The Long-Lasting Value of Mentorship

I often wonder why different investigators have gone on to reach different levels of scientific achievement. I do not have an easy answer. Some have extraordinary talent and creativity; some were in the right scientific place as a field was breaking new ground; some are so passionate about their science that they persist through any and all difficulties. However, I feel that guidance from mentors may be the most impactful common thread. The lasting value of great mentoring cannot be underestimated. As a trainee, I was profoundly influenced by many mentors. While many years have passed, specific memories of interactions with my mentors remain as vivid as if they happened yesterday. Though I expressed appreciation at the time we worked together, I am sad to say that I have never explicitly thanked some of my mentors for the role they had in shaping my career. That is something I need to do. Maybe you do as well?

Despite their crucial role, good mentors in science do not receive the recognition they deserve. To salute the contributions and importance of outstanding mentors, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) established the NINDS Landis Mentorship Award in 2018. This award is named for former NINDS Director Dr. Story Landis, an extraordinary mentor herself. Dr. Landis created programs that fostered the growth of neuroscientists and generously devoted her time and energy to countless men and women – including me – as they navigated careers in biomedical research. 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.

The Landis award recognizes exceptional mentors at different career stages and provides $100,000 (direct costs) to support awardees’ efforts in advancing the careers of their trainees. Candidates for the award must be nominated by their own current or former mentees. In 2018, we honored six early-career investigators who demonstrated strong mentoring from the start of their tenure-track faculty positions (see the 2018 press release). In 2019, we have selected seven mid-career investigators whose track record shows superb mentoring as well as successful scientific research (see the 2019 press release). To read more about these seven awardees, please visit the 2019 Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship Recipients.

In 2020, we will recognize senior faculty mentorship (i.e., mentors who are 21 years or more from the start of their first tenure-track or equivalent faculty positions). These awardees may be the most difficult to choose from among the host of neuroscientists who have empowered a legacy of successful trainees over their careers. Although we wish we could, we cannot individually recognize every great mentor. However, we hope the Landis awards will elevate our sincere appreciation for the effort, time, and wise counsel that occurs in many additional labs across the country.

As I have written previously, devoting time to mentoring may sometimes seem to 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 and fall in love with science instills a life-long passion for research and provides a roadmap for scientific growth. Over the long term, quality 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. I am thrilled that NINDS can recognize these achievements in mentorship in a concrete way.

To nominate a senior scientist who served as an excellent mentor for you, please visit the Landis Award Nomination Form and submit your nomination by December 1, 2019. I look forward to celebrating the achievements of more outstanding mentors in neuroscience with you!

Useful Links:

The NINDS Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship by an NINDS Investigator

Nomination Forms

Landis Awardees

2019 Press Release

2019 Notice