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 http://go.nature.com/Rccbo4).
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.
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A class of their own. Nature 462, 826 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1038/462826a