Vol 11. Issue 29 / September 26, 2011
M.G. Finn Wins First Outstanding Mentor Award
By Mika Ono
The mood was jovial but tinged with suspense as the room waited for the announcement to be made. There were a total of 12 candidates for the first-ever Outstanding Mentor Award, presented by the Scripps Research Institute Office of Career and Postdoctoral Services and Society of Fellows (SOF).
"On behalf of the selection committee, I applaud all the highly accomplished and deserving nominees," said Ryan Wheeler, manager of the Office of Career and Postdoctoral Services. "The selection was no easy task. Yet, after closely examining the nomination packets, one candidate stood out…
"Please join me in congratulating this year's Outstanding Mentor Award winner—Professor M.G. Finn."
Finn is a professor in the Department of Chemistry, member of the Skaggs Institute of Chemical Biology, and director of the Scripps Predoctoral Training Program in Molecular Evolution at Scripps Research. His research program focuses on catalysis and nanotechnology.
Stepping up to the front of the room to loud applause, Finn said, "Thanks for starting this tradition. It's easy to mentor with the people I have in my lab."
The Outstanding Mentor Award was founded to honor the dedication of Scripps Research faculty who consistently and enthusiastically serve as effective mentors of graduate students and postdocs. The winner receives $1,000 in funding to support professional development, training, or team building efforts in his or her lab.
In addition to Finn, this year's nominees for the new award were: Ben Cravatt, Ashok Deniz, Wendy Havran, Thomas Kodadek, Dwight Kono, Jeanne Loring, Ardem Patapoutian, Hugh Rosen, Ray Stevens, Peter Vogt, and Peter Wright.
Twelve Letters of Support
In reviewing the many outstanding nominations for the prize, members of the SOF Executive Committee and the Career and Postdoctoral Services Office were particularly impressed by the 12 letters of support for Finn's candidacy from current and past lab members. These emphasized Finn's merits as both an interdisciplinary, creative, and highly cited scientist and compassionate, caring, and available mentor. The letters spoke repeatedly to his ability to teach excellence in science while fostering an atmosphere of interpersonal respect.
The letters also highlighted the many instances in which Finn had gone out of his way to ensure the well-being of those in his group—including co-signing a rental agreement for a foreign scholar; hosting Thanksgiving celebrations at his house; introducing team members to colleagues to facilitate scientific dialog; helping lab members receive coveted job offers through strong letters, emails, and phone calls of support; and continuing to provide help and advice even after individuals had left his lab and moved on to other positions.
Here are a few comments that illuminate Finn's exceptional mentoring:
"MG is simply the greatest mentor I have ever had. With his daily example, he taught me not only science but also the importance of mentoring and how to lead a research team through listening but listening empathically and communicating with everybody… One of the greatest scientific lessons I have ever learnt comes from one of his quotes: 'When you are working in the lab, you should keep always asking yourself what you are doing and why you are doing it. Then, you should have always fun while doing the experiments, it is the only way of being able to listen what the chemistry is trying to tell you—and probably not what you expected to hear.'"
"I vividly remember the experience of coming to M.G's office with that latest and greatest experimental result. He would always share the enthusiasm, and then help me devise a testable hypothesis and the control experiments that would 'kill' this hypothesis. This training… is what ultimately led me to become a successful independent researcher… M.G. managed to build a wonderful team where everyone was best friends with one another. The lab was a second home, and every morning I [woke] up with an anticipation of another great day of doing science."
"His guidance has allowed me to consider critical issues in design and implementation that I wouldn't have otherwise considered. With each step, he has taken the time to be certain I understand the rationale for my decisions while simultaneously encouraging my independence to make decisions on my own. This ability to find the precise balance between mentoring and promoting self-sufficiency is a unique quality that makes Dr. M.G. Finn an outstanding mentor…. Universally, he has a reputation for being warm, responsive, competent, and goal-focused. Anyone who worked with him becomes[s] stronger scientifically and feel[s] more than 100% supported."
In addition to mentoring more than 60 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over the years, Finn is a member of the Academic Advisory Committee at the Kellogg School of Science and Technology, teaches graduate classes in Physical Organic Chemistry and Molecular Evolution, and participates in the Scripps Research science outreach programs hosting high school interns every summer in his lab.
Send comments to: mikaono[at]scripps.edu