Two Department of Biology researchers take home Outstanding Supervision Awards

The University and MPLS Division run the MPLS Awards for Outstanding Research Supervision, which is an opportunity to celebrate the supervisors and research group leaders who do so much to ensure that Oxford doctoral students and early-career researchers are supported effectively as they set out on their academic careers.

This year two department of biology researchers have been given this award, from a pool of 40 nominees, for their outstanding contribution to academic supervision of students.

Gail Preston

Gail Preston leads the Preston Lab, which focuses on the molecular interactions of plants and microbes. Collectively, they study bacterial diseases of plants and the plant and mushroom microbiome, in order to understand processes leading to disease development and disease resistance. She is also the Director of the BBSRC-funded Oxford Interdisciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership, an innovative graduate training programme led by the University of Oxford that aims to equip a new generation of doctoral researchers with the skills, insight and knowledge needed to tackle the most important challenges in bioscience research, and which is taking a leading role in promoting equality, equity, diversity and inclusion in doctoral research. 

Many in Gail Preston’s group believe she is the best DPhil supervisor, with equality, diversity and inclusion is at the heart of how she runs the group, with a considerable focus on the development of its individual researchers. She enables collaboration amongst its members, and during lockdown she instigated online socials to maintain good morale.

She encourages self-expression and supports her students when they make an ethical stand on issues relating to their research. According to one nomination Gail is considered the researchers’ greatest champion, always believing in them, 'even when an experiment has failed'.  

Morgan Wade, DPhil student in the Preston Lab, says:

“Gail consistently fosters a supportive, inclusive lab environment which values hard work and scientific integrity but also community, mental health and well-being.  I am incredibly grateful to have Gail as a supervisor and thrilled to hear she is receiving this award.  I know I do not speak for just myself when I say Gail is the best mentor I have had and has made my experience as a PhD student an enormously positive one.  Thank you, Gail, and congratulations!”

Tom Hart

Tom Hart leads both the Polar Ecology and Conservation Group and the Ocean Research and Conservation Group at the department, who research a broad range of topics from seabird genetics to marine ecosystem health. Tom's group consists of four DPhil students and one research coordinator, who are contributing to the better conservation of ocean and polar regions on Earth. Tom has also taken on the pastoral care of two DPhil students.

Tom’s nominators said that he is very focused on the welfare of researchers in the group, with inclusivity and support being top priorities. Tom has instigated mental health and wellbeing training in the department, from his own grant, demonstrating his commitment in this area.

He promotes strategic thinking on career development and encourages the group to look for opportunities and suggests many of them himself. He devotes time for people to practice their presentations, providing feedback across the board. He has a strong focus on fieldwork safety, providing guides and risk assessments over and above the departmental provision, ensuring the team feel confident that safety is his priority.

He has struck a happy balance between giving his students support and enabling them to develop as independent researchers and, despite the barriers, he manages to keep support and communication going when either he or his researchers are working remotely in Antarctica.

Dr Fiona Suttle, former student of Tom, says:

“Tom has fostered a friendly, supportive and open environment for his research group. I am very grateful for all of the support that Tom gave me throughout my DPhil – whether this was when learning to code, getting to grips with fieldwork protocol or mastering the scientific writing style – we are all delighted to see his commitment to his students recognised through this Outstanding Supervision Award.”