Pioneer Member

Robert Last


Cornelius Barry
Jill Canny
Kent Chapman
Katherine Denby
Machi Dilworth
Timothy Durrett
Janice Edwards
Pengxiang Fan
David Fischhoff
Barry Goldman
Mary Goll
Georg Jander
A. Daniel Jones
Linda Kaufmann
Yelena Kovtun
Maura Last
Noah Last
Jiayang Li
Yan Lu
Gaurav Moghe
Natasha Raikhel
Sue Rhee
Alan Rose
Steve Rounsley
Scott Saracco
John Woolford

Anonymous Donors

Jill Canny – Congratulations on this well deserved recognition! I knew that you were destined to be successful when I saw you cross campus with those heavy chemistry books en route to the River Palace as I was perched under a tree reading Charlotte’s Web. Our worlds were so different yet somehow we connected. I witnessed back then your curiosity about and dedication to the world from a hummingbird flying by to global situations like the then crisis affecting friends from Iran. When I had to take those mandated science courses I noticed how well admired you were by professors and other science major students. And yes, I name-dropped a couple of times but it still didn’t get me out of those dissection labs. How did you not have to dissect anything? Years later when Noah and I visited OWU and talked with Dr. Jed Burtt he was so excited to recount your student days and how proud, yet not surprised, he was of your successes. Forward to now, and I still am enamored by your curiosity and dedication to learning and becoming a better individual and global citizen and how you model that for Maura, Noah, your colleagues, students and me. Today as I sit perched by the fireplace with a cocktail you’ve made and a good book, I am grateful that you stopped to say hello as you were crossing campus and for the many wonderful adventures we’ve had. Mazel Tov!

Katherine Denby – Working in Rob Last’s lab was a highlight of my career. It was a thriving, highly-collegial, exciting lab to work in. Rob taught me so much about how to do science, how to write papers (I can vividly picture his handwriting on printed out copies), the importance of strong scientific collaborations and about leading a research group. I wouldn’t have become a PI without his input and his great ability to bring together a fantastic group of people. Rob was always enthusiastic and full of ideas – an inspiration!

Timothy Durrett – I fondly remember the two years I spent at Cereon Genomics in Rob’s research group. Rob was an exemplary leader and mentor, who encouraged innovation and rigor in our work. Rob also invested in the people in his group. I am always grateful for the counsel and pieces of wisdom that he has given me. While I didn’t always fully appreciate his suggestions and advice when I was younger, they always served me well at different points in my career.

Janice Edwards – I met Rob Last when we were graduate students attending a yeast genetics meeting at Cold Spring Harbor. It was my first time at this conference but I met Rob early on and what a difference it made. We discussed our own research and the hot topics of the meeting. Our circle grew and by the end of the meeting I had made many connections and my understanding of science topics was better developed because of our debates. I remember asking his name when the meeting was nearly over, and he replied that it was the “last” thing I would remember. I am sure he uses that line often but it did stick with me. Our professional lives crossed many times from then on and I can say his enthusiasm for science has never waned. He is a true pioneer both in his fields of study and how he creates energy and excitement among his colleagues.

Pengxiang Fan – I worked in Rob’s lab as a postdoc for many years. What I value most about Rob’s mentorship is that he cares most about the mentees’ career goals. His mentoring is always supportive, encouraging, and enlightening. Our very first conversation was about what I wanted to be after the postdoctoral training. In the following years, he created many opportunities to help me bridge the gap between a fresh Ph.D. and an independent scientist. Even after I started my own lab, his support continues, teaching me how to overcome career challenges. Rob is a lifetime mentor to me, and I give him my highest respect and deepest appreciation.

David Fischhoff – I first encountered Rob Last and his work when I had the opportunity to be a reviewer for the NSF Presidential Young Investigator Awards in 1990. It is no exaggeration to say that selecting Rob as an awardee was a no-brainer for me and the review committee. Several years later, I had the great privilege of working with Rob at Cereon Genomics where I saw his great abilities as a scientist. Rob has excellent and creative insights, experimental approaches, and the ability to enroll others in his plans. He is one of the best scientists that I have had the honor of working with.

Barry Goldman – Rob was my manager at Cereon Genomics in Boston from 2001-2002. We stayed in touch as I moved to St. Louis and he moved to Michigan. Rob was a great manager and mentor. He was always generous with his time and energy. When my family was traveling to Michigan, I sent him a note to see if he was free for coffee or a beer and instead he invited my whole family for dinner. It was always easy to call Rob to get his thoughts on scientific problems you were addressing. If he didn’t have the answer he knew the right person for you to call and would facilitate the introduction.

Mary Goll – Rob welcomed me into his lab as an undergraduate and set me forward on a life long research journey. I will be forever grateful for his generosity in mentoring and supporting me during my earliest research days.

Melissa Ho – Rob Last was one of my very first mentors in plant biology when I was an undergrad at Cornell and he was a new PI. He took a chance on me to work in his lab at Boyce Thompson Institute despite having no experience and despite not being a molecular biologist major. I did a work study through the school year and spent summers doing research projects with post-docs. Folks in the Last Lab were so smart, so generous, and so kind. As a result, early in my career, I learned from the very best how to do research, how to organize and build a lab, and how to have fun and build community in doing it. Rob and I and our families have stayed in touch over the past 30 years and I am eternally grateful for his passion for science and teaching, his mentorship, and his friendship to this day.

Linda Kaufmann – During the 1980’s, I was teaching junior biology majors at Carnegie Mellon University how to do bench research – everything from yeast genetics, to biochemistry, to reading the literature. Rob Last was a new graduate student who participated in the first semester of my class – molecular biology and genetics. It was quite an advanced class and many new graduate students took the opportunity to gain these lab skills. Rob and I immediately became friends. He was smart, eager, irreverent, and he liked to cook and eat – something I had to do daily for my family of three teen-agers. Rob and I shopped, cooked, ate, talked science, and followed the local blues music scene in Pittsburgh. And so began a long relationship that enhanced my life and that of my family – my daughter calls him “Auntie Rob.”
I am not surprised that his research is groundbreaking, and his achievements and professional standing are remarkable. He was usually the smartest person in the room and the first person in the lab in the morning – a powerful combination. I am proud of him and proud to have been his friend and teacher during a portion of his development as a Pioneer in Plant Science.
Linda Kauffman, PhD
Teaching Professor Emeritus
Carnegie Mellon University

Jeongwoon Kim – Of course there’s no doubt that Dr. Rob Last is a pioneer in plant biology, with multidisciplinary studies on Arabidopsis and tomato metabolite biosynthesis. However, I would like to emphasize his contribution and commitment as an educator. As a former graduate student in his lab, I feel incredibly fortunate that I had Dr. Last as my PhD advisor. He not only helped me navigate dissertation research questions by providing scientific mentorship, but also also generously committed his time and knowledge to train students on scientific writing, communication, collaboration and new research areas beyond their dissertation topic, which is a rare opportunity for grad students! I didn’t realize the significance of this trainings back then, but it became the foundation of my career development since then. I would not have been where I am today without him. THANK YOU Rob.

Maura Last – Congratulations on receiving this recognition. My whole life I have heard from your friends and colleagues what a pleasure and honor it is to work alongside you. Your compassion, intelligence, and strong sense of right and wrong helped made you a brilliant scientist. But more than that, they made you the best father Noah or I could ever ask for. Thank you for your endless support and insight. Thank you for reading books, watching TV, and just generally being hilarious and buzzidly with me. I love you very much and am so proud of you. shown me that intelligence is nothing without kindness, and it is an honor to be Mom’s and your child.

Noah Last – Congratulations on receiving this recognition. You taught me to work hard and compassionately, and you always led by example. It’s the sign of a great mentor, scientist, and community member. My fascination with nature and human behavior stem from the hundreds of hours of walks I’ve taken with you, where you were constantly stopping to admire plants and wonder aloud at some unusual angle the leaf takes or pattern you had been noticing. ASPB and the scientists it trains have been lucky to have you all these years. Love, Noah

Jiayang Li – I was with Rob as a postdoc from 1991-1994), and I left his lab to be a professor at the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, where I have mentored more than 50 Ph. D. students and 30 postdocs with more than 50% of them being associate or full professors in scientific research. I was elected an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Foreign Associate of US National Academy of Sciences, Foreign Fellow of The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, Member of The German Academy of Sciences, and Fellow of The Academy of Sciences for the Developing World (TWAS). From Rob Last and his lab I learned to develop and establish my scientific career, specifically how to inspire the ambition of graduate students and postdocs to devote themselves to science, how to encourage them to tackle challenging problems and pursue successes, how to create a friendly and trustable lab atmosphere that would open deep discussions of their successes and difficulties, how to collaborate with colleagues in the field, and how to increase their motivation to work hard.

Yan Lu – I was a postdoc in Rob’s laboratory at MSU. Rob is one of the greatest postdoctoral mentors one could ever have. He is kind, patient, encouraging, and he cares deeply for his postdocs and students and their careers. Rob always put his postdocs’ and students’ interests and careers ahead of his own interests and concerns. Rob’s open-mindedness was one of the most important reasons why I was able to find my own niche in academia. One important aspect of Rob’s interactions with postdocs is his ability to identify the potential and career interests of his postdocs and purposely prepare them for their desired careers. After becoming a mentor myself, I have been passing Rob’s advice on to every graduate student and postdoc of mine.

Gaurav Moghe – I joined Rob’s lab for six months after my PhD – until my wife finished her PhD – only to remain in his lab for four years. Rob was, and is, a constant source of support during my many travails as one-half of a dual-career couple and later as a tenure-track faculty. Over the years, he has created such a strong network of mentees around the world, who have established successful careers in plant biochemistry and contributed to advancing the field. His long list of publications — most of them in highly selective journals and are highly cited — are a testament to the impact he has had on plant science. I am glad that ASPB is recognizing Pioneers and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute towards it.

Susan Norris – Rob is an amazing scientist and, more importantly, an amazing mentor. I was a post-doc with Rob at Cornell, then moved with him to Cereon/Monsanto where he continued as my supervisor. As a scientist, Rob is always embracing new technology and collaboration. From day one in his lab, Rob wanted to know about my career path plan so he could open doors, make introductions, provide opportunities, and tailor my post-doc experience towards my goals. Going to a conference with Rob as a young post-doc was not just the two of us at a conference waving as we passed each other. He introduced me to people and included me in conversations with his friends, his colleagues–his goal was to make his network my network. Even though it has been over 20 years since we officially worked together, I still feel comfortable reaching out to Rob for advice. Rob, thank you for your faith and trust in me!

Stephen Rogers – Rob was an early adopter and applier of genetics to solve metabolic, biochemical, structural and developmental questions in the Arabidopsis model.

Alan Rose – Rob Last has demonstrated over and over the benefits of investigating and understanding fundamental biochemical pathways at a molecular level. Not only is there deep value in really understanding how living things work, interesting and unexpected surprises often come to light in the process. Rob will never run out of new discoveries to make because plant biochemistry is complex and varied enough to be a bottomless well.

Steve Rounsley – Rob and I worked together in Cereon Genomics in the late 1990’s, and to me he epitomized the very best that you would want in a colleague – a great scientist, a great mentor, and a great human being. During his time in the industry, he never lost his connection to the academic research community and has constantly given back in the years since. A true pioneer for APSB.

Scott Saracco – Rob has spent his career supporting students and the plant biology community. Examples of this include his commitment to teaching the CSHL summer “plant course”, serving on many committees that helped shaped the early plant genomics strategy, securing numerous training grants with novel approaches to train the next generation of plant biology students, helping share the Arabidopsis Landsberg erecta sequence from Cereon/Monsanto, and serving as program officer at NSF and president of ASPB.

Personally, Rob has been a supportive mentor who challenged my perspectives. I appreciated his advice as to make sure I am asking the most appropriate questions to help make decisions while navigating my career. While I only spent a short time as a graduate student in his laboratory before he was pulled away to Cereon, I enjoyed and benefited from the collegial, yet debate-filled atmosphere and the intersection of the projects in the lab because of the independence Rob granted. Rob was great at providing opportunities to help folks prepare for the next steps of their careers through practicing communication and networking by pushing us to meet with all the luminaries in the plant world that he invited as seminar speakers. Thanks, Rob, for being a great guide throughout my career!

John Woolford – I am both pleased and proud, and not the least bit surprised, that you are being recognized as a Pioneer of the ASPB. Not only are you a brilliant scientist, but you are also a true “mensch.” When you were a young graduate student, it quickly became abundantly clear to me that you have immense capacity to lead as well as discover, and that you care so very much about each of the diverse communities of which you are a member. You have the strength of character to give to your communities and to lead them and teach them to “do the right thing”, whether it is thinking rigorously and creatively about how to solve scientific problems, or how to be a responsible citizen. I have always been proud and fortunate to know you and to learn from you. One useful bit of advice often given to young faculty members is to somehow have an outstanding person as one of your first students. I did! Thank you for being you.
John Woolford
Professor, Co-director C-NAST
Carnegie Mellon University