Dr.Michael S. Kilberg


UF Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

2005-2006 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner

UF College of Medicine Graduate Educational Service: I serve as the Director of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (B&MB) Advanced Concentration within the Interdisciplinary Program (IDP) of the UF College of Medicine. My role in this capacity is twofold. First, to serve as a secondary mentor for the 40-50 graduate students in the B&MB Concentration with regard to all aspects of their education and training, such as selection of coursework, selection of supervisory committee members, advice about preparing for written and oral qualifying exams, dealing with student/mentor conflicts, and advice about preparation of the written dissertation and defense seminar. I review each of the written qualifying exams and attend the oral examinations for all PhD candidates in the B&MB Concentration. I also help students outside of my laboratory prepare formal talks for research meetings, competitions and postdoctoral interviews. My second role as the B&MB IDP Director is to help the faculty set and maintain high standards for the graduate students who have chosen the B&MB Advanced Concentration. The faculty accomplish this goal in many ways, but among the most important are: (1) to provide high quality advanced courses that cover the disciplines of biochemistry, structural biology and molecular biology; (2) to help each student choose a dissertation supervisory committee that will provide them with the necessary expertise and rigor with regard to their scientific training; (3) to ensure that each student has a committee meeting every six months to monitor their progress; and (4) to establish an esprit de corps within the B&MB Advanced Concentration that makes the experience not only educational, but also instills in the students a sense of pride and commitment within the group.

Individual Mentorship: I have had the pleasure of mentoring 17 PhD students who have graduated, three current Ph.D. students, eight clinical fellows and nine PhD postdoctoral fellows. Beyond my own laboratory, I have also served on more than 80 PhD dissertation committees, covering four different colleges and 10 departments. Presently, I am a member of 13 PhD dissertation supervisory committees, which represents a significant investment given that mandatory committee meetings are held twice a year for each student in the B&MB Concentration. My past graduate students have been quite successful during their PhD training, as evidenced by the fact that several have won or placed in the top three within the UF College of Medicine Medical Guild research competition, have been recognized through other college and university awards, and have been very productive with regard to research. Graduate students from my laboratory have authored 61 research publications, and they have been the first author on 37 of those publications. Based on their scholarship, my students have been chosen for numerous travel awards by the American Society for Nutritional Sciences and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to attend national meetings and present their research. Students trained in my laboratory have gone on to become leaders in the biotechnology industry, hold faculty positions at prestigious universities and be recognized for excellence by their peers. Watching their success as their own careers develop is truly one of the joys of mentorship, and it illustrates that your PhD advisor is your mentor for life.

A high degree of success by graduate students rarely comes without active mentorship. After more than 25 years of PhD training, I could probably count on one hand the number of times that one of my graduate students has given a journal club, seminar or other formal presentation without at least one practice session with me. These help sessions occur regardless of the length or importance of the presentation, from a 10-minute talk to formal seminars, because each talk must be treated as an opportunity to repetitively teach basic principles of scientific presentation. Laboratory meetings or other forums for oral presentation are also an important aspect of graduate student training. For someone training in a science requiring bench research, regular one-on-one meetings with their mentor to critique data, routine laboratory meetings to present and defend their data in front of their peers, and attendance/presentation at national and international meetings are all critical to the development of sound scientific judgment and self-confidence in one’s ability to function independently in the scientific community. Likewise, every chance that a mentor has to teach writing skills is critical. Most graduate students have a relatively limited number of opportunities to write something from scratch, have that writing carefully critiqued and then have the chance to discuss the recommendations with a seasoned scientific writer. It is the responsibility of the mentor to take advantage of each opportunity so that the student will hone the writing skills necessary to have a successful career.

Beyond teaching and transfer of technical skills, mentorship involves conveying my passion for the discipline and for the subject of the student’s research. The following motto, which is posted in my laboratory, sums up my feeling about this important aspect of graduate student training in a biological science: “Art is passion pursued with discipline. Science is a discipline pursued with passion.” The message that I convey to my students is to discover the subjects about which they are passionate and pursue those topics as a career. From a personal perspective, investment in graduate student and postdoctoral training yields a high degree of satisfaction. Just as children contribute to one’s personal legacy, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows serve as a significant factor in one’s professional legacy. For a teacher, there is no greater challenge and no better reward than training tomorrow’s academic and scientific leaders. I believe that if you truly enjoy the experience of mentoring, it will show, and students and faculty alike will recognize it. It is a satisfying feeling to watch students mature during their training, as both a scientist and as a person. For most of us, the impact on society of former students will be felt long after our research publications or other scholarly activities have grown dusty on a library shelf. To help guide a student’s early development through good mentorship is the greatest gift that a faculty member gives to his or her students.