" Under Dr. Verheyen’s supervision, every MSc and PhD graduate student has had the opportunity to publish original research in some of the most impactful international journals.”

Dr. Christopher Beh, MBB Department Graduate Studies Committee Chair

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2023 Award for Excellence in Supervision: Esther Verheyen

March 25, 2024

Dr. Verheyen, a professor in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry department, is being recognized for the high quality of mentorship, guidance and support she provides to her students. A faculty member since 1998, Verheyen has supervised 12 PhD and 16 MSc students.

During their graduate studies, many of her students have been awarded prestigious Tri-council fellowships and three have won the SFU Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal. Her graduate students have gone on to positions in prestigious research institutions.

MBB Professor and Chair, Dr. Lisa Craig recognizes how Verheyen’s support and guidance helps set her students up for continued scientific success. “Dr. Verheyen applies her keen intellect, vast research expertise and caring personality to provide an inclusive, supportive environment, to motivate her students, to educate them and teach them to think critically. “

Regarding the letters provided by former students Dr. Craig adds, “I was struck by the descriptions of Dr. Verheyen’s dedication and meticulous mentoring of these students, both during their degree programs and as they established their careers. They have enormous respect for her and all work to emulate her. Their words demonstrate that she is absolutely deserving of this honor. “

Craig also describes the excellent communication skills that Verheyen fosters in her students “I have had the pleasure of observing and participating in numerous thesis defenses for her students and have been struck by their preparation and knowledge, evidence of both their excellence and their superb training, and by their appreciation for Dr. Verheyen’s support.”

Verheyen credits her own PhD mentor Dr. Lynn Cooley at Yale University as heavily influencing her supervisory style. By providing guidance while encouraging independence, Verheyen allows her students to feel they have autonomy, yet will be supported if things get challenging.

Dr. Christopher Beh, MBB Department Graduate Studies Committee Chair says “Under Dr. Verheyen’s supervision, every MSc and PhD graduate student has had the opportunity to publish original research in some of the most impactful international journals.”

Former PhD student, Lorena Braid, shares the impact Verheyen has had on her career.

“Dr. Verheyen exemplifies the scientific rigor, creativity, toughness and mentorship that one only hopes to find in a graduate studies supervisor. Had I not been mentored by Esther, I would not have had the courage, vision, technical or professional skills to launch my own life sciences company on the heels of my post-doc, raising funds to support my research and create novel stem cell therapies designed to protect and treat the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces in the line of duty. With her direct encouragement, I have since expanded my research efforts to establish a stem cell research lab at Simon Fraser University with the support of a Canada Research Chair award.”

The support provided by Verheyen also continues once the students leave her lab, as shared by former PhD student, Yi Arial Zeng.

Says Zeng, “After Esther’s lab, I went to Stanford for postdoctoral training from 2005 to 2010. When I had difficulties in the postdoc lab, I would pick up the phone and Esther would help me through it.”

Zeng continues, “In 2010, I moved back to China to start my own laboratory as a principal investigator. When managing my lab, I also tried to run it how Esther did it: be open, be equal, be generous, and be a friend. Gradually I found that I earned my students’ trust and love. I am proud to say that I have also built a lab environment where my students can grow and be passionate about science. My lab is one of the most popular ones at the institute. This is attributed to what I have been exposed to at Esther’s lab.”

A great supervisor does more than just make an impact on their students; it also has an overall impact on the institution as well.

Beh adds, “As a direct reflection of the quality of graduate education at SFU, Dr. Verheyen’s successes promote the reputation of SFU; the stellar achievements attained by her students offers the best advertisement for attracting superior applicants to SFU.”

The 2024 Dean of Graduate Studies Awards for Excellence are open for nominations. Deadline for nominations is May 17, 2024.