Thirteen research group leaders in departments across MPLS Division have received awards for going above and beyond in nurturing and supporting their colleagues, by demonstrating inspirational leadership and enabling people to flourish in their careers.
The new MPLS Awards for Outstanding Research Supervision were launched at the start of the 2022/23 academic year. They celebrate research staff and academics who excel in their everyday supervision of research colleagues and their professional commitment to people development.
Each entry to the awards required a minimum of two supporting nominations and 40 research supervisors were nominated. The judging panel, made up of research staff representatives from the MPLS Research Staff Forum, met at the end of last term with Justin Hutchence (MPLS Researcher Training and Development Manager) to select the winners.
Professor Sam Howison, Head of MPLS Division, said: ‘All academics know how important supervisors are (or should be!) to students embarking on research for the first time and indeed to research staff. It is wonderful to see so many examples of great supervision from our MPLS colleagues and I congratulate not just the winners but all 40 nominees on the terrific support they have given to their students and research groups.’
Professor Helen Byrne (Mathematical Institute)
Helen Byrne is a Professor of Applied Mathematics and a Tutorial Fellow at Keble College. Her research covers diverse areas of fundamental and applied mathematics.
Helen’s nominations describe her as an inspiring supervisor who champions the researchers in her team, making sure they receive the credit they deserve and encouraging them to develop independent profiles. Her nominators felt she had guided them through difficult times including the pandemic. Helen is also recognised for creating a welcoming and inclusive research group and for being dedicated to the success and wellbeing of the researchers within it, providing timely and constructive feedback when needed, and enabling a collaborative and productive environment in which researchers can develop and succeed in their work ambitions. According to the nominations, her approach is characterised by warmth and humour.
Professor Mark Cannon (Department of Engineering Science)
Mark Cannon is Associate Head of Department (Infrastructure), an Associate Professor of Engineering, and a Tutorial Fellow at St John’s College. His research focuses on the control and optimization of systems with constraints and model or measurement uncertainty.
Mark’s nominations stress the patience, understanding and support he demonstrates in his role as a research supervisor. He provides pastoral care and encourages the career development of members of the research group on a one-to-one basis, and he regularly offers advice about career development in team meetings. He is an enthusiastic supporter of his researchers in their funding and other applications, giving large amounts of detailed feedback even when deadlines are tight. Working with him has inspired at least one nominee to pursue a career in academia, and they now strive to live up to his example as a supervisor. According to members of his group, Mark “invests a huge amount of time and effort in developing his graduate students (in a way that is no doubt a cost on more `success’ orientated activities…), and his approach to supervision is thoroughly deserving of the highest possible accolades.”
Professor Gavin Dalton (Department of Physics)
Gavin Dalton is a Professor of Astrophysics who works on wide-field instrumentation projects for large telescopes that aim to push the boundaries of research in a range of fields in astrophysics.
Gavin’s nominations describe the welcoming atmosphere he creates for new researchers and his balanced and supportive way of working. He respects researchers’ initiative but also provides support where needed, and he takes a collaborative approach to problem solving that values the contributions made by others. Nominators describe how he gives them his full attention, supporting them with technical issues, responding quickly to emails, and often proofreading documents at short notice. He is open to receiving feedback himself and he supports flexible working, sacrificing his own time for that of team members. He also demonstrates care and attention by supporting colleagues with difficulties they face outside of work. One group member noted how valued and appreciated they felt after Gavin’s encouragement and public recognition of their work, and another expressed gratitude for his help with their career development. This quote sums up the views of colleagues who nominated Gavin for this award: ‘In short, I have always felt seen and heard by Gavin, a way of being that I strive to emulate when I am mentoring younger researchers myself.’
Professor Christl Donnelly, CBE (Department of Statistics)
Christl Donnelly is Head of Department for Statistics and a Professor of Applied Statistics. Her research expertise is in infectious disease epidemiology and control, real-time outbreak analysis and response, disease transmission dynamics, and the interface between science and policy.
Christl’s nominations mention the great induction she offers for new members of her group, where she introduces them to their role and the department, answers any questions they have, and then takes them on a short walking tour of Oxford. Her nominators also comment on the care she shows for both professional and personal matters, during the COVID pandemic and through various issues team members have faced. They describe the way she does not so much direct research as guide it, and she encourages researchers to be independent by pursuing their own interests. Christl is recognised for her ‘open and engaged’ approach to meetings, and her non-judgemental approach to any perceived ‘stupid questions’. The feedback she gives is kind, supportive, prompt and thorough. She seeks out opportunities for research students to develop themselves: one researcher was enabled to work with their academic hero, for example, and another to work on the MPLS Science Together programme. She celebrates the achievements of the group by highlighting successes to everyone involved, and she arranges enjoyable social events to bring people together. According to one nomination she goes above and beyond as a supervisor, and another states that she is a great role model, writing: ‘She is living proof that you can be successful whilst also lifting up others and I aspire to follow in her footsteps’.
Dr Tom Hart (Department of Biology)
Tom Hart is a Research Fellow in the Department of Biology. His research focuses on ways of monitoring populations of penguins and other marine predators in challenging environments such as Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic.
Tom’s nominations highlight his focus on the welfare and support of researchers in his group, and on values of inclusion. He has a strong focus on fieldwork safety, providing guides and risk assessments over and above the departmental provision. He discusses mental health and identity related risks for people on fieldwork which helps students plan properly for these activities, and as a result his group feel confident that safety is his priority. Nominators also mention the mental health and wellbeing training he instigated within his department. Tom promotes strategic thinking on career development and encourages researchers to look for opportunities but also shares opportunities he finds. He devotes time for people to practice their presentations and provides useful feedback on chapters, papers, outlines and CVs. He makes his students a priority despite juggling multiple large projects and often being away on fieldwork for months at a time, and he has struck a happy balance between giving his students support and enabling them to develop as independent researchers. Nominations also mention how he treats his researchers as individuals and strives to cater for their specific needs. He is devoted to enabling students to experience fieldwork in amazing parts of the world and works tirelessly, in many ways, to ensure this can happen.
Professor Matt Jarvis (Department of Physics)
Matt Jarvis also receives the MPLS Award for Outstanding Research Supervision, having been nominated by members of his research group and selected by members of the judging panel in his absence. Matt is MPLS Associate Head (People) and a Professor of Astrophysics. His research interests lie in the fields of galaxy evolution, active galaxies, and cosmology.
Matt’s award nominations highlight his warm and welcoming attitude to new researchers and his non-hierarchical approach as a supervisor. He focuses on building strong individual relationships and taking time to get to know individuals, enabling people to express themselves and develop their own ways of working. His group is very diverse, with a gender balance and a diversity of nationalities represented. He is open to advice and suggestions about how things can be improved and he acts as a sponsor to group members and others in the department, sharing his networks with them. Matt’s research group members are encouraged to take leadership roles and to become independent researchers. Within this atmosphere of trust, he enables people to present their research, become lead authors and develop their own collaborations. He is always on hand to offer advice or support. He focuses on issues such as mental health, and bullying and harassment, and is always available to support people when they need it. He supports people to access available training and development opportunities and has created a thriving environment for his research group, in which people feel confident and relaxed at work.
Professor Aris Karastergiou (Department of Physics)
Aris Karastergiou is an Associate Professor specialising in astrophysical problems relating to Pulsars, and a Senior Research Fellow at St Edmund Hall.
According to his nominations, Aris creates a positive, welcoming work environment for his research group and supports their interactions with departmental colleagues and in international collaborations. His leadership is characterised by a focus on equality, inclusivity, encouragement and positivity. He opens up his home to the research group, to help build team cohesion and he devotes much of his time to individual members of the research group as well as team meetings. Aris has strong pastoral skills, caring for the whole person, especially when they face personal difficulties. As a supervisor he is enthusiastic about the research process and open to any sort of question from colleagues. He acts as a sponsor for others, opening up his network and encouraging people to seize opportunities to develop themselves. Aris focuses on the welfare of researchers, helping them with issues as they arise, from the technical through to the personal. He is described as an exemplar for successful research leadership.
Dr Barbara Maciejewska (Department of Materials)
Barbara Maciejewska (known as Basia to her colleagues) is a Research Fellow in the Department of Materials. Her research centres around the development of new manufacturing and ‘green’ processing methods of functional materials for thermal management applications.
Barbara took over leading a research group of 15 students whilst her PI was out of the country for more than two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. The judging panel were impressed by the leadership she has shown in supporting students’ progress and, in particular, in enabling and inspiring six new DPhil students to become more independent and passionate about their research. Barbara has facilitated collaboration both within her research group and beyond, by building connections inside and outside of her department. One nomination describes how she has ‘a contagious passion for doing good science’ and she encouraged them repeatedly to produce high quality results. Her approach is non-judgemental, helpful and kind. She also demonstrates authority over key lab conduct and safety issues, and establishes positive relationships with her students, creating a ‘productive and fun working environment’.
Dr Sneha Malde (Department of Physics)
Sneha Malde is a Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellow and ERC Senior Researcher in particle physics. Her research interests lie in precision measurement of the CKM angle gamma and related charm hadronic parameters.
Sneha is recognised by others as a highly effective supervisor; extremely knowledgeable and compassionate, and dedicated to the success of others. She collaborates with her supervisees to come up with rigorous solutions to any problems they encounter. She empowers them and supports their development through her insights, leadership and vision. She also supports her researchers with their career development, even when their aspirations are at odds with her own research goals. She encourages a good work-life balance but sets the highest standards at work. She encourages her students to apply for fellowships and spends considerable time giving feedback on the applications they write. During difficult personal and professional times, Sneha is always on hand to support and guide her researchers. She is described as very trustworthy and always delivers on her promises. She also advocates for early-career physicists across the UK.
Dr Takafumi Nishino (Department of Engineering Science)
Takafumi Nishino is a Lecturer in Civil Engineering Fluid Mechanics and a DPhil supervisor. His research interests are in theoretical fluid mechanics and offshore renewable energy technology, such as wind and tidal-stream energy.
Takafumi’s nominations emphasised his strong empathic and listening abilities as a supervisor. He gives a lot of time to his students, meeting them every week. One of his students outlined the support they had received early on in their DPhil, which set them up to make progress in their subject much earlier than many of their contemporaries. Takafumi has a strong focus on pastoral support, being there for his students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. He also takes time to support them in their career development, giving them opportunities outside the research arena to develop skills such as teaching, supervising and peer support, or to benefit from internships. He also acts as a sponsor to his researchers, by opening up his professional network to them. He takes time to have career discussions with researchers he supervises, discussing the pros and cons of academic and non-academic pathways, and he provides prompt feedback on academic papers and presentations.
Professor Gail Preston (Department of Biology)
Gail Preston is a Professor of Plant-Microbe Interactions, Deputy Director of the MPLS Doctoral Training Centre, and a fellow of Linacre College. Her research focuses on both plant-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions, with a particular emphasis on bacterial diseases of plants and the mushroom microbiome.
Many in Gail Preston’s research group think she is the best DPhil supervisor they could imagine. Equality, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of her ethos as a research supervisor, and she places a lot of focus on the professional development of individual researchers. She enables collaboration amongst group members, whilst encouraging a friendly attitude and a healthy work-life balance. During the COVID-19 lockdowns she instigated online socials to maintain good morale. She encourages self-expression and supports her students if they take an ethical stand on issues relating to their research. According to one nomination Gail is considered the researchers’ greatest champion, always believing in them, 'even when an experiment has failed'.
Professor Paolo Radaelli (Department of Physics)
Paolo Radaelli is the Dr Lee’s Professor of Experimental Philosophy at the Clarendon Laboratory, and a Professorial Fellow at Wadham College. His research focuses on oxide electronics; in particular, the study of transition metal oxides that display novel physical phenomena and their potential for device application.
Paolo is described as an excellent teacher and mentor in his nominations. From helping to develop his students’ research vision, to giving guidance and feedback on specific technical matters, his teaching and supervision style is to guide and enable people to learn through observations and find their own solutions. He is friendly and approachable at work and he encourages research students to network and collaborate. He enables an atmosphere that allows for freedom of open discussion about experimental and theoretical physics. He also encourages a good work-life balance and takes great interest in researchers’ goals, often championing their work at scientific meetings. He discusses career development and gives his group members leadership opportunities such as mentoring more junior colleagues, developing grant proposals, or taking a lead in experiments. He is described as being always available to his students, who appreciate everything he does for them, including his personal warmth.
Professor Clive Siviour (Department of Engineering Science)
Clive Siviour is a Professor of Engineering in the Solid Mechanics and Materials Engineering research group. His research investigates the behaviour of materials and structures when subjected to impact loading.
According to his nominations, Clive has created a great group spirit and dynamic that is relaxed and informal, allowing people to express themselves without fear of judgement. He is demonstrably concerned about everyone in the group as people, as well as in their academic capacity as researchers. He is empathic as well as being a supporter of diversity, treating everyone as an individual. He acts as a sponsor for members of his research group, actively promoting their work in the public, industrial and academic domains, and opening up his networks to them. He also shields his group from issues such as administrative or funding challenges, to help them focus on their research. He is constantly horizon scanning, looking out for professional development and career opportunities for group members. Clive is also recognised for giving useful, timely feedback, and putting his students first. His nominators feel he is the model of an outstanding supervisor.
In line with its responsibilities under The Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers, the University is committed to ensuring that DPhil supervisors and research group leaders foster environments in which research students and research staff can thrive.
Look out for more on each of this year’s winning nominees on the department websites for Materials, Biology, Engineering Science, Physics, Statistics and the Mathematical Institute.