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2024 MCB Mentorship Award Winners Announced

2024 MCB Mentorship Award Winners Announced

Three individuals were named the winners of the 2024 MCB Mentorship Award, which was announced at the MCB Community Forum on Friday, April 12. The award recognizes individuals within the MCB community who have provided outstanding mentorship to others.

Organized by the MCB Community Engagement & Transparency working group, the Award committee received nominations for 27 individuals.  “It was a very difficult decision, and there were so many deserving mentors,” says MCB Assistant Director of Human Resources, Julia Fannon, highlighting the key criteria used to determine the winners such as a one-on-one relationship between mentor and mentee, impact on the mentee, and sustained relationship between mentor and mentee.

(l to r) Julie Heng, María Angélica Bravo Núñez, and Jimena Luque

María Angélica Bravo Núñez, a Postdoctoral Fellow in Andrew Murray’s Lab, was nominated by two undergraduate students: Julie Heng, who majors in Integrative Biology, and Jimena Luque, who double majors in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB) and History of Art and Architecture.

“Before arriving at Harvard, I had never worked in a lab. María was excited to help me translate my curiosity into proper technique, emphasizing best practices like organization and ethics,” says Heng. “ María cares about creating an inclusive community, and it’s obvious in the way that she mentors everyone in the lab (how she manages to do it all is wizardry). Her own enthusiasm and thinking about advancing science – both practically with her future lab dynamics and theoretically with new subjects – is thrilling and formative for us.” 

Luque also recognized María Angélica’s help in learning laboratory techniques. “Coming from Peru, a country with very poor research infrastructure, and having never done research before, I had no idea where to start. As a Latina, I also had a hard time seeing myself as someone who even belonged in an academic research world in the first place. Having María as a mentor since my freshman spring, however, has forever changed the trajectory of my professional life. The way she’s shared her dedication, intelligence, and meticulousness with me is an absolute privilege, one that has helped me become a better scientist in every aspect. As a fellow international Latina, she not only better understands my lived experience, but is able to give me hope about my own place in this environment through her incredibly successful example.”

“I believe that mentoring is one of the most rewarding parts of being a scientist, and effective mentoring can be fundamental in someone’s career (like it was in mine),” says Bravo Núñez. “For that reason, I have made it my priority to mentor and train the next generation of scientists to whom I aspire to transmit my love for research.”

(l to r) Jen Yi, Courtney Whilden, Lily Mai, and Aditya Wirawan

Courtney Whilden, PhD graduate student in the Program for Neuroscience (PiN), was nominated by Jennifer Yi, Research Assistant, who will soon be a PhD student in the MCO program. Lily Mai and Aditya Wirawan, both undergraduate students majoring in MCB were co-nominators. They all work in Amanda Whipple’s Lab.

Yi has witnessed Whilden undertake the responsibility of mentoring numerous undergraduate and graduate rotation students over the past three years. “Working side-by-side with Courtney for the past two years as a research assistant has allowed me the opportunity to directly experience the immeasurable impact of her mentorship on my research, career, and personal development,” she says. “ Courtney’s foremost priority was to instill in me a strong sense of curiosity and intellectual ownership over my research, creating an environment in which my questions and ideas were valued, and in which I had the agency to pursue the avenues I wanted to explore in my research.  Additionally, Courtney has provided phenomenal career mentorship to me and a fellow labmate through her extensive support during our application process for PhD programs. As a result, both my labmate and I were offered admission to all of our top programs, and we attribute much of our success to Courtney.”

Appreciating the great mentors Whilden had in her scientific career, “I came into graduate school with a goal of trying to be the best mentor I could be. What I didn’t know is that mentoring would actually come to be my favorite part of the job. I’ve had the privilege of working with the most talented and kind young scientists. Far beyond their technical skills, their curiosity and fresh perspectives contribute so much to scientific progress in the lab. They teach me just as much as I teach them, so to have been nominated for this honor truly means the world.”

(l to r) Mark Polk, Emma Nagy, and Kira Nagoshi

Emma Nagy, MCB Curriculum and Pedagogy Manager, was nominated by undergraduate students, Kira Nagoshi and Mark Polk, both majoring in Applied Mathematics. 

“Emma is an incredible mentor to students at all levels. We frequently had interactions with other students where we would talk about how much we appreciated Emma’s approach to pedagogy and how her office hours and lectures were our favorite to attend,” say Nagoshi and Polk. “Even while being so supportive, she always preserved our autonomy and pushed us out of our comfort zones to make our own decisions as teachers. Emma has a unique ability as a mentor to balance warm support while still giving her students the space to learn and grow on their own. We feel strongly that being mentored by her has made us more comfortable sharing and acting on our own ideas. We are both so excited to make teaching a larger part of our future careers, in large part due to Emma’s influence.”

Nagy realizes the critical roles mentors have played in her own life.  “I have been incredibly lucky to have had dedicated mentors at important times throughout my life. I am grateful to early mentors, both teachers and family, who inspired me to be curious about the world and later encouraged my love of teaching, influences that strongly led to where I am today. Within MCB, I have been fortunate to have had Andrew Murray as a model for supportive mentorship. Over the years, he has pushed me to improve and grow, to become a better teacher, without fear of failure. Now, teaching brings me joy and gives me the chance to encourage and inspire others towards growth and discovery, though I often think that I learn far more from my students than they ever do from me!” 

The three winners will receive a cash prize and a certificate of recognition for their mentorship achievements.

(l to r) Jen Yi, Aditya Wirawan, Rachelle Gaudet (Chair of MCB), Emma Nagy, María Angélica Bravo Núñez, Courtney Whilden, and Mark Polk; (not shown) Julie Heng, Jimena Luque, Lily Mai, and Kira Nagoshi

(l to r) Jen Yi, Aditya Wirawan, Rachelle Gaudet (Chair of MCB), Emma Nagy, María Angélica Bravo Núñez, Courtney Whilden, and Mark Polk; (not shown) Julie Heng, Jimena Luque, Lily Mai, and Kira Nagoshi