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Eleven research group leaders in departments across the 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.

Winners of the 2023/24 MPLS Awards for Outstanding Research Supervision

The 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 44 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 Professor Matt Jarvis (MPLS Associate Head for People) and Justin Hutchence (MPLS Researcher Training and Development Manager) to select the winners.

Professor Jim Naismith, Head of MPLS Division, said: ‘The energy and creativeness of our DPhil students and research staff is the engine of our success. At its best supervision is partnership; my colleagues who we recognise and celebrate set a standard that we should all aspire to.’

2023/24 winners

Professor Ruth Baker

Professor Ruth Baker (Mathematical Institute)

Professor Ruth Baker is a Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute. Her research develops and applies novel mathematical, computational and statistical methodologies and modelling frameworks for investigating developmental biology systems at the cell and tissue level.

Ruth's style of supervision and mentorship is characterised as patient and insightful, an attentive listener, who engenders honesty. She acts as an advocate for her researchers. She handles challenging situations with collaborators and ensures that everyone involved receives credit for their work and understands their role in the project. She has guided many students to take college teaching jobs. Her approach to supervision is exemplified by the support she gave a student going through both difficult problems at work and health issues. She provided a safe space for discussions and supported the student in resolving their difficulties. Her practical help also enabled the student to manage their health issues.

Her leadership style is no-nonsense with an open-door policy which creates a welcoming, inclusive, and collaborative environment with the quick resolution of difficulties. The group meetings she facilitates are relaxed forums to receive feedback, hone presentation skills and discuss papers in journal clubs. She has initiated regular social events which enhance the sense of community, and the group uses Slack to share music, photos from trips and 'media of the week'. Group triathlon entries also happen.

In summary, one nominator states that: "Ruth consistently exceeds supervisor expectations, driving positive departmental change and outstanding international research. Moreover, she serves as a supportive mentor and advocate, nurturing her group's researchers by encouraging their interests, offering career guidance, and facilitating unique opportunities."

Professor Robert Carlisle

Professor Robert Carlisle (Department of Engineering Science)

Professor Robert Carlisle is an Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering in the Department of Engineering Science, director of the MSc in Nanotechnology for Medicine and Healthcare and an associate director of Synthetic Biology CDT.  His research focuses on achieving systemic delivery of anti-cancer agents for the treatment of metastatic cancer.

The nominators for Robert describe him as a "supportive mentor" who works hands-on with his students in the lab inspiring them with his "breadth of knowledge". Rather than feeling intimidated by this, his researchers thrive on his approachable and supportive teaching style. As one nominator states: "Professor Carlisle is a wonderful hands-on supervisor, who will happily join you in the lab to provide advice and training on new techniques" and continues by adding that he "is excellent at never making it feel like it's something you should know, and his enthusiasm for being in the lab is contagious."

Robert creates a supportive environment where students feel comfortable approaching him for assistance and guidance and his strong supervisory skills support students in their projects as well as with their mental health and wellbeing. This was particularly true during the Covid-19 pandemic when he recognised the importance of his international student spending time with family over the Christmas break. Showing exceptional dedication, Robert stepped in to cover essential experimental measurements in the lab, putting his student's well-being first.

One nominator states that Robert "excels at giving meaningful feedback in students' projects, particularly in providing constructive criticism that encourages rather than discourages."  Adding that this approach extends to the lab where he has “learned many of [his] research skills through direct tutelage” and that Robert “sacrifices his own time to help with students' in vivo experiments.”

Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita

Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita (Department of Engineering Science)

Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita is a Professor of Fluid Mechanics in the Department of Engineering Science, a Royal Society University Research Professor and a tutorial fellow at Wadham College.  His Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Oxford focuses on (but is not limited to) the study of drops and liquid jets.

Alfonso's dedication to his students extends far beyond the typical role of a supervisor and his group was described as “a supportive family” by one nominator and that his behaviour makes it “obvious that he genuinely cares for the wellbeing of all his group members.” Under his mentorship, students not only excel in their research endeavours but also experience personal growth.

Alfonso supports team members by leveraging his network for opportunities and dedicating time to assist in preparation. His help has led to successful transitions to research roles for DPhil students, with two securing academic positions at top universities within three years of completing their PhD.  As one nominator notes: “Such progression is virtually unheard of in our field and would be simply impossible without Prof Castrejón-Pita's exceptional mentorship.”

His enthusiasm for being in the lab inspires his group members, and his collaborative spirit and commitment ensure that all researchers are exceptionally well-rounded scientists with growing independent profiles. His nominators believe that this selfless support truly reflects his unconditional commitment and innate generosity.

Finally, in the words of one nominator: “I think it says a lot about Prof Castrejón-Pita that all alumni who stay in our field continue to work with him until this day.”

Professor Ian Griffiths. Credit: John Cairns Photography

Professor Ian Griffiths (Mathematical Institute)

Professor Ian Griffiths is a Professor of Industrial Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute. His research interests lie in a broad range of fluid dynamical challenges, from water purification strategies to the manufacture of glass for computer tablet screens to the modelling of Covid-19 transmission.

Ian Griffiths is described by his nominators as a great mentor who spends time understanding each individual and supporting their development with unique plans and targets giving advice that supports the growth of their technical and soft skills. He often will work at weekends on references and recommendations and responds very quickly to requests for feedback. One nomination reads: “he is the person by far most responsible for my career successes thus far.”

He works tirelessly to create a positive and inclusive work culture. He is exceptional at managing differences and conflicting viewpoints, especially in the context of collaborations with industry. The atmosphere he has established in the research group enables students to ask questions and feel valued, which counters imposter syndrome and "inspires innovation that would otherwise be inhibited". He is very committed to the pastoral care of his researchers, often having meetings where personal issues are prioritised over work.

Ian exhibits strong leadership skills demonstrating integrity and empathy, often putting his team before himself. He regularly organises development for researchers through the Fridays@4 programme. He supports large collaborations with industry and facilitates the networking of the members of his team. In conclusion, one nomination sums up his approach as follows: "Ian will think about other people more than himself on more occasions than one can think of and could possibly summarise in 400 words.”

Professor Perla Maiolino

Professor Perla Maiolino (Department of Engineering Science)

Professor Perla Maiolino is an Associate Professor at the Department of Engineering Science and a member of the Oxford Robotics Institute conducting research in providing robots with a sense of touch. 

According to her nominations, Perla is very dedicated to the pastoral and academic support of the researchers in her group. She ensures that no student is left behind. She is always available despite her extremely busy schedule. Her caring researcher-focused approach is evident in assisting a researcher to transition between MSC and DPhil programmes; regularly sending a researcher the latest publications relevant to their specific research interests before they have spotted them; and promoting the work of a group member at conferences.

Perla is also committed to enabling her researchers to explore the topics that they believe are best for their careers. She supported one researcher struggling with changing the trajectory of their career from academia to industry, enabling them to find their way.

Perla has a very caring and approachable manner. Her demonstrable concern for the researchers in the group “fosters a warm and open atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts.” Her approach to work enables people to form friendships and collaborations. She has frequent one-to-one meetings with group members, giving feedback on their progress and a weekly reading group where “the snacks...are always a plus.”

As one nominator explains: “Prof. Perla Maiolino is a supervisor of unparalleled dedication, knowledge, and compassion, who has consistently demonstrated quality supervision.”

Professor Michael Moody

Professor Michael Moody (Department of Materials)

Professor Michael Moody is a Professor in the Department of Materials and leads the Atom Probe Group. Its work focuses on enabling materials research at the nanoscale via the microscopy techniques of atom probe tomography (APT) and field ion microscopy (FIM).

Michael has created an inclusive culture through weekly group meetings where there is "no such thing as a dumb question" –whether you have just joined the group or if you are a veteran. He has developed a 'Montessori' approach in the group where students, research staff and lab managers "mutually teach and learn". He has created an environment "where collaboration and support thrive.”

Michael consistently supports his team's personal needs which has formed a sense of community extending beyond the workplace. His leadership "ensures that every team member feels valued, supported, and motivated to give their best.”

Michael is a great supervisor regularly converting masters students into DPhil students through the quality of his support and supervision. He enables students to attend key conferences and opens his networks to them to enhance their career opportunities and professional development.

According to one of his nominators, Michael's leadership has led them to "significantly improve [their] own approach to giving feedback, encouragement, and supervision to students."

Michael's nominators agree that he has created a "workplace culture defined by collaboration, support and personal growth" and that he is a "shining example of excellence in supervision".

Dr Nakita Noel

Dr Nakita Noel (Department of Physics)

Dr Nakita Noel is an EPSRC research fellow in the Department of Physics. Her research sits at the intersection of chemistry, solid-state physics and materials science. Its focus is developing insight into the fundamental processes governing thin-film crystallisation and defect formation in solution-processable semiconductors.

Nakita's approach to leading her research group receives praise for how she champions the work of its members. She battles for their contributions to get external recognition. If they have been treated unfairly, she will stand up for them even if it is at a professional cost to herself. She is very focused on her group's development, pushing researchers to take up opportunities that will help them grow. This is illustrated by her often-used question “What does this mean for your development and your thesis?” She has established a clear understanding within the group of what professional behaviour is and isn't, and these boundaries enable the researchers to flourish. She supports collaboration within the group rather than competition, as well as supporting the mental health of the researchers. She encourages them not to overwork, emphasising that there is life outside research.

Nakita's nominations outline the support she has given to a researcher with a disability, putting them at ease so they were able to disclose and then offering ongoing support. She has a very positive and pragmatic approach to research and overcoming barriers such as equipment breakdown. The following quotes exemplify her inspirational approach: “She is selfless to a fault, and drives everyone around her to be better scientists” and “I feel excited to do my next set of experiments and discuss my results with Nakita.”

Professor Jeremy Robertson

Professor Jeremy Robertson (Department of Chemistry)

Professor Jeremy Robertson is a Professor of Chemistry in the Department of Chemistry, and fellow and tutor in Organic Chemistry at Brasenose College.  His research interests include the invention of new synthetic strategies and methodologies for collaborative projects requiring compounds with a specified biological activity.

Jeremy's nominations describe him as a passionate mentor, dedicated to helping his students become independent scientists. He encourages them to take ownership of their research according to their interests while remaining available to provide advice and assistance when needed. One nominator states that Jeremy “refrains from passing judgment on our performance and instead focuses on providing constructive feedback and assistance, which greatly boosts our confidence and motivates us to improve.”

Jeremy's knowledge is a valuable asset to the group, and he sets an example by promoting a culture of thoroughness and accuracy among group members.

Nominators state that Jeremy “prioritises his students' wellbeing and works hard to cultivate a positive, friendly working environment free of toxicity” and that he “leads by example, always maintaining a calm and gentle approach to teaching and teamwork.”  Following the Covid lockdown Jeremy made sure that he was there to support his students and came to his office every day to show solidarity with his group during a tumultuous time.

He regularly organises group lunches to celebrate individual successes and milestones and his support is just as strong after students graduate, offering career guidance, writing recommendation letters, notifying students of job opportunities, and remaining available to discuss chemistry.

To summarise, in the words of one of his nominators: “I believe Jeremy is an exceptional mentor and supervisor, and I could not have imagined a better environment to carry out my DPhil than his group.”

Professor Harrison Steel

Professor Harrison Steel (Department of Engineering Science)

Professor Harrison Steel is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Science and a tutorial fellow at Harris Manchester College.  His research group works on interdisciplinary challenges at the intersection of synthetic biology, robotics, and control engineering.

According to his nominators (and the members of the Engineered Biotechnology Research Group who all co-signed the nomination in support), Harrison is an exceptional mentor who “has established an emphatically inclusive workplace culture” and “also creates a strong sense of identity and community within the group, going above and beyond in organising social activities, conferences, and collaborations.” The nominations highlight the fact that Harrison encourages and supports his students to build expertise in a wide range of subjects, offers unwavering support for their career development and has “allowed us freedom to oversee research projects of his DPhil students, greatly facilitating the continuation of our academic careers.”  By consistently offering analytical and positive feedback to enhance their mentoring and project skills, Harrison has helped his students grow independently as scientists.

During the pandemic, Harrison made sure to keep in regular contact with his students and offered unending support to those struggling with the joint pressures of the pandemic and research. As one nominator states: “[He] managed to provide me with an office space as soon as this was possible, which made a huge difference to my wellbeing during the pandemic” and provided invaluable advice and support to ensure that his students continued and succeeded with their DPhil research. 

In summary “Harrison faithfully prioritised the success of his students and employees over his own research achievements, fostering an enjoyable, relaxed and productive workspace” and “does an exceptional job of building capacity for Engineering Biology as a field through meaningful development of the people he supervises.”

Dr Diogo Veríssimo

Dr Diogo Veríssimo (Department of Biology)

Dr Diogo Veríssimo is a senior researcher in the Department of Biology.  His research focuses on the use of social science tools, namely social marketing, to influence human behaviour towards more sustainable alternatives.

His nominations highlight his professional skills, nurturing support and his commitment to promoting a positive and inclusive working culture. He actively identifies ways to advance his students' critical skills and experiences relevant to their personal goals.  For example, he has shared ideas for training courses, funding opportunities, peer-reviewing research articles, guest-speaking for webinars, and conference attendance. One nominator states: “he is always recommending training courses, for example, the recent CARE course that I attended for developing my knowledge of behaviour change, as well as a course to ready me for the upcoming systematic review for one of my chapters.” 

Diogo reliably maintains regular contact with his students to help them feel well-prepared and confident in their work. Where challenges arise, he strives to alleviate them as far as possible. Recently, he volunteered to deliver a series of freely accessible training seminars on the use of qualitative methods, as many students had been unable to meet the high costs of attending such training elsewhere.

He is committed to giving people of all backgrounds an equal chance to thrive as researchers. One nominator described how Diogo's support meant that self-doubts about background and lack of experience to pursue a PhD at the University of Oxford were overcome. The nominator explains that Diogo “went beyond expectations to mentor me and guide me in preparation for doctoral research, sharing conference tickets and exciting research projects, helping secure full funding, finding paid consultancy work, and giving me the position of lead author for two papers being published in gold-standard journals.”

The nominators highlight that Diogo's “unending patience, guidance, and encouragement” enables them to “flourish as independent researchers.”

Professor Noa Zilberman

Professor Noa Zilberman (Department of Engineering Science)

Professor Noa Zilberman is an Associate Professor at the Department of Engineering Science where she leads the Computing Infrastructure Group. Her research focuses on the integration of micro-level architectures and macro-level, large-scale networked systems.

She has created a diverse international team which feels like "a home away from home". She always provides treats on birthdays and holidays, bringing a sense of warmth and belonging to the group. She supports social events on a termly basis and encourages her researchers to take breaks and enjoy the events that are on in and around Oxford.

She has established helpful weekly team meetings where people can share ideas, update each other on their progress and discuss common issues.

Noa is responsive to the needs of her researchers even outside of working hours and at weekends. She gives detailed meticulous feedback on work “in no time” and helps her group members with their problems. She facilitates collaborations with industry partners and opens her networks to the benefit of her researchers.

Noa makes researchers aware of training and finds funds for their attendance. She supports researchers in preparing presentations by organising practice talks and giving them extensive feedback. She has developed a culture of high research standards and so her group has cultivated excellent research habits and produces high-quality work.

One nominator stated that they "look forward to welcoming more friends from around the world to join our group in future."