September 14, 2020
Leslie Hicks, associate professor of chemistry, is the recipient of the Society for Redox Biology and Medicine’s (SfRBM) 2020 Mentoring Excellence Award.
The SfRBM Mentoring Excellence Award recognizes outstanding mentorship as illustrated by a mentor’s encouragement of trainees in both academics and professional development, their promotion of work-life balance, the fostering of caring and respectful work environments, and facilitating networking opportunities to advance trainee career goals both through conference attendance and personal connections.
Hicks joined the faculty at the Department of Chemistry in 2013. Her research revolves around the novel implementation of mass spectrometry to enhance the understanding of biological systems. Her interests span the realm of peptidomics and proteomics, with applications in antibiotic resistance, natural product discovery, and the delineation of phosphorylation and redox pathways. In the last seven years, Hicks has mentored 45 trainees, including 5 postdoctoral fellows, 13 graduate students, 26 undergraduates, and 1 high school student.
While the nomination only allows for five submissions of letters of support, all lab members of the Hicks lab emphatically supported the nomination.
Amanda Smythers, second year Ph.D. student in the Hicks lab, wrote in her nomination letter that Hicks provides incredible mentorship through a combination of using her success to the benefit of her mentees and providing opportunities for advancement.
“There is a common trope in academia that to be successful, you must be cold-hearted, arrogant, or negligent – or some combination of the three,” Smythers wrote in her nomination letter. “Leslie stands as a clear contradiction to this idea; she pairs significant research achievements in bioanalytical chemistry with an unwavering dedication to student mentorship. Leslie uses her success to the benefit of graduate and undergraduate students alike, ensuring that underrepresented students are empowered to advance in science either by direct mentorship or through collaborations with other universities.”
Madeline Cooke, a former undergraduate student in the Hicks lab and now third year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, credited Hicks’ mentorship with her ability to be successful in graduate school.
“When I began doing research in Prof. Hicks’ lab, I was shy and nervous about being more inexperienced than my peers,” Cooke wrote. “I had never participated in a research project, and I didn’t consider myself to be experienced in chemistry. However, Prof. Hicks created an environment that welcomed all students at all levels to participate fully, and I quickly became comfortable and grew in my confidence. Developing these skills as an undergraduate has been fundamental for my success as a graduate student.”
Another former undergraduate student, Lilian Heil, current second year Ph.D. student at the University of Washington, described how Hicks’ mentorship taught her to be an independent thinker.
“Dr. Hicks consistently goes above and beyond to be a mentor to all her students,” Heil wrote. “From the time I first joined the lab as an undergraduate with no research experience, Dr. Hicks treated me as a valuable member of the lab and always listened to my ideas and took them seriously. As a result, I was able to learn to think and act independently from day one.”
Hicks is an intentionally meticulous and supportive mentor, and it is evident in the value that she places on her mentees.
“Above all, Leslie’s compassion is her greatest asset as a mentor. While she conducts formal yearly reviews to discuss progress, future directions, strengths/weaknesses, and career aspirations, she is constantly keeping updated on results, forwarding fellowship/job opportunities, and giving career advice,” wrote Patric Sadecki, third year Ph.D. candidate in the Hicks lab. “Even when she is not in her office, she is available at a moment’s notice through email, and is always willing to schedule one-on-one meetings with her trainees.”
Tessa Moyer, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in the Hicks lab, draws said she is inspired by Hicks’ mentorship and will use what she has observed in her future career.
“Once a member of the group, Prof. Hicks takes an active interest in the research of each student regardless of their proximity to graduation,” Moyer wrote. “She has encouraged me to pursue “passion” side projects while keeping the larger aims of my dissertation in sight. This constructive feedback has kept myself and other students on track for graduation and modeled how I can act as a supportive supervisor in the future.”