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Winners of the 2023/24 MPLS Awards for Outstanding Research Supervision announced

Five Engineering Professors have received awards for going above and beyond in nurturing and supporting their colleagues, by demonstrating inspirational leadership and enabling people to flourish in their careers.

Winners of the MPLS Outstanding Research Supervision Awards 2023/24: Clockwise from top left: Professor Alfonso Castrejon-Pita, Professor Harrison Steel, Professor Noa Zilberman, Professor Robert Carlisle, Professor Perla Maiolino

Clockwise from top left: Professor Alfonso Castrejon-Pita, Professor Harrison Steel, Professor Noa Zilberman, Professor Robert Carlisle, Professor Perla Maiolino

The Maths, Physics and Life Sciences Division have announced the recipients of the Awards for Oustanding Research Supervision 2023/24.

The Awards were launched at the start of the 2022/23 academic year. They celebrate research staff and academics who excel in their everyday supervision of research colleagues and their professional commitment to people development.

Each entry to the awards required a minimum of two supporting nominations, and 44 research supervisors were nominated. The judging panel, made up of research staff representatives from the MPLS Research Staff Forum, met at the end of last term to select the winners.

This year five Engineering Professors have received awards:

Professor Robert Carlisle 

Professor Robert Carlisle is an Associate Professor in Biomedical Engineering, director of the MSc in Nanotechnology for Medicine and Healthcare and an associate director of Synthetic Biology CDT. His research focuses on achieving systemic delivery of anti-cancer agents for the treatment of metastatic cancer.

The nominators for Robert describe him as a "supportive mentor" who works hands-on with his students in the lab inspiring them with his "breadth of knowledge". Rather than feeling intimidated by this, his researchers thrive on his approachable and supportive teaching style. As one nominator states: "Professor Carlisle is a wonderful hands-on supervisor, who will happily join you in the lab to provide advice and training on new techniques" and continues by adding that he "is excellent at never making it feel like it's something you should know, and his enthusiasm for being in the lab is contagious."

Robert creates a supportive environment where students feel comfortable approaching him for assistance and guidance and his strong supervisory skills support students in their projects as well as with their mental health and wellbeing. This was particularly true during the Covid-19 pandemic when he recognised the importance of his international student spending time with family over the Christmas break. Showing exceptional dedication, Robert stepped in to cover essential experimental measurements in the lab, putting his student's well-being first.

One nominator states that Robert "excels at giving meaningful feedback in students' projects, particularly in providing constructive criticism that encourages rather than discourages." Adding that this approach extends to the lab where he has “learned many of [his] research skills through direct tutelage” and that Robert “sacrifices his own time to help with students' in vivo experiments.”

Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita

Professor Alfonso Castrejón-Pita is Professor of Fluid Mechanics, a Royal Society University Research Professor and a tutorial fellow at Wadham College. His Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Oxford focuses on (but is not limited to) the study of drops and liquid jets.

Alfonso's dedication to his students extends far beyond the typical role of a supervisor and his group was described as “a supportive family” by one nominator and that his behaviour makes it “obvious that he genuinely cares for the wellbeing of all his group members.” Under his mentorship, students not only excel in their research endeavours but also experience personal growth.

Alfonso supports team members by leveraging his network for opportunities and dedicating time to assist in preparation. His help has led to successful transitions to research roles for DPhil students, with two securing academic positions at top universities within three years of completing their PhD. As one nominator notes: “Such progression is virtually unheard of in our field and would be simply impossible without Prof Castrejón-Pita's exceptional mentorship.”

His enthusiasm for being in the lab inspires his group members, and his collaborative spirit and commitment ensure that all researchers are exceptionally well-rounded scientists with growing independent profiles. His nominators believe that this selfless support truly reflects his unconditional commitment and innate generosity.

Finally, in the words of one nominator: “I think it says a lot about Prof Castrejón-Pita that all alumni who stay in our field continue to work with him until this day.”

Professor Perla Maiolino

Professor Perla Maiolino is Associate Professor of Engineering Science and a member of the Oxford Robotics Institute conducting research in providing robots with a sense of touch.

According to her nominations, Perla is very dedicated to the pastoral and academic support of the researchers in her group. She ensures that no student is left behind. She is always available despite her extremely busy schedule. Her caring researcher-focused approach is evident in assisting a researcher to transition between MSC and DPhil programmes; regularly sending a researcher the latest publications relevant to their specific research interests before they have spotted them; and promoting the work of a group member at conferences.

Perla is also committed to enabling her researchers to explore the topics that they believe are best for their careers. She supported one researcher struggling with changing the trajectory of their career from academia to industry, enabling them to find their way.

Perla has a very caring and approachable manner. Her demonstrable concern for the researchers in the group “fosters a warm and open atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts.” Her approach to work enables people to form friendships and collaborations. She has frequent one-to-one meetings with group members, giving feedback on their progress and a weekly reading group where “the snacks...are always a plus.”

As one nominator explains: “Prof. Perla Maiolino is a supervisor of unparalleled dedication, knowledge, and compassion, who has consistently demonstrated quality supervision.”

Professor Harrison Steel

Professor Harrison Steel is an Associate Professor of Engineering Science and a tutorial fellow at Harris Manchester College. His research group works on interdisciplinary challenges at the intersection of synthetic biology, robotics, and control engineering.

According to his nominators (and the members of the Engineered Biotechnology Research Group who all co-signed the nomination in support), Harrison is an exceptional mentor who “has established an emphatically inclusive workplace culture” and “also creates a strong sense of identity and community within the group, going above and beyond in organising social activities, conferences, and collaborations.” The nominations highlight the fact that Harrison encourages and supports his students to build expertise in a wide range of subjects, offers unwavering support for their career development and has “allowed us freedom to oversee research projects of his DPhil students, greatly facilitating the continuation of our academic careers.” By consistently offering analytical and positive feedback to enhance their mentoring and project skills, Harrison has helped his students grow independently as scientists.

During the pandemic, Harrison made sure to keep in regular contact with his students and offered unending support to those struggling with the joint pressures of the pandemic and research. As one nominator states: “[He] managed to provide me with an office space as soon as this was possible, which made a huge difference to my wellbeing during the pandemic” and provided invaluable advice and support to ensure that his students continued and succeeded with their DPhil research.

In summary “Harrison faithfully prioritised the success of his students and employees over his own research achievements, fostering an enjoyable, relaxed and productive workspace” and “does an exceptional job of building capacity for Engineering Biology as a field through meaningful development of the people he supervises.”

Professor Noa Zilberman

Professor Noa Zilberman is an Associate Professor of Engineering Science and leads the Computing Infrastructure Group. Her research focuses on the integration of micro-level architectures and macro-level, large-scale networked systems.

She has created a diverse international team which feels like "a home away from home". She always provides treats on birthdays and holidays, bringing a sense of warmth and belonging to the group. She supports social events on a termly basis and encourages her researchers to take breaks and enjoy the events that are on in and around Oxford.

She has established helpful weekly team meetings where people can share ideas, update each other on their progress and discuss common issues.

Noa is responsive to the needs of her researchers even outside of working hours and at weekends. She gives detailed meticulous feedback on work “in no time” and helps her group members with their problems. She facilitates collaborations with industry partners and opens her networks to the benefit of her researchers.

Noa makes researchers aware of training and finds funds for their attendance. She supports researchers in preparing presentations by organising practice talks and giving them extensive feedback. She has developed a culture of high research standards and so her group has cultivated excellent research habits and produces high-quality work.

One nominator stated that they "look forward to welcoming more friends from around the world to join our group in future."


Last year's awards