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Meet the 2024 Award for Excellence in Mentoring Research Trainees Recipients

Published on May 22, 2024 in Cornerstone Blog · Last updated 1 month 4 weeks ago
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An early career scientist’s world is rife with excitement and anxiety as they gain footing in their field and make decisions that affect their career trajectory. That’s where mentors come in. They not only impart wisdom and learned experience from a professional perspective, but the best mentors also provide personal support and guidance that build the confidence and know-how required to navigate life as a career researcher.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute biennially recognizes scientific community members who provide exceptional support as mentors to researchers-in-training at CHOP Research Institute.

Congratulations to the 2024 recipients of the Award for Excellence in Mentoring Research Trainees:

Cornerstone connected with this year’s honorees and their nominators to learn how these exceptional mentors provide an inclusive and welcoming lab environment, an avenue to explore struggles and insecurities, and a fair approach to professional challenges.

Dr. Amelia Eisch: Continuous Learning and ‘Relentless Support’

Amelia J. Eisch
Amelia J. Eisch, PhD

Amelia J. Eisch, PhD, is making an impact in the neuroscience field with her work to understand how molecular, cellular, and circuit changes in the brain’s limbic system influence cognition and motivated behavior. Her contributions to science extend through the more than 100 early career investigators she has mentored in her lab since 2000.

While scientific rigor and mastering the tools of scientific investigation are a prominent part of the mentorship she provides, her personal attention and guidance are what resonate with her nominators.

Frederico Kiffer, PhD, described Dr. Eisch as “instrumental in facilitating my growth as a budding neuroscientist through relentless support.” He highlighted her outstanding scientific advisory and commitment to fostering continuous intellectual and personal growth among her trainees. She is quick to identify gaps in her trainees’ knowledge and connect them with colleagues to close those gaps through training. Co-nominator Lorianna Colon, PhD, noted that Dr. Eisch also encourages her mentees to take advantage of myriad resources on CHOP’s campus that align with their individual career goals.

Dr. Eisch advocates for her trainees, provides opportunities for them to give presentations, and reaches out to hiring directors at mentees’ potential jobs of interest. She intentionally cultivates a diverse and multigenerational group and enables her trainees to develop their mentorship skills by providing guidance to undergrads in the Eisch Lab.

Dr. Eisch champions inclusion of diverse populations, especially those historically excluded from academics and biomedical sciences. As the co-principal investigator of a 25-year-old National Institutes of Health-sponsored T32 training grant, Dr. Eisch supports postdoctoral researchers and clinician fellows in their research relevant to neurodevelopmental disabilities.

Dr. Chén Kenyon: Role Modeling Research Integrity

Chén C. Kenyon
Chén C. Kenyon, MD, MSHP

Chén C. Kenyon, MD, MSHP, is focused on reducing disparities in healthcare, particularly for children with asthma, through pragmatic trials and implementation-effectiveness designs. His research aims to develop and implement health system-level interventions to improve provider and patient adherence to guideline-based care in the highest risk children with asthma.

Amid these important contributions to children’s health outcomes and a clearly demanding schedule, Dr. Kenyon’s nominators lauded him as an accessible and consistent mentor who provides invaluable career guidance.

“Mentorship is one of the few nonperishable goods in academic life,” Dr. Kenyon said. “It allows you the opportunity to avert your gaze beyond your immediate goals and to consider and advance the best interests and opportunities for others to optimize their potential and influence. Its enduring fruit is most obvious when the mentee becomes a source of knowledge and expertise for others, including the original mentor – which often happens for me.”

Indeed, Aditi Vasan, MD, MSHP, shared that she finds herself channeling Dr. Kenyon’s leadership and mentorship style with the research staff, medical students, and fellows on her research team.

“[Dr. Kenyon] made me feel like I had the potential to become a successful independent health services researcher,” Dr. Vasan wrote in her letter of support for the award nomination. “His belief in my research was essential to helping build my confidence and ultimately helping me successfully obtain federal funding for my research program.”

Primary nominator Katherine Pumphrey wrote that Dr. Kenyon taught her a thoughtful, responsible, and methodical approach to completing health services research that is grounded in principles such as research integrity. Pumphrey also shared the long-reaching effect of witnessing her mentor politely challenge colleagues with a differing viewpoint on research processes.

“This role modeling has been invaluable as I learn to navigate professional relationships in my future career,” Pumphrey noted.

Dr. Kenyon shared this advice for trainees seeking their own strong mentor relationships:

“Have the patience to meet with multiple potential mentors so you can find the right fit with expectations, potential for growth, and mutual benefit. Then commit – not forever, but don’t discard guidance that is inconvenient or challenges your thinking.”

Dr. Frederick ‘Chris’ Bennett: Support Without Compromise

Frederick "Chris" Bennett, MD
Frederick "Chris" Bennett, MD

Frederick “Chris” Bennett, MD, is a practicing psychiatrist-scientist whose research aims to answer fundamental questions about microglia, the brain’s resident macrophage, in a way that translates to the study and development of adoptive cellular therapies to treat human brain diseases.

Dr. Bennett looks to his personal mentorship experience to account for his drive to guide others. While working in the lab of pioneering neurobiologist Ben Barres, MD, PhD, Dr. Bennett observed how Dr. Barres coaxed the best out of people.

“In my case, Ben helped me to understand how to be an excellent scientist, but more importantly, that if I did excellent research, it really mattered,” Dr. Bennett recalled. “He taught me that I could step into the role of a PI with a real, deserved confidence and sense of self-reliance that I didn’t know I was capable of having. This, in turn, taught me how incredibly important a good mentor can be and how deeply they can change someone’s trajectory.”

Following Dr. Barres’ example, Dr. Bennett purposefully created a lab team of individuals with diverse academic, cultural, and personal backgrounds. Nominator Venkata Chaluvadi noted that that Dr. Bennett’s charismatic personality combined with an emphasis on non-hierarchal communication elevates the scientific work of the lab.

“Chris actively solicits opinions and feedback from all his trainees, making it easy to share ideas,” Chaluvadi wrote. “Undergraduate students who have just joined the lab speak just as freely as seasoned postdoctoral fellows.”

Dr. Bennett also ensures that everyone has the resources and mentorship they need, offering equal support to all his trainees without compromise.

“One of the hardest parts of a career in science is learning what it means to take complete ownership over a project,” Dr. Bennett said. “Sometimes this means seeking help and asking for more resources, and other times it means figuring it out yourself. It can be hard, even bewildering, to figure out which is which, and to feel like you are doing it right. This is a normal part of professional development and something to talk about with peers and mentors.” 

Award winners were recognized at the May 14 Research Institute Seminar Series event. Honorable mention goes to the following faculty members who were also nominated: