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Israeli researchers win world-renowned Nature Research Award

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Prof. Neta Erez and Prof. Tal Pupko have won the prestigious 2020 Nature Research Awards for Mentoring in Science, awarded by the Springer Nature Group, the publisher of the world-renowned journal ‘Nature.’

By ILANIT CHERNICK

In a fantastic achievement, two Israeli scientists from Tel Aviv University have won the prestigious 2020 Nature Research Awards for Mentoring in Science, awarded by the Springer Nature Group, the publisher of the world-renowned journal Nature.

Prof. Neta Erez, head of the Department of Pathology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, and Prof. Tal Pupko, head of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Life Sciences Faculty, were recently named as the recipients of the award.

The award is given to scientists who excel in mentoring research students in their laboratories, thus contributing to the development of the future of science – in Israel in particular and in the world in general.

The esteemed award is given in a different country each year and this year, Israel earned the illustrious title with Tel Aviv University sweeping all the honors for mid-career mentoring. 

The two said that they will share the $10,000 prize, adding that “the prize was especially moving for them because the ones who had nominated them for it were the very ones whom they mentored – the students and graduates of their laboratories.”

 Prof. Neta Erez, head of the Department of Pathology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine.
(Photo Credit: Tel Aviv University)

The prize committee, which included Prof. Karen Avraham of the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, explained that it had chosen the two recipients because “it was impressed with their contagious enthusiasm of former students,” who had nominated them for the award. 

The committee praised Pupko “for his inclusive approach and encouragement of a healthy work-life balance alongside professional excellence.”

They also commended Erez “for her work to advance women in science and for projects that bring her influence as a mentor to wider circles, including ones outside her laboratory.”

Both professors have not only focused on their groundbreaking work but also on mentoring and cultivating a strong generation of researchers in Israel.

For Erez, who 10 years ago founded a laboratory for researching metastasis of breast cancer and melanoma, and has also mentored 16 doctoral candidates and five master’s degree students so far, “mentoring is a central part of my identity as a scientist.” 

“When a doctoral candidate comes to me, I tell them: ‘You are starting off as my student, and I want you to end up as my peer,’” she said. “For that reason, my role as a mentor is not only to accompany the research. My role is to teach my students to think and do research like scientists, and to find their own way in science and in life in general.”  

Erez made it clear that she’s very proud of her students’ accomplishments. “Quite a few graduates of the laboratory have been awarded prizes and grants. As of now, four of the students have completed their medical studies and are planning to combine medicine and research. One is a research fellow and a lab manager in an academic setting, another is doing post-doctoral work in the United States, and four others are working as scientists in the biotech industry. In addition, I serve as a mentor for two young researchers who recently established their own laboratories.” 

Prof. Tal Pupko, head of the Shmunis School of Biomedicine and Cancer Research at the Life Sciences Faculty at Tel Aviv University. (Photo Credit: TAU)

Speaking about teaching and mentoring students, Pupko, who established a laboratory 17 years ago that deals with molecular evolution and bioinformatics, has so far mentored 18 doctoral candidates.

“The members of the academic staff are evaluated based on a variety of parameters: research grants, publications and teaching,” he explained. “Another index, which I feel does not receive enough emphasis, is the success of a staff member’s laboratory graduates – the young scientists whom he taught, mentored, and “raised.’” 

Pupko stressed that he invests “a great deal of thought and effort in[to] my students in order to support, encourage, advise, and nurture them. All 12 doctoral candidates who completed their degree in my laboratory have gone on to do post-doctoral work.”  

“Four of them are staff members in academia (including three at Tel Aviv University) – a particularly high number for an academic research laboratory,” he said. “Other graduates of my laboratory hold high-ranking positions in the hi-tech and biotech industries. As I see it, a student who excels is better than another three scientific papers.”  

Concluding, Pupko said that his aim and mission “is to raise up generations of researchers in Israel.”

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