PETMA Recipients

2020

Dr. Murielle Ålund received her PhD from Uppsala University in Sweden in 2017, and joined MSU’s Integrative Biology Department in 2018 as a Swiss NSF Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Dr. Janette Boughman. Dr. Ålund understands, first-hand, the impact of quality mentorship and strives to improve her own mentoring skills by following evidence-based best practices described in the literature and by attending courses on these topics. At MSU, Dr. Ålund has mentored 10 students and 4 technicians, and has provided her mentees technical wet lab and field experience, as well as guidance in good scientific and reporting practices. She created a bi-weekly writing group for her mentees that covers scientific publishing from data collection to paper submission, and three of these undergraduate students are currently writing their first scientific publications using results they helped collect and analyze as side projects to her fellowship. When MSU’s University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum was cancelled this spring due to COVID-19, Dr. Ålund created a new opportunity for her mentees to present in front of a large audience by organizing a BEACON seminar that was broadcast to members of five institutions across the country.

One of Dr. Ålund’s undergraduate mentee’s wrote: “She goes above and beyond to provide resources that she thinks will be beneficial to the research project you are working on, as well as for what you have planned for the next steps in your career”. Another stated: “[S]he has consistently demonstrated her skill, commitment, and passion for mentoring and teaching. It has been an honor to work with her, and it is no exaggeration to say that she has played an integral role in shaping the scientist that I have grown to become. She is an exemplary role model, both to undergraduate researchers and to other mentors, and is highly deserving of this award”.

Dr. Ålund believes that effective mentoring is beneficial at all stages in one’s career. In collaboration with other postdocs in her department, Dr. Ålund recently co-authored a perspective on how to better support the postdoctoral workforce (Ålund, Emery, et al. 2020. Nat Ecol Evol 4, 777–781). This perspective highlighted that an important aspect of supporting the postdoctoral workforce is to enhance the mentoring that postdocs receive during their postdocs positions, as well as provide opportunities for postdocs to serve as mentor for others.

In the words of her supervisor, Dr. Boughman: “[Dr. Ålund] is a mover and shaker. [. . .] Her excellence in mentoring arises from her exceptional commitment to team science, and she places very high value on making sure that scientific team members are engaged, challenged, well trained, and fully recognized for their contributions and achievements”.

Dr. Joseph Hill received his PhD from Penn State in 2016, and joined MSU’s Department of Horticulture in 2017 as a USDA FIGA EWD Postdoctoral Fellow in the lab of Dr. Courtney Hollender. Dr. Hill’s goal as a mentor is to share tools and experience, and he seeks out opportunities to expand his skills and perspective by attending workshops and courses on mentoring and STEM teaching. At MSU, Dr. Hill has intensively mentor 3 undergraduate students (2 of which are about to begin graduate school) and 4 graduate students, and provided more limited guidance to several others. When training students in new techniques, Dr. Hill provides students with background and context, and several options with pros and cons for each, in order to develop the level of understanding that will be needed to troubleshoot inevitable problems.

The graduate students that Dr. Hill mentors wrote: “Joseph has demonstrated a level of professionalism and passion for teaching that outmatches any postdoc we have interacted with at Michigan State University or elsewhere. [. . .] Not just in our lab, but throughout the department, Joseph has a reputation as a go-to resource for help and advice for graduate students”. Dr. Hill has proven to be been a model mentor to the graduate students in his lab. One stated that “[h]e has had a major impact on my graduate career, shaping how I do science, and how I mentor those with whom I work”, while another remarked that “[h]e cultivated the confidence I have today to conduct research independently and his teaching philosophy is central to the one I am currently developing”.

Dr. Hill has also sought out formal teaching opportunities during his postdoc position, serving as a guest lecturer. When COVID-19 forced classes online this spring he quickly adapted his lecture for a virtual classroom. He made several thoughtful and deliberate changes to his normal teaching style to help engage students and improve the online teaching and learning experience. These changes were so well-received that other course instructors came to him for advice on how to implement the same strategies and technologies in their own lectures.

According to his supervisor, Dr. Hollender: “[Dr. Hill] immediately proved to be an exceptionally gifted and dedicated teacher and research mentor for both undergraduate and graduate students. [. . .] I have witnessed it personally, but what is more impressive is that students he has mentored and trained have voluntarily shared that they are grateful to have worked with him, enjoyed the experience, and had a lot of fun in the process”.

2020 marks the first year of the PETMA, and is an opportunity to showcase the significant impact that our postdocs play in the lives of their colleagues, peers and students.

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