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Faculty Spotlight: Meet Our 2022 Excellence in Mentoring Award Winners
Alongside conducting critical research, many faculty members at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia play dual roles as mentors to postdocs and fellows in their labs, imparting scientific knowledge about their respective fields, sharing career guidance, and creating an environment conducive to building the next generation of successful scientists.
Each year, the Research Institute recognizes some of the best of these faculty mentors with the Excellence in Mentoring Research Trainees Award. They will be sharing their science and ideas for building community as part of the Research Institute Seminar Series June 28.
In this special edition of our Faculty Spotlight series, meet this year’s recipients: Kathryn Hamilton, PhD, assistant professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition, Michael Robinson, PhD, director of the Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center (IDDRC), and Laurence “Ike” Eisenlohr, VMD, PhD, professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. We share what makes these individuals stand out based on nomination letters from their trainees and pose a question to the recipients: As an excellent mentor, can you offer any pieces of advice to research trainees?
Dr. Kate Hamilton: ‘A bedrock of wisdom, caring, and guidance’
“A career in research can be punctuated by extreme lows and highs,” Dr. Hamilton said. “Develop your personal vision and focus on what you define as success. Be sure to prioritize surrounding yourself with the smartest and most supportive people possible — these are the folks who will pick you up when you’re knocked down and who will join you in celebrating your successes.”
Dr. Hamilton’s trainees credit her with the creation of a “rich scientific atmosphere” and a supportive and “comforting” environment that allows them to both explore and expand their personal interests within the realm of gastrointestinal biology while never feeling “lost or alone” in the process. Beyond cultivating such independence and innovation in scientific thought, trainees also describe Dr. Hamilton as committed to scheduling times to strengthen the bonds between lab members, whether through daily virtual meetings to keep trainees “grounded and interacting with each other despite physical distance,” after-work outings (including a ski trip) once COVID measures eased, and routine celebrations of team members’ large and small “wins” at every lab meeting.
“When I started in the lab, I was quickly put at ease after realizing how strongly Dr. Hamilton valued mentor-mentee relationships and how she consistently made sure to allocate enough time for weekly meetings with all lab members,” wrote one trainee in their nomination letter for Dr. Hamilton. “It was during these meetings that I learned what it truly means to be a scientist.”
Dr. Mike Robinson: ‘An ever-present, but respectful, mentor’
“Try to get advice from as many mentors as you can (be efficient with their time), but remember that you need to make your own decisions,” Dr. Robinson said. “Periodically try to objectively evaluate your progress; this will help you think about whether you are making good decisions.”
Nominees of Dr. Robinson describe him as both a “rigorous scientist” and a supportive mentor that encourages his trainees to get comfortable with the trial-and-error nature of science, handle rejection, and remember to have fun, helping trainees develop as both scientists and as people.
“You don’t have to know the answers,” one trainee recalls Dr. Robinson saying. “We do science because we don’t know the answers, and that’s what makes it so thrilling.”
Other trainees describe Dr. Robinson’s lab environment as like a family, where individuals have the confidence to ask questions without embarrassment and tell each other honestly if mistakes arise. Trainees also describe Dr. Robinson as consistently present and reachable with an “open door policy” even virtually, throughout the pandemic. Dr. Robinson is “deeply involved” in mentees’ individual research projects and oftentimes calls for check-ins with trainees to discuss their results and brainstorm new ideas.
“Although we are lucky to have great faculty and mentors in our CHOP research community, few in my opinion have had as constant and impactful trajectory of mentorship for research trainees as Dr Mike Robinson,” wrote one of Dr. Robinson’s former mentees in a nomination letter.
Dr. Ike Eisenlohr: ‘A true role model for how to be an excellent scientist but more importantly, for how to be a good human being’
“Identify the topics and techniques that you naturally gravitate to and try to stay close to them,” Dr. Eisenlohr said. “If the science leads you out of your comfort zone, don’t hesitate to seek help or set up a collaboration. If the arrangement is working, go the extra mile to cultivate the relationship. If not, move on quickly.”
For students of Dr. Eisenlohr, the word “mentor” doesn’t begin to sum up the many ways he provides trainees with scientific, career, and personal support. In addition to offering “a world-class education about antigen presentation and other aspects of immunology” (as one trainee puts it), Dr. Eisenlohr is also a fierce and loyal advocate for his students, showing remarkable investment in their success. Trainees describe Dr. Einselohr’s lab as “the most enthusiastic, lively, and rigorous research environment,” with Friday morning lab meetings that include laughter, bagels provided by Dr. Eisenlohr, and “wide-ranging, captivating scientific discussions.”
Beyond that, Dr. Einselohr is a big proponent for conducting responsible and rigorous research, setting his scientists up for the gold standard of science by emphasizing the importance of sound data and encouraging discussions of methodology and interpretation through monthly journal club meetings. While science is a top priority, trainees also describe how Dr. Einselohr is not just a role model for excellent science, but for an excellent character as well, leading with thoughtfulness and humility. As one trainee wrote: “[Dr. Eisenlohr] is his trainees’ biggest cheerleader, a friend eager to share his latest podcast find, and an ally willing to openly discuss the ever evolving social/political dynamics.”
Join the Excellence in Mentoring Research Trainees Award winners June 28, noon to 1, for the Research Institute Seminar Series.