Tel Aviv University scientists win 2020 Nature Research Awards

Three professors have been chosen this year to receive the prestigious mentoring award, which is usually given to a different country each year.

Students on campus at Tel Aviv University (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Students on campus at Tel Aviv University
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Three scientists from two Israeli universities have won the 2020 Nature Research Awards for Mentoring in Science. 
The prestigious award – which is given to researchers in different countries each year – was given in Israel this year, with a professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem winning the lifetime achievement in mentoring award and two Tel Aviv University professors sharing the honors for mid-career mentoring.
Prof. Hanah Margalit of the faculty of medicine at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem won the lifetime achievement award. 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 share the mid-career mentoring award. 
The awards are given to professors who excel in mentoring research students in their laboratories as the next generation of scientists, thus contributing to the development of the future of science – in Israel in particular and in the world in general.
Each prize is worth $10,000. Erez and Pupko, who will share the mid-career prize, said that receiving it was especially moving for them because the ones who had nominated them were the very ones whom they mentored – the students and graduates of their laboratories.
Throughout her career, Margalit has pioneered the field of bioinformatics in Israel and beyond, including the study of protein-protein interactions, complex biological networks, small RNAs and others, according to the award website. Her creativity, courage and open mind have led her to repeatedly open new directions in multiple fields.
As a mentor, she has supervised more than 50 students and researchers, many of whom have gone on to hold positions at top universities or leading positions in industry. Her mentees speak highly of her ability to inspire, motivate and foster independence in her students. 
Erez, who established a laboratory ten years ago for researching metastasis of breast cancer and melanoma, and who has mentored many students and doctoral candidates, said that "for me, 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.'
"For that reason, my role as a mentor is not only to accompany the research," she said. "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."
Pupko, who established a laboratory 17 years ago that deals with molecular evolution and bioinformatics, has mentored 18 doctoral candidates so far. "The members of the academic staff are evaluated based on a variety of parameters: research grants, publications and teaching.
"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,'" he said. "I invest a great deal of thought and effort in my students in order to support, encourage, advise and nurture them. My aim is to raise up generations of researchers in Israel: I see that as my mission."
The prize committee, which included Prof. Karen Avraham of the Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, announced 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 also praised Pupko for his inclusive approach and encouragement of a healthy work-life balance alongside professional excellence, and 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.