CWRU School of Medicine faculty wins prestigious award

Nihal Manjila, Staff Reporter

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Dr. Heather Broihier, a professor in the Department of Neurosciences, recently won the Landis Award for Outstanding Mentorship from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), an organization in the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Landis Award is given to a recipient for, as the name suggests, exemplary mentorship of students and lab members. The award also comes with a $100,000 grant to continue mentoring students and performing lab work.

When asked about what inspired her interest in neuroscience, Broihier explained that she was a developmental biologist by training, and that the development of the neurological system was particularly fascinating. This interest is reflected in the primary focus of her lab’s studies: synapse formation and pruning.

Broihier explained that her passion for mentorship and teaching began as a result of her own medical research training. She was inspired by the mentorship she received as a student, and wanted to give that same experience to the next generation of scientists. In particular, she enjoys the process of seeing students come in green and inexperienced, and progressively grow as researchers and scientists.

Student outcome is also a factor in receiving the Landis Award. Broihier has had students from her lab go on to study and work in top labs and schools across the country, from local institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic to top-tier universities like Stanford and Vanderbilt. This success is due in part to excellent mentorship and meaningful preparation for performing research. 

“I want them to get their Ph.D., but I really want them to be able to do what they want,” said Broihier when asked about her goals for the graduate students she mentors in her lab. She expressed that the main goal she has for her students is for them to learn and be able to pursue their own paths, whether it be continued lab work, research or even non-scientific jobs that utilize skills gained from research. 

The process of earning the Landis Award is a long one. Broihier detailed the steps. Students first had to nominate her for the award. After being nominated, a full application had to be sent to NINDS. She had to include her CV, graduate student outcomes and letters from students and faculty for review. 

Winning the Landis Award is an impressive personal accomplishment, but it also reflects on CWRU as well. The award represents a culture of cooperation and mentorship in the department and school as a whole. 

“Mentorship for graduate students is taken seriously here,” said Broihier. This emphasis on mentorship applies to undergraduate students as well.  

“The atmosphere is a very friendly one,” said Suga Saravanan, a second-year undergraduate neuroscience major in Dr. Broihier’s lab. “Everyone is willing to teach others and be helpful.”

Broihier’s mentorship goes beyond lab techniques, and extends to academic advice as well. She meets with all the students in her lab, not just graduate students.

“Dr. Broihier has helped me figure out what I would like to do academically,” said Saravanan. “In the short time I’ve known her, she’s inspired me.”

Broihier plans to continue her mentorship of students, and create new projects in her lab with the funding accompanying the award.