David Hood, a professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies in the Faculty of Health, is a finalist for the 2019 Award for Outstanding Graduate Mentorship. The award is presented annually by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS). A Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Cell Physiology, Hood is also the director of the Muscle Health Research Centre at York University.
Hood is among four finalists for this prestigious award, which recognizes graduate faculty members with a record of outstanding mentorship of graduate students under their supervision.
"The most rewarding experiences that I have had in academia involve observing the result of mentorship, guidance and support efforts that I have given to graduate students and other trainees," said Hood. "They transition from novice experimentalists to highly competent scientists who have the ability to publish and communicate science in very effective ways. And they end up with good jobs."
Known for encouraging, inspiring and supporting his students to reach their full potential, Hood's nominators praise his work to establish a learning environment that maximizes the skills and abilities of each student while also providing opportunities for collaborating on new and unexpected discoveries.
"Being a finalist for this national mentorship award is extremely rewarding and I am grateful to have been nominated," said Hood.
Hood said he uses an individualized approach to advising his trainees noting that every student is different and "cookie-cutter" approaches don’t work for everyone. He has developed a solid program of skill advancement, involving lab technical developments in biochemistry and physiology research, along with strategies that aid in the formation of verbal and illustrative communication skills. A main strategy that he deploys involves the scheduling of lab meetings that are held weekly, without fail, to hone verbal skills related to the discussion of emerging literature, as well as critical reviews of recent data acquired experimentally. This is an important part of working with graduate students, said Hood, because "we are often requested to publish reviews of the literature in our field of muscle mitochondrial adaptations to exercise."
Hood makes use of these opportunities to help develop trainee writing and researching skills as they survey the literature. This approach helps the graduate students he supervises to develop a solid foundation for the field, and enhances their CVs considerably, to make them more marketable.
An important part of the learning experience that Hood offers graduate students is the chance to participate in the Muscle Health Awareness Day (MHAD). This annual event has developed into an important local conference that caters not only to scientists and trainees in southern Ontario, but also serves to recruit colleagues from Quebec, New York state and Michigan.
"In 2020, we will be hosting our 11th annual MHAD," said Hood. "Each year 50 to 60 graduate student posters are displayed, and trainees listen to high-level talks presented by newly emerging, as well as seasoned scientists in the field, covering topics in skeletal muscle, heart and blood vessel physiology, adaptations and disease. It’s a wonderful experience for all, but it is especially rewarding, and fully attainable because of the low cost, for young trainees who have never presented at a conference previously."
In addition to supervising graduate students, Hood is a highly accomplished researcher. His lab focuses on how mitochondria, the powerhouses of the cell, are newly made and assembled in muscle when we exercise regularly. The payback of this exercise to develop new muscle, said Hood, is an improved metabolism, accompanied by considerable health benefits. These include better metabolism of fats, less muscle fatigue (i.e. more endurance), and the maintenance of a healthy body weight.
"As we age, the beneficial effects of exercise on mitochondria can help to preserve muscle mass and to prevent the frailty and weakness that is so evident in our aging populations, affecting both men and women," said Hood. "The lab has studied the underlying biochemistry and molecular control of how mitochondria are synthesized, starting with the signals that initiate the process with the very first exercise bout. More recently, we have also turned toward an understanding of how exercise can also help to remove unhealthy and poorly functioning mitochondria from muscle, clearing the way for more efficient energy production, accompanied by less formation of negative by-products, like damaging free radicals."
Perhaps this comment from one of his former graduate students best summarizes why Hood is a finalist for the CAGS award: "Dr. Hood instructed me with patience and understanding, teaching me discipline, research techniques, and the basis of scientific research. Most importantly, he taught me how to balance the various aspects of my life as a graduate student."
To learn more about the Hood lab, visit dhood.lab.yorku.ca/.
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