Graduate student Jason E. Cournoyer has been awarded the first annual Dr. Sandra Murawski Award for Mentoring Excellence.
Currently a third-year graduate student in the lab of Professor Angad Mehta, Cournoyer's research focuses on using molecular biology, microbiology, and biochemistry approaches to simulate organelle evolution in the lab. While a graduate student at Illinois, he has continuously mentored undergraduate researchers in the Mehta lab.
In nominating him for the scholarship, Professor Mehta said Cournoyer's mentorship of undergraduates entails training in molecular and synthetic biology techniques, data analysis, oral and poster presentation, ethical conduct, and general moral support.
"Particularly important to note is that none of the above undergraduate trainees had any molecular or synthetic biology experience at all, and impressively, Jason got them up to speed very quickly and each of them have performed significantly complex synthetic and molecular biology experiments. This speaks volumes about Jason’s ability to train, mentor and inspire undergraduate students to pursue graduate-level research," Mehta said.
Mehta specifically noted that one of the undergraduates, Luke Lo, who has been mentored by Cournoyer has been instrumental in helping Cournoyer initiate the lab's efforts on a major research project engineering cyanobacterial endosymbionts in yeast which resulted in a Nature Communications publication.
"Jason is the first author on this paper and Luke is a middle author. Based on Luke’s and Jason’s work, Luke also presented research findings at the 5th Annual East Central Illinois American Chemical Society Undergraduate Research Conference in the form of a virtual poster presentation," wrote Mehta, who added that two additional undergraduates mentored by Cournoyer have also been trained in molecular and synthetic biology techniques and both are expected to receive authorship on upcoming papers in the lab.
After he completes his PhD, Cournoyer said he hopes to lead a group at a research institute or startup company which focuses on developing new chemical technologies.
He said he enjoys mentoring other students, because he has never been proud of work done all by himself.
"When I work with a partner, we motivate each other and get excited about facing challenges head-on. People who are newer to research often have unique perspectives on the questions we're asking and our ways of trying to answer them. I'm humbled by the curiosity, creativity and resourcefulness of my undergraduate colleagues!" he said.