Testimonials for Pioneer Member Philip Benfey

Kenneth Birnbaum – My years in the Benfey lab, learning and watching Philip, taught me many things. First and foremost, think big. Ask a question that feels worth answering in your most thoughtful, ambitious moments. Then, work on tackling it with rigor and step-by-step progress. You won’t get bored. Also, confidence is good, but open-mindedness and the ability to change one’s mind is perhaps the most valuable and cultivatable scientific skill. These principles guided work in the Benfey lab, and I think led to great progress in our field. Siobhan Brady and I compiled a list of 76 current and former Benfey lab members, and it stuck home that the careers and accomplishments that Philip nurtured in his lab exemplify his amazing record as a mentor. I am confident that list will grow. Here’s to the Big Guy!

Siobhan Brady – Philip’s fundamental scientific contributions to the field of plant developmental biology and biology in general are by far sufficient to recognize him with the Pioneer award. However, Philip’s impact goes beyond the transformative discoveries from his research group. These include mentoring and a very large number of students and postdoctoral fellows who have gone on to successful careers in academic and industry. In my case, Philip has been instrumental in my career. He has and continues to be an excellent mentor, he successfully promoted a work-life balance within our group, considered issues important to the retention of women in science and provided a supportive and safe environment for all to express their opinions. I am especially grateful that this funding will go on to support ASPB activities including training and education of undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral scientists, as well as ASPB’s important efforts in lobbying the government and funders.

Gloria Coruzzi – I had the pleasure and honor of being Philip Benfey’s colleague and friend since our early days at Rockefeller University, where we shared many ideas, discoveries and even an office! Then, at the dawn of the Arabidopsis and Genomics Era, we both moved to NYU Biology – where together we built and ran an open lab between our two research groups – Phil’s lab on root development and my lab on nitrogen use efficiency – two complementary areas to understand the molecular underpinnings regulating these processes that are crucial to plant growth and development. In the ensuing 10 years at NYU, we ran our joint labs, taught our courses, and shared the experiences of raising our young families. In each of these ventures, Phil has been a shining example as a colleague, mentor and friend. This tribute to Philip as an ASPB Pioneer is most richly deserved. I send him my fondest wishes as a colleague and friend – Gloria Coruzzi

Jeff Dangl and Sarah Grant – Phillip’s contributions to our understanding of root development are profound. His contributions as a mentor and community leader are equally profound. This is a well deserved recognition for him.

Claude Deplan – Philip has produced generations of scientists who have very successfully developed their own lab. He is a very nurturing PI and an amazing scientist

Jose R Dinneny – Philip has been incredibly supportive of all the members of his lab. He has proven to be a role model for how to create a respectful working environment that supports scientists from all backgrounds. This excellent mentorship and lab management is paired with unrivaled judgment and vision that has steered his group through field-defining discoveries and innovation. He is truly a remarkable human and someone I try to emulate every day.

Colleen Drapek – The field knows Philip Benfey as a cutting edge scientist and visionary. Beyond this image, though, Philip is a supportive, encouraging, loyal and generous mentor. I was fortunate to have him as my PhD supervisor and while there are many anecdotes I could share that exemplify this, I will never forget his constant support through a dreaded near-scoop. He encouraged me to pursue the resources and expertise I needed, including international collaborations, to make a story and manuscript over which I could feel proud ownership. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to work with him.

Xinwei Han – It was a great experience working in Philip’s lab as a postdoc. Great mentorship, wide exposure to cutting edge technologies, lots of discussions. I really appreciate the unimpeded freedom Philip created in the lab, which allowed me to pursue my own interests and career goals.

Marie-Theres Hauser – Philip was a wonderful supporter and gently guided me how to do excellent science, how to present it and thus was very important for my scientific career. I am deeply grateful and hope I can spread some of his spirit to students and young researchers as well.

Polly Hsu – I cannot ask for a better postdoctoral mentor! Philip has always been so generous to help us launch our careers and support us even after we left his lab. I forever thank Philip for believing in me and allowing me to pursue an independent new project in his lab! Now, as I look back, it was Philip who recommended to me the most critical reagents and put me in touch with the most helpful collaborators — both are essential to the success of my project and my career.

Song Li – I appreciated my mentorship from Philip on academic research and career development while I was a postdoctoral associate in his lab. Even after I left his group and started my own lab, we still remain in contact and he continues to provide support and guidance when I reach out to him for advice.

Terri Long – It is well known that Philip Benfey is an outstanding scientist. However, it gives me great pleasure to share what makes him an outstanding postdoctoral adviser and mentor. Before a new postodoc even joins the lab, Philip often takes into account the opinions of current lab members about the potential hire – this gives the current members a sense of empowerment for that hire and makes for a more welcoming and inclusive environment when the new postdoc arrives. Upon joining the lab, he gives postdocs the freedom and support to develop and direct their own projects (within reason) and encourages them to explore various, often unorthodox, options. This enables the postdoc to grow as an independent researcher and better equips them to run their own lab in the future. More importantly, he quickly diffuses any situations that might lead to major conflict, and treats every member of the lab with equal respect and courtesy. His fairness creates a sense of collaboration and community in the lab, and inhibits competition. One of the things I admire most about Philip is that he also carries this rather relaxed sense of partnership and cooperation into his many successful collaborations across the world. I am currently an Assistant Professor, and I try to emulate this, and many other aspects of his leadership style, as head of my own lab. To that end, since I left Philip’s lab I have called him several times to gain his insight into a range of issues from how to decide who to hire, to how to develop collaborations. Even though I know he has an extremely busy schedule, now, as always, he takes the time to talk with me, encourage me, and challenge me to strive for more. I conducted my graduate studies in a smaller lab. So when I joined the Benfey lab I struggled a bit to find my place in such a large, fast paced environment. Philip never doubted me, never questioned my effort, and always had confidence in my abilities. That trust and support has been invaluable to me, and it is one of the reasons I had the courage to apply for and accept a faculty position at a large research institution. I would not be where I am today if not for my experience in the Benfey lab, not only because of the scientific acumen I gained from working with him, but also because of rich network of friends and colleagues that he fostered while I had the good fortune to be in his lab.

Matt Marengo – My very first conversation with Philip changed the course of my career. I had been working in Drosophila and rat systems, studying the regulation of gene expression. I asked for his advice on adapting a gene expression approach to biotechnology in plants. He invited me to start designing experiments with his company, GrassRoots Biotechnology. The company gave me opportunities to test out ideas, help develop better approaches, and work for and alongside outstanding scientists. Ten years and two acquisitions later, I still proudly work with GrassRoots alumni in agricultural biotechnology.

Erin Sparks – Philip Benfey is an exemplary scientist, mentor and person. As a former trainee, I can say with confidence that Philip’s commitment to mentoring never ends. Despite having mentored many scientists and managing a large lab and company, Philip always makes time for his trainees. He continues to provide advice and support long after leaving his lab, and his support of women in sciences is particularly notable. He is the mentor that I strive to be and has set a lasting legacy for root researchers.

Pablo Szekely – Philip is a wonderful advisor – really supporting me on my scientific journey, and teaching me many new skills. I am very grateful to have him as an advisor.

Jaimie Van Norman – My time in the Benfey lab was truly formative in key aspects of my professional and personal growth. This time in my career and life was not easy, but is full of wonderful memories and resulted in formation of (what I hope will be) lifelong friendships. Even though I have moved on from the Benfey lab, I know that I can still rely on Philip’s guidance, advice, and mentorship when I need it. His reliable, straightforward, and honest demeanor make him an invaluable part of my and many other scientists’ support network in a time when this type of support is increasingly difficult to find.

Gary Schindelman – Thank you for your support and guidance and congratulations on this well-deserved accolade!

Masashi Yamada – Dr. Benfey was my mentor during my post-doc time. I published several papers in high-impact journals and was able to become an assistant research fellow at the best institute in Taiwan because of my training in his lab. He provided an example of very good mentorship to train post-docs and grad students to improve their scientific careers. As you know, many of his previous post-docs and students have become PIs and post-docs in various scientific fields all over the world. Therefore, I strongly support him as a Pioneer.

Qianzi Zhou – Dr. Benfey has helped me generously with my research. He guided me through difficult times and made me grow to who I am today. I sincerely appreciate what he has done and how he mentored me.