LEADER IN THE LAB
As a faculty mentor, Andrew Gewirtz helps shape careers in science.
Andrew Gewirtz is a triple threat.
An accomplished researcher, he’s published studies in three of the most prestigious scientific journals in his field. He’s a trusted expert who has been quoted in The New York Times and other national publications. He also serves as a faculty mentor, dedicated to grooming science’s next generation of innovators. The door to his office in the Petit Science Center is always open for students and postdoctoral scientists who freely visit throughout the day to discuss projects, brainstorm ideas and seek advice.
For Gewirtz, mentoring is a responsibility as integral to his work as teaching and research.
“I think it’s important for a few reasons,” Gewirtz said. “One, I think it produces the best science. The people in the lab actually executing the experiments — whether they’re graduate students, technicians or postdocs — I think it’s very important for them to feel engaged and stimulated by the research and feel that they’re doing something that’s benefiting their career. I think this produces better results, scientifically, it helps creativity and I think it’s also the right thing to do.”
Gewirtz said he had supportive faculty mentors as a Ph.D. student and postdoctoral researcher, so he understands their worth. In addition to offering advice on matters of science, he said he strives to teach his students life lessons, such as the value of staying open-minded.
“I think that I try to make them feel that they don’t have to produce a particular set of results,” Gewirtz said. “I try to make them feel that they could just come to me with whatever results they have.”
Matam Vijay-Kumar worked under Gewirtz for a decade before accepting a position at Penn State University. He is now a professor at The University of Toledo College of Medicine and runs his own research lab. Vijay-Kumar and Gewirtz still talk every week, collaborate on studies and share updates on their families.
“One of the best things that happened in my life was joining Andrew Gewirtz’s lab as a postdoc,” Vijay-Kumar said. “It was an excellent experience to work with him for almost 10 years, and I never thought of leaving his lab. Of course though, my research funding involved me having to separate from my mentor and to develop my own research projects. Otherwise, I would have stayed with him.”
In 2008, while the two were at Emory University, Vijay-Kumar recommended Gewirtz for the university’s One in 100 Faculty Mentor Award, which Gewirtz won.
“While Andrew gave me 100 percent independence, he always left his door open for me to visit and to discuss unexpected and exciting findings happening in the research,” Vijay-Kumar said. “Not only did he teach me how to become a good scientist, but he emphasized characteristics like always having a helping hand for others.”
Benoit Chassaing came to Georgia State in 2012 after earning his Ph.D. in France. Gewirtz was his mentor for five of his eight years at the university. Chassaing moved up the ranks to become an assistant professor in the Neuroscience Institute and Institute for Biomedical Sciences and recently moved back to Paris to become a team leader at the National Institute for Health and Medical Research.
The duo published 62 research papers together, including studies in the journals Nature, Cell and Science. Much of their work investigated the causes of chronic intestinal inflammation. Gewirtz and Chassaing still communicate daily.
“Andrew started as my boss, immediately became a wonderful mentor and is now a true friend and a family member,” Chassaing said. “There is no doubt that Andrew’s mentorship and advice enabled me to secure funding and launch an independent laboratory. As a leading scientist, Andrew is traveling a lot and he is involved in numerous research projects and mentoring many students. But even with all these commitments, his door is always open and he is always welcoming his trainees into his office for scientific and non-scientific discussion.
“As I am now pursuing my career independently, I am using Andrew as a model of availability to trainees and, like Andrew did for me, my office door is always open for my trainees.”
Zhenda Shi completed his Ph.D. program in 2018 at Georgia State, where Gewirtz was his faculty mentor as a student and postdoctoral fellow. Their research on rotavirus helped Shi land a position at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In collaboration with Gewirtz, Shi is investigating how bacteria can prevent and cure rotavirus, the leading cause of severe, life-threatening diarrhea in children around the world.
“I have worked in the science community for almost 10 years, and I do feel Andrew’s lab and his mentorship are the best I have seen so far,” Shi said. “I am grateful to have him as my mentor.”
As he molds the careers of young scientists, Gewirtz advises them to communicate openly with others, be flexible and pay attention to things they might not be looking for. He said he’s found many of the great discoveries stem from the unexpected.
Though he’s the teacher, his students aren’t the only ones learning new lessons.
“I’ve learned a lot from my mentees, and a lot of the areas I’ve gotten into have been from their ideas,” Gewirtz said. “I may be teaching them, but often I feel like they’re teaching me even more.”