Professor Wendy Havran, PhD
Professor Wendy Havran, PhD

Professor Wendy Havran named 2018 Outstanding Mentor

October 03, 2018

Trainees in the lab of Wendy Havran, PhD, don’t just learn to be great immunologists—they also learn how to be effective mentors.

Havran, a professor at Scripps Research and associate dean of the Skaggs Graduate School of Chemical and Biological Sciences, was recently named the 2018 Outstanding Mentor by the Society of Fellows, a postdoctoral organization at Scripps Research. The recognition reflects Havran’s skills in encouraging trainees to find their place in the research world. 

“While, of course, the standards for science are high in her lab, what makes Wendy such a great mentor is the focus she puts into training lab members,” said Daisy Johnson, a fifth-year graduate student in the Havran lab, at the award presentation. She went on to relate how Havran had helped her become a better mentor to two undergraduate students and one high school intern who had joined the Havran lab. “Throughout the process, Wendy would meet with me to make sure that I was providing competent guidance to these students, and in the process, I have learned a great deal about guiding people in the fundamentals of scientific research.”

Havran, who joined Scripps Research in 1991, says the award is “a great honor,” adding that “mentoring is one of the best parts of the job.” 

She well understands the power of great mentors. As an undergraduate at Duke University in the 1970s, she wasn’t sure if she should pursue a graduate degree in research or attend medical school. Her university advisor stepped in, making a call to the school’s director of hematology and oncology, and Havran thus spent the next two years working elbow-to-elbow with medical researchers and accompanying physicians on their rounds. “They kind of adopted me,” Havran says. She went on to study the immune system in a Duke laboratory and earn her PhD at the University of Chicago, learning a lot about good and bad mentorship along the way.

Today, in her own lab, she approaches trainees as individuals and takes the time to learn about their goals at Scripps Research. She finds it helpful to use “individual development plans” and similar resources put together by organizations like the National Institutes of Health and the institute’s own Career and Postdoctoral Services Office. “It can be eye-opening to sit down and think about short-term and long-term goals,” she says. Havran also believes in meeting with trainees at least once a week to see how their work is going. She says it can be tempting for mentors to focus more on students whose work is making progress, “but it’s when things aren’t going well that you need to give trainees extra attention.”

Her mentoring skills have clearly made a difference. As Johnson put together the award nomination packet, she received 24 supporting letters from current and former trainees.

“Wendy is an active supporter of men and women in STEM,” wrote Amanda McLeod, MD, of the Duke University School of Medicine, in her supporting letter. “She is an outstanding administrator, mentor, scientist and wonderful person who serves as an excellent role model.”

Julie Jameson, PhD, an associate professor at California State University, San Marcos, and former postdoctoral associate in the Havran lab wrote: “Dr. Havran has high expectations when it comes to presenting seminars and has been known to take an extensive amount of her personal time to help her postdocs perfect their presentations. It is not a coincidence that many of her postdocs have earned awards for their presentations.”

Many letters cited Havran for helping trainees learn to write grant applications, travel to conferences, establish collaborations with other researchers and even start their own labs.

In addition to the award, Havran will receive $500 from the Society of Fellows to support team building or training efforts in her lab.

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