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Gustavo M. Silva

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
Assistant Professor in Biology

Gustavo M. Silva


Gustavo Silva earned his B.S. and Ph.D. from the University of São Paulo, followed by postdoctoral training in the Center for Genomics and Systems Biology at New York University. Silva joined the faculty ranks at Duke in 2017 as an assistant professor in the Department of Biology.

He currently mentors two postdoctoral fellows and three Ph.D. students. He has also mentored 14 undergraduate students. His Ph.D. mentees have received an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Individual Predoctoral National Research Service Award, a Burroughs Wellcome Graduate Diversity Enrichment Program award, and a Duke Graduate School competitive Summer Research Fellowship. His undergraduate mentees have received honors such as the Faculty Scholar Award (the highest undergraduate honor at Duke), the travel award to the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (ABRCMS), the Duke Undergraduate Research Support Independent Study Grant, and the ABRCMS best talk and best e-Poster Award.

Silva is an advocate for diversity, inclusion, and transformation in higher education. He participates in several mentoring programs to increase representation in STEM, as a member of the Maximizing Access  Committee in the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and as Ambassador & Discipline leader for ABRCMS.  Furthermore, he is a co-founder and director of the Black Think Tank, a Provost-sponsored initiative to promote the advancement of Black faculty at Duke.


What do you think are the most important qualities of a good mentor for graduate students?

Good mentors must start from a place of humility and understand that although they might be experts in their fields of research, that fact alone does not make them automatically good mentors. I believe a good mentor must be constantly engaged in learning and implementing best practices of mentorship. I also think that good mentors must lead their mentor-mentee relationships with honesty, fairness, and transparency. Establishing and communicating expectations and responsibilities builds trust and provides a more equitable and productive space for everyone involved.

What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?

An important trait that I try to develop and cultivate in my students is their self-worth and confidence. When they feel confident, they get out of their comfort zone, take more risks, seize opportunities, and increase their chances of professional success. It made me extremely proud to work closely with my students (graduate and undergraduate) and witness them winning major awards when they were uncertain whether they were competitive for them. These milestones allow them to really enjoy their academic journey, their personal growth, and become excited about the amazing career that lies ahead of them.

The benefits of a mentoring relationship for the mentee are obvious, but what do you, as the mentor, gain from it?

I really appreciate the multiple perspectives they bring to the table and their unique contributions to our science, but also to our research group as a whole. I also have learned a lot about myself while engaging for so many years with students with unique personalities, goals, ambitions, fears, and vulnerabilities. These interactions made me a more thoughtful person, made me improve my communication skills, and honestly, they even improved my personal relationships with friends, family and loved ones. It is an extremely gratifying part of the work to know that we can pay it forward and support the growth and the career of so many amazing young scientists.


Excerpts from Silva’s nomination

“Dr. Silva is very invested in his students’ learning experiences and scientific endeavors. As a mentor, he challenges his students to think deeply about the science they are engaged in, provides invaluable guidance to his mentees, and encourages his students to seek out rewarding opportunities that enhance their learning experience.”

“Gustavo Silva has been an amazing resource and mentor, not only in the day-to-day work required as a graduate researcher but has also provided invaluable guidance in the development of skills required to succeed in both my professional and personal life.”

“Dr. Silva’s dedication to providing me with incredibly thoughtful and honest feedback on my work has been instrumental in my growth as a scientist, making me a better thinker, writer, and presenter. His strong advocation of my success in and outside of the lab has strongly contributed to my desire to pursue a research-focused career beyond my undergraduate degree.”