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Provost’s Award for Distinguished
Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring

Abba Krieger, Professor of Statistics, Selection Committee Chair

Excellence in Ph.D. education is the hallmark of a great university. That excellence, in turn, depends upon the skill and commitment of faculty mentors. The Provost’s Award for Distinguished Ph.D. Teaching and Mentoring was established in 2003-04. Designed specifically to honor faculty who mentor Ph.D. students, this prize is intended to underscore the University’s strategic emphasis on graduate education by celebrating the accomplishments of faculty who show special distinction in doctoral education.

The selection committee was chaired by Abba Krieger, professor and chair of statistics, Wharton. The other members were Dr. James Eberwine, School of Medicine; Dr. Jan Van der Spiegel, School of Engineering; Dr. Virginia Lee, School of Medicine; and last year’s awardees, Dr. Stuart Curran and Dr. Amos Smith, both of SAS.

The committee received many nominations and evaluated the candidates on the basis of letters of recommendation from former students, faculty colleagues and from the wider research community. Among the qualities considered were distinguished research, success in collaborating on doctoral committees and graduate groups, the ability to attract outstanding doctoral students, and a record of successful doctoral placements.

This year’s winners are:

Dr. Lila Gleitman, Professor Emerita of Psychology and Linguistics

Dr. Michael P. Nusbaum, Professor of Neuroscience

Excerpts from the letters in support of the awardees provide a glimpse into the qualities that make for outstanding mentoring:

L. Gleitman

 “Since Lila became my adviser shortly after I began the psychology program, I have learned what it means to be an apprentice to a truly inspired and inspiring mentor. She is the kind of person that the word “mentor” was invented to describe. Despite her often break-neck international schedule of conference appearances, I have always felt that Lila kept me high on her list of priorities... As an academic adviser, Lila has led with an invisible hand as I have jumped through the hoops of the program. She knows just when to say “jump” and how loudly, so that I have attained my achievements at my own pace and under my own control and with my head up and my eye to the future.”  Another writes, “She never suggested that effort for its own sake was admirable. In fact, it was clear to me that Lila did not think that 95 percent of what she did was work at all. Writing, designing research, teaching and even preparing grant proposals are all part of an intellectual dialog which could be carried out in a comfortable setting with good food, good humor and good conversation. For me Lila is the Fred Astaire of psychology. She made it look like so much fun that it was irresistible. I learned from her that being over-scheduled was the sign of a healthy intellectual appetite rather than externally imposed burden.” Still another describes her as “the strongest role model imaginable for academic women...a brilliant scholar at a time when serious academic positions for women were not generally available. Her example allowed many of us to imagine that one could, indeed, buck gender discrimination—moreover that we could balance a brilliant career with family and outside interests, all the while maintaining a positive and even humorous attitude toward the difficulties in doing so.”

M. Nusbaum

On behalf of this year's second honoree, Dr. Michael Nusbaum, a recent Ph.D. graduate writes, "Dr. Nusbaum so successfully conveyed the excitement and key concepts/principles in motor systems and neuromodulation research that I was encouraged to follow similar lines of research for my own dissertation...He was an indispensable asset to both my preliminary committee and thesis committee. He reminded me to relate my own work to a bigger framework and to other research areas. He gave me constructive suggestions and critiques on the details of my experiments...He advised me on publishing research papers and choosing labs for my postdoctoral training. Incidentally or not, he was always the first member to reply to my e-mails about scheduling the next committee meeting.” A current student writes: “Mikey is one of the primary reasons I chose to pursue my graduate education at Penn. I was looking for a department that put students first and meeting Mikey solidified my belief that Penn truly embraces graduate education...During my first year I elected to do a semester research rotation in the Nusbaum lab under Mikey’s supervision. While I was not surprised to find exceptional science being pursed in his lab, I was surprised by the amount of personal attention and mentoring I received from Mikey. His office door is always open to the needs of his students, and despite his numerous responsibilities, he makes ample time to address the questions and concerns of everyone in the program.” A faculty colleague writes of his teaching at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA, “Dr. Nusbaum was the best faculty member that course has ever had. He represents “the soul of the course.” My opinion is echoed in student evaluations and comments from other faculty over the years. Somehow, he was able to provide rigorous instruction in difficult concepts, experimental techniques and data analysis without letting students lose sign of the excitement and fun of research. Students sweated through Dr. Nusbaum’s uncompromising critical evaluation of their data and analysis, yet appreciated his sense of humor and offbeat approach.”

Reception: May 5

A reception in honor of Dr. Lila Gleitman and Dr. Michael Nusbaum will be held on Thursday, May 5 at 5 p.m. in the Graduate Student Center. Members of the Penn community are invited.



  Almanac, Vol. 51, No. 30, April 26, 2005


April 26, 2005
Volume 51 Number 30


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