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2014 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring


David G. Kirsch actively practices medicine, conducts research, delivers lecture, and organizes events for the Radiation Oncology Department at the Duke University School of Medicine. Despite the myriad demands, however, his students say Kirsch always makes it a priority to set aside time for them.

“He is willing to stay late on weeknights and to come to the lab over the weekend to ensure that the needs of his students are met,” one student says.

In part because the time he spends with his students, they end up spending less time in his lab—they complete their program in less than five years.

“I think he accomplishes this by being accessible to his students, encouraging collaboration, intellectual curiosity, and developing his students into independent thinkers,” says one of the people who nominated Kirsch for the 2014 Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring.

Aside from the time he devotes to them, Kirsch’s students also credit him with creating a collaborative environment that helps them thrive.

“Dr. Kirsch formed his lab based on the thought that science is ‘built on the shoulders of giants,’ and thus collaboration is indispensable to produce great results and discoveries,” one student says. “He specifically looks for different skill sets in each person in the lab with the intention of fostering an environment where techniques and advice are shared on a daily basis among its members.”

Aside from making time for students, Kirsch also makes sure to give them the opportunity to grow in all aspects of research, such as communicating the science they produce and learning how to run a lab.

“Dr. Kirsch recognizes that success in science requires much more than completing experiments,” a student says. “He involves me and his other students in all aspects of running the lab. I have helped him write several NIH grants, interview laboratory technician applicants, and review manuscripts. Gaining insight into these important tasks will be invaluable as I start a lab of my own.”

Comments from Students

“He always provides guidance in preparing a presentation or poster to ensure the best possible delivery of the results. He also encourages students to help him revise papers for publication as well as to write papers or grants that will be submitted for peer review. This is yet another form of scientific communication that I have been exposed to in his lab, and one which Dr. Kirsch considers necessary for a student to become a successful PhD.”

“He meets with me weekly, as he does with all lab members, to check up on progress and provide guidance on projects when needed. I have found that his feedback is always honest and constructive—creating a safe environment to discuss current and potential hurdles to success. Importantly, at these meetings, he also acknowledges each of his graduate students as whole people—always checking to make sure we are doing well in all aspects of our lives.”

“Dr. Kirsch is also well aware that each student needs to be mentored in a unique manner and is willing to adapt his teaching style accordingly. This type of personalized mentorship is rare and I am sure that it will prove invaluable to my scientific career.”

“Dr. Kirsch takes pride in welcoming kind and enthusiastic people into his laboratory, and it is no accident that his lab thrives on collaboration among students, postdocs, and technicians.”

“I only recently completed my search for a thesis adviser and joined Dr. Kirsch’s lab. Throughout the search process, my biggest priority was not to uncover the most interesting field of research or to find the best lab environment; instead, I simply wanted to work alongside a great mentor. As Dr. Kirsch sacrifices his time and energy daily to train and ensure the well-being of many young scientists, he completely embodies the nature of an excellent mentor.”

“It was clear to me early on that Dr. Kirsch had set an example of collaboration and camaraderie that had become the lab culture, creating an environment that allows trainees of all levels to grow professionally and scientifically.”

About David G. Kirsch

David G. Kirsch is an associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology and an associate professor of radiation oncology at the Duke University School of Medicine. He received his MD/PhD from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Graduate School and his BS from Duke University. He currently serves as vice chair for basic and translational research in the Radiation Oncology Department. His clinical interests are the multimodality care of patients with bone and soft tissue sarcomas and the development of new sarcoma therapies. His laboratory interests include utilizing mouse models of cancer to study cancer and radiation biology in order to develop new cancer therapies in the preclinical setting.