from other labs. All mentors valued diversity and met frequently with trainees, often at the bench, to discuss projects in detail. Critically, all stressed experimental process, highly rigorous design, and rigor of analysis, procedure, and interpretation. When other trainees had personal or professional challenges that influenced their training, they were often sent to these “go-to” mentors. While all had different mentoring philosophies, they commonly had a mentorship system with explicit expectations of trainees, as well as ongoing discussions with trainees about their goals and the mentor’s expectations. All trainees commented that these mentors were inspirational and had a great influence on their lives/careers.
Read more about the inaugural awards through the NINDS Press Release.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.