Education Beyond the Classroom
Faculty Perfect the Art of Mentoring Students
IN 2002, Professor of Biology Tammy Tobin was looking for a rising senior to do research with her over the summer. Her thinking was that the student could continue working with her during the academic year as his or her capstone research.
Ashley Shade was only a sophomore, but she jumped at the opportunity anyway.
“When I first started speaking with Ashley, I thought, you know, this is really sweet that a sophomore is interested,” Tobin recalls. She quickly discovered that Shade was much more than sweet. “I was impressed with her passion and potential immediately.”
With Tobin supervising her application, Shade landed a highly competitive undergraduate fellowship from the American Society of Microbiology that supported her as a summer research assistant. Shade contributed to Tobin’s research into the impact an underground mine fire in Centralia, Pa., is having on the environment’s microbial life.
“[The fellowship] established early on that I achieved something in the lab,” says Shade. “If I hadn’t gotten that fellowship, I wouldn’t have been as competitive for graduate school.”
The experience also strengthened her relationship with Tobin. Shade particularly appreciated Tobin’s positive attitude.
“Being positive with students is easy. If they’re giving you their very best, that’s a great thing,” Tobin says.
She often tells students, “Look, I know you’ve never done this before. It’s all new, but I’ll be around for any support you need.”
And around she remained, helping Shade select and apply to graduate schools. “She celebrated with me when I started getting interviews,” Shade recalls. In the years that have followed, Shade has continued to give Tobin reasons to celebrate. She earned a doctorate degree in microbiology from a prestigious graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and currently serves as a Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation postdoctoral fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation at Yale University. In July 2014, Shade will join the faculty of Michigan State University as a professor in the microbiology and molecular genetics department.
“I’m a very proud parent,” Tobin quips. “It’s very fun to open up a journal and see her name as an author on a paper.”
Shade and Tobin are still in touch and will collaborate on research related to Centralia when Shade begins her professorship at Michigan State.
“Ashley contacted me and said, ‘I would love to collaborate. Is that OK?’” Tobin laughs as she recalls her response: “Of course that’s OK; it would be fabulous!”
Relationships like this are the result of the biology department’s commitment to student-faculty research.
Tobin refers to this collaboration as a process of "making colleagues out of students," an outcome that's literally come to fruition between Tobin and Shade.
Shade is well aware of how impactful working one on one with Tobin has been on her life as a scientist. “I often say I blame her,” Shade jokes of her career in science, “but I mean it in a really wonderful sense.”