In the spirit of my previous blog on self-promotion, I forge on.
Sometime this spring, I was nominated for a national award known as the Thomas Maciag Award, a National Institutes of Health sponsored award for a scientist who embodies the spirit of the late Thomas Maciag, an outstanding scientist, mentor and also a renowned artist.
Nominees for this award were selected from 23 states and Puerto Rico–states considered to be under-represented in NIH-supported funding–not because the research is under par, but mostly due to demographics. For example, Nebraska has a population of under 2 million, a smaller community to serve in health and welfare, and therefore a smaller than average medical school by US standards.
In any case, I was honored to be nominated, and delighted to receive an e-mail one morning from the awards committee notifying me that I had made it to the final 5, and that the final selection would be done following an hour-long tele-interview with the committee, probing my ability to impart my philosophy of mentoring and my eloquence in public speaking in addition to my scientific achievements.
As I tend to be generally an organized and curious person, I read all about the life of Thomas Maciag, and was especially pleased to learn that on top of his scientific achievements, he was also a first rate painter, whose images graced galleries, museums, and even the cover of EMBO Journal. I prepared as best as I could for the phone conference, but I much prefer in-person meetings (or e-mails), as I hate talking on the phone, and sometimes fear that my artillery-career-impacted hearing puts me at a disadvantage. I am beginning to realize how much I lip read while listening to someone speak.
Needless to say, I was delighted to hear back from the committee several weeks later that I had actually been selected as the winner, and would have to fly out to DC to present a seminar and receive the award. And so I did.
Of course, being an informal guy who
doesn’t didn’t own a suit, I had to drag my 14 year old daughter out to a clothing store to help me through this painful period. My greatest fear at the award ceremony was that I wouldn’t be able to tie that noose properly around my neck. But I did.
The beautiful piece of modern art that I was awarded (and arrived recently in the post) is called Cairns, and was created by glass artist named Melanie Guernsey-Leppla. Why would a cairn be given to a mentor-scientist?
First, I should mention that although in the UK the word cairn is probably widely known, there was a good deal of surprise that I knew the meaning of the word. But after all, I spent a good month or so “bagging munros” in the Scottish highlands (including ole Ben Nevis), and hiking in the Lake District almost 20 years ago, so it’s hard not to know and appreciate cairns.
For those who might not be familiar with the word, it literally means a pile of stones that serves as a marker for travelers. In both the UK and India and Tibet, these are used to mark summits and guide hikers. In the little note that I received with the award it is written: “These cairns, born in heat and light, represent accomplishments, knowledge and experience gained, difficulties overcome, sanctuary and guidance for pathways yet to be traveled.”
I am humbled and honored by this description.