Announcing the NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship

I was fortunate to have exceptional scientists as mentors who devoted many, many hours guiding me to think more scientifically. Two pieces of their sage advice continue to resonate with me today. During my NINDS K08 award exploring the mechanisms of glutamate and dopamine effects on striatal neurons, David Corey encouraged me to always work on what I see as the most important problem.  Almost as a bookend to the latter, my extraordinary clinical mentor, C. Miller Fisher, advised me to always apply myself to whatever I was working on as if it is the most important problem.  Both of these philosophies have been key to any impact I’ve had, and I feel blessed to have had such a satisfying career. 

Like me, I imagine most scientists remain grateful for their best mentors, recalling their advice when facing new challenges both in and outside the lab. In turn, contributing to the future success of trainees can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of a career in research. Yet, despite wide agreement on the importance of mentoring in biomedical research, promotions and honors in science focus primarily on publications, grants, and research leadership. By comparison, achievements in mentorship are rarely incentivized in tangible ways.   
After long considering how to recognize and promote strong mentorship in neuroscience, NINDS is now excited to announce the NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship. This award is named in honor of former NINDS Director Dr. Story Landis, for her exceptional influence on scientific research and mentorship. Dr. Landis helped to create programs to foster the growth of neuroscientists and was an extraordinary individual mentor, generously providing her time and energy to countless men and women – including me – as they navigated careers in biomedical research. 

The Landis Award will provide $100,000 (direct costs) to support selected investigators’ efforts to foster the career advancement of trainees. We hope this award will underscore the high value NINDS places on mentorship and encourage faculty and institutional leaders to also promote and reward excellent mentorship, and include it as a criterion for evaluating academic success.

Devoting time to mentoring may sometimes seem in conflict with immediate goals and rewards for research productivity, such as securing that next grant or publication. But, empowering trainees to make their own discoveries instills a life-long passion for research and enables intellectual growth. And in the long term, strong mentoring builds stronger, more productive researchers and research teams and has lasting impacts that extend far beyond an individual lab. Students and postdocs with excellent training and mentoring will be best equipped to bring rigor and originality to both their current and future work and to conduct innovative research that will move neuroscience forward. As Dr. Landis has noted, “New faculty who are just starting their independent programs, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students are the future of neuroscience, and it is critical that we do as much as we can to support them.” 

Complete details about the award and selection process are available on the NINDS website. This process will start with first-hand knowledge of outstanding mentorship: nominations will only be accepted from a nominee’s current or former mentees. To recognize excellent mentors across career stages, NINDS will rotate annual calls for nominations for junior, mid-career, and senior faculty. This year we begin with nominations for faculty mentors who are 5-12 years into their first tenure-track or equivalent position. (Nominations are due by December 15, 2017.) While effective mentors may have different qualities and approaches, we anticipate evidence that nominees invest time in their mentees’ scientific and professional development, challenging them to achieve their full potential, guiding and setting an expectation for scientific rigor, and supporting their career progression.

The Landis Mentorship Award reflects NINDS’s view that excellent mentorship is essential for the success of future neuroscientists and for the health of neuroscience as a whole. We look forward to celebrating great mentors in our community through this award and to the opportunity to highlight some of the stories we hear from you. 

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