Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A class of their own

The Japanese winners of Nature's mentoring awards have the universal qualities of outstanding advisers.

“Dr Kitano is always ready to invest in apparently absurd ideas. ... He actively seeks to gain international exposure for his young researchers by making them corresponding authors on his papers. ... His distinctive mentoring style — decisiveness and respect for the individual — comes from the fact that he is not a pure product of the Japanese system.”

“The thing that most surprised me when I joined the Oosawa group was that everybody called him 'Oosawa-san' [rather than the much more formal 'Oosawa-sensei']. Also, rather than sitting in an office ... he walked around the lab collaring people and talking with them.”

These two extracts are drawn from the enthusiastic nominations of Hiroaki Kitano, head of Sony Computer Science Laboratories in Tokyo, and Fumio Oosawa, a biophysicist at Aichi Institute of Technology in Toyota — the respective winners of the 2009 'mid career' and 'lifetime achievement' awards given by Nature for scientific mentoring. Since the awards' inception in 2005, they have been held in a different country every year, and they have been judged each time by a multidisciplinary panel of leading scientists from that country (see

An account of this year's awards, which took place in Japan, can be found on page 948. As in previous years, the two winners display accessibility, a broad and insightful overview, and an ability to engage with young researchers on the latter's own terms — qualities that seem to be common to outstanding mentors everywhere. There is no doubt that the Japanese system tends to be strongly hierarchical, but it was clear to the judges that, as in all other countries in which the competition has been held, qualities that buck such hierarchies lead to outstanding new generations. Congratulations to Oosawa and Kitano.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

A class of their own. Nature 462, 826 (2009).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing