Jeffrey Garvin, professor of physiology and biophysics, is an avid amateur mountaineer who relishes conquering challenging summits and contemplating fresh horizons.
Much the same could be said about his approach to science and mentoring.
“My father was my first, and remains, my most valued mentor,” said Garvin, recipient of the 2017 J. Bruce Jackson, MD, Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Mentoring. “He and my mother taught us to stay intellectually inquisitive and study what we enjoy. He encouraged us to pursue whatever dreams we had. That’s what I have done throughout my career and it’s something I convey to my students.”
The message is reinforced on Garvin’s website, which notes the responsibility of scientists “to show young investigators the joy of discovery.” In his nomination of Garvin for the award, one student wrote: “Having worked now for two years in his laboratory, I can testify that these words are true.”
He will be recognized along with other award winners during commencement ceremonies May 21.
Garvin, whose investigations focus on the kidneys’ role in regulating blood pressure, harkens to his own mentors as models for how he works his own students.
“I, like many other researchers, have benefitted enormously from outstanding mentors throughout my career,” he said. “I certainly feel that my mentors have had a life-long effect. I’m guided by these experiences every day in my dealings with my students.”
A tenet of Garvin’s mentoring philosophy is that there will always be mistakes. “If we knew that it would always turn out right, it wouldn’t be called research,” he said. “I believe in giving students the freedom to be wrong and I work hard to ensure that they learn from unexpected developments, slip-ups, and oversights.”
At weekly meetings in the Garvin lab, everyone presents on their projects, from undergrads to postdocs.
“They critique each other, which is important in science and life in general,” he said. “The fact that someone cares enough to express an opinion is something that should be valued.”
Garvin is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a mentor. “Mentoring is rewarding on many levels. It’s also great fun,” he said. “The enthusiasm of the students is infectious. They inspire me and make me a better scientist. They ask questions that make me go back and challenge assumptions. In doing so, I learn just as much as they do.”
Garvin has clearly struck a chord with his students. As one student nominator wrote, “Jeff does not consider me, or the other undergraduates in the lab, as any lower than the PhD students or postdocs. He treats all of us with the same respect, and holds us to the same standards. In working with Jeff, I have gained far more than a few lines on my CV; I have gained a lifelong mentor.”