Dr. Peter J. Bottomley, the first-ever recipient of the Excellence in Graduate Mentoring Award, has the numbers to stand out in an outstanding field. For one thing, he was actually nominated by two departments — microbiology and crop and soil science. In his 27 years at OSU, he has supervised and graduated 32 students — 16 doctorates and 16 master's — and is currently major professor or co-professor for 11 others. More than 140 students have chosen him to serve on their committees. He has acted as major professor for students receiving degrees in five different departments or program areas, and has been involved on committees of students in at least 14 different program areas and three colleges.
But these numbers really don't say much in comparison to the people he has touched. The rules of this award allowed only two letters of support from students; the sponsors of Bottomley's nomination had to select from among 20 heartfelt letters sent from current and past students, many of whom are now established scientists themselves. Dr. Theo Dreher, chair of the department of microbiology, explained in his cover letter that "Although I am serving as nominator, this nomination has been firmly driven by Peter's present students."
Many of the comments focused on Bottomley's deep affinity for graduate students, and the fact that he gives a significant portion of his working life to making them successful.
He has consistently conducted research that has emphasized the training of
graduate students . . . in distinction from conducting research with
technicians or postdoctoral associates
Dr. Bottomley uses the "stern parent" approach to his graduate advising.
He is truly concerned about his students in all aspects of their professional
and personal lives, but he is not afraid to challenge his students to do
their very best.
He takes time to get to know the students. He knows where they went to
school, if they're married and how many children they have, their favorite
baseball team, and if they prefer light or dark beer.
I have always encountered an open office door and near instantaneous
Students said that Bottomley guided them toward intellectual and professional independence, helping them prepare for every aspect of the academic research life.
Peter has included me in the grant writing process, helped me gain teaching
experience by lecturing in his class, encourages attendance at national
meetings, and fosters professional collaborations outside the university.
In our conversations, we routinely discussed my future research plans
and how to achieve them.
He helped me demystify much of the academic interview process.
When Dr. Bottomley and I attended a Microbial Observatory workshop at
the National Science Foundation in Washington, D.C., he went out of his
way to introduce me to colleagues, which have become important contacts
in my field.
These experiences not only gave me the confidence to contribute to a
collaborative research project, but also coordinate and manage the project to completion.
Bottomley's powerful communication skills came up in many of his letters of support.
Another one of Peter's most outstanding traits is that of being a
direct and honest communicator — a straight shooter.
He has an astounding gift for instructional anecdotes and hyperbole,
and when he talks, people love to listen.
He also freely admits when his own knowledge of a topic is limited.
In this way, he encourages students to become critical thinkers. And
he manages to do this in a way that is not threatening or belittling.
In guiding his students, he mixes humor, enthusiasm, and a needling
Bottomley is a specialist in soil microbiology, but because of the increasingly interdisciplinary crossover between areas of scientific research, he works with students in a wide variety of fields: microbiology, botany and plant pathology, crop and soil science, forest science, oceanography, molecular cellular biology, biochemistry and biophysics, environmental engineering, and many more. By mentoring so many different students in so many diverse fields, he has contributed to the scientific community in a most exceptional and far-reaching manner.