Looking for a tough mentor

Chelsea Byrd and Dennis Hruby have maintained a mentoring relationship for a decade, from her undergraduate and graduate studies at OSU through continuing their work researching biodefense countermeasures. Hruby, a professor of microbiology, is the chief scientific officer at SIGA Technologies, and Byrd is an anti-bioterror scientist at the company’s Corvallis laboratory.

Chelsea Byrd now works in biodefense, but has maintained close ties with her OSU mentor, Dennis Hruby, throughout the years. He continues to be a role model. (photo: Jim Folts)

Chelsea Byrd now works in biodefense, but has maintained close ties with her OSU mentor, Dennis Hruby, throughout the years. He continues to be a role model. (photo: Jim Folts)

As an undergrad, Byrd was persistent in looking for research opportunities, and while she heard Hruby had a tough reputation, she wanted “someone who could push me,” she says.

And he would. As with all students, Hruby laid out his high expectations as well as the demands of biomedical science. Still, Byrd had the enthusiasm and motivation Hruby looks for. When asked what she wanted to be, Byrd responded, “I want to be you. And I’m not leaving until you say yes.”

Hruby has built mentoring into the structure of his research labs. Any incoming student or employee works with someone more experienced, who works with a more senior scientist, who reports to Hruby. That gives the new person the advantage of working with somebody familiar with the day-to-day science, Hruby says. And at each step up the hierarchy, the scientists get the experience of mentoring the people working under them.

Like most mentors, Hruby gains satisfaction from seeing students like Byrd grow and succeed in their chosen careers. He also knows the value of having a mentor from his own experience; he had them as an undergrad, but not in graduate school and wishes he had.

“Anybody in complex science and academia shouldn’t have to learn everything from scratch,” Hruby says. “It’s good to have someone older guide you in the right direction.”

As a mentor, Hruby tells his incoming graduate students his role is to be a resource, providing a laboratory, funding, a great project and fine-tuning. “They’ll have to do everything else,” he says. “That’s the skill set they need to learn to be successful.”

Which Chelsea Byrd has done and is.

~ Gary Dulude

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