2009 Nature Awards for Mentoring in Science - Tokyo, Japan

On Tuesday 1st December, Nature Publishing Group (NPG) announced the winners of the 5th Nature Awards for Creative Mentoring in Science.

Fumio Oosawa

Lifetime Achievement Award
Fumio Oosawa

Guest Professor, Aichi Institute of Technology

Hiroaki Kitano

Mid-career Achievement Award
Hiroaki Kitano

Director, Sony Computer Science Laboratories, Inc.
President, The Systems Biology Institute

The announcement was followed by the prize-giving ceremony on the same day at the Ambassador’s Residence of the UK Embassy in Tokyo at which Dr. Phil Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature presented the two winners with a commemorative certificate and prize-money of ¥1.5 million each.

The Nature Awards for Creative Mentoring in Science were set up in 2005 to recognize the efforts of outstanding mentors in raising future generations of young researchers, and are awarded annually. Previous awards have been given to mentors from the UK, Germany, South Africa and Australia. The 2009 Awards mark the first time that mentors from an Asian nation have been honoured.

The eventual winners were selected from a large number of entrants by a distinguished panel of Japanese scientists and Engineers.

  • Tomonori Aoyama Professor, Research Institute of Digital Media and Contents (DMC), Keio University
  • Masao Ito MD, PhD, Senior Adviser, Brain Science Institute, RIKEN, Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
  • Kiyoshi Kurokawa MD, Professor, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies
  • Ryoji Noyori Dr.Eng, Director, RIKEN
  • Hiroyuki Sakaki PhD, Vice President, Toyota Technological Institute, Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
  • Akiyoshi Wada PhD, Professor Emeritus, The University of Tokyo
Philip Campbell

Editor-in-Chief, Nature

Of all the activities that take place in the lab, perhaps the least remarked and the least rewarded is that of the mentoring of young researchers.

True, some labs are well known for the stream of outstanding scientists that have emerged to go on to do great things. Some of these are led by individuals who have devoted much thought and effort to nurturing young researchers. But it is not often that their efforts are recognized. So in 2005 we created an award aimed at recognizing outstanding scientific mentorship. The Nature Awards for Creative Mentoring in Science focus on a specific country each year — previous awards were held in Britain, Australia, South Africa and Germany.

2009 Mentoring Awards — Japan
This year we decided to hold the competition in Japan. I am very grateful to this year’s panel of distinguished judges, and especially to Professor Akiyoshi Wada, for the great care he has taken to ensure that the competition progressed as it should. But above all I am grateful to the many researchers who nominated their mentors for the prize, and for the wealth of important information they provided.

The mentoring achievements of all of the nominees are indeed impressive, and the judges had a difficult task. Tonight’s winners, however, proved exceptional. I am delighted to congratulate them.

Akiyoshi Wada

Panel Head
Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo

It is a truism to say that unless the next generation is more advanced than the last, no society can advance. But in the scientific community, the mentoring of the next generation of researchers has, until recently, been largely overlooked. The Nature Awards for Creative Mentoring in Science are a concrete attempt to address this situation and we owe a debt of gratitude to Nature Publishing Group for its farsightedness in promoting them.

This year for the first time, following previous competitions in Germany, Australia, South Africa and the United Kingdom, the awards were held in Japan and I would like to thank Nature Publishing Group for choosing to recognize Japanese researchers in this way.

The response to the call for nominations in both the Mid-career and Lifetime Achievement categories exceeded all our expectations — in number and quality. Indeed, as a member of the judging panel, one of the most gratifying aspects of the judging process was the extremely high calibre of the entries, so much so that we wished we had been able to honour each and every one of the excellent mentors whose entries we had been called upon to assess. It was only after careful consideration of the many and varied aspects of mentorship covered in all the entries, followed by much debate, that we were able to reach our final decision.

During the judging process for this award, I recalled an ancient Chinese proverb: “Many are the horses that can run a thousand leagues, but few are they that can train them.” This saying tells us that mentoring, whilst not glamorous, has an inestimable influence on the future development of the Japanese scientific community. I would like to express my thanks to Nature Publishing Group for reminding us of this through the Nature Awards for Creative Mentoring in Science.

David Warren

British Ambassador to Japan

Japan and the United Kingdom both see science and technology as a fundamental tool for tackling the many challenges facing the world today and securing sustainable, low-carbon economic growth. Global climate change demands that countries around the world find ways to cooperate to mitigate the scale of change and adapt to the change that is already inevitable. Science offers us the potential to understand the scale and nature of the impacts of climate change, and to suggest solutions.

The science community is a global community. It is dependent on the free exchange of information and ideas, and the best results are often those that are achieved through a healthy mix of international collaboration and competition. Young scientists are often at the forefront of international exchange, infusing the system with excitement, energy and new ideas.

It is therefore essential that young researchers are encouraged to develop their careers to contribute to the development of a globally sustainable society. This will not be achieved without excellent mentors to nurture, support and challenge young researchers. The Nature Mentor Awards are therefore highly notable and significant awards to acknowledge the indispensable role that mentors play.

I am delighted that Japan has been chosen as the first Asian nation to host the Nature Mentor Awards, recognizing not only the international importance of Japanese science and technology but the role it plays in developing future generations of researchers. The UK and Japan have a long history of trade and scientific exchange. Last year we celebrated the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations and the themes of creativity and innovation featured strongly in the year-long festival of events – “UK-Japan 2008” – to mark the anniversary. The continuing development of scientific relations with Japan is a priority for the UK and an important area of work for the Embassy. I am confident that the partnership will continue to grow and flourish to the benefit of both the UK and Japan.

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