Professor Rick Shine wins Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers

5 September 2013

Professor Rick Shine, from the School of Biological Sciences in the Faculty of Science, won the Eureka Prize for Outstanding Mentor of Young Researchers, presented at the Eureka Prizes awards ceremony on 4 September.

Presented annually by the Australian Museum, the prestigious Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of scientific research and innovation, science leadership, school science and science journalism and communication.

The Eureka Prizes are known as 'the Oscars of Australian Science' and the awards dinner is the largest national celebration of Australian science.

Professor Shine received his Eureka Prize trophy and $10 000 prize money at the Sydney Town Hall in front of a sold-out audience of distinguished scientists, industry leaders, journalists, policy makers, philanthropists, school students and science enthusiasts.

The award is even more special, as it makes Professor Shine the first Australian scientist to win a Eureka Prize in three different categories, having won the 2006 Eureka Prize for Biodiversity Research and the 2011 Eureka Prize for Promoting Understanding of Australian Science Research.

"I'm absolutely delighted to win this award. It was terrific to win the previous Eurekas - for research and for communicating with the public - but mentoring younger researchers is the core of what I do," said Professor Shine.

"The greatest legacy that any scientist can leave is through their students. I've been privileged to have had the opportunity to work with some truly outstanding young researchers, and I take great pride in their subsequent careers," explained Professor Shine.

"They deserve a lot more of the credit than I do, but I hope I've been able to help them along the way."

Eureka Prize winner Professor Rick Shine (right)
Eureka Prize winner Professor Rick Shine (right)

The Eureka Prize recognises Professor Shine's lifelong commitment to assisting young scientists - during his career he has supervised more than 70 research students and 20 post-doctoral fellows. The majority of his 800 published papers list his students as senior co-authors.

Few biologists worldwide have been so successful at facilitating the careers of younger researchers as has Professor Shine. Over a long and illustrious career, he has attracted, nurtured and enthused a succession of high-achieving young researchers. His proteges have thrived so well that it is difficult to find a major Australian university that does not have one on staff.

Professor Shine has achieved mentoring on a grand scale - by training and supporting generations of talented researchers, he has transformed his field of study of the ecology, evolution and conservation of reptiles and amphibians.

The Director of the Australian Museum, Frank Howarth, said, "Professor Shine's commitment to nurturing the careers of young scientists has truly changed the field of evolutionary biology."

Students are central to Professor Shine's overall research philosophy and strategy. Every student who has begun their research studies with him has successfully obtained their degrees. That consistency is extraordinary - almost every long-term academic has had at least one research student fail to complete their studies.

"I believe effective mentoring involves not just setting up appropriate programs, it is also about taking time to treat people as individuals, to discuss their aspirations, and to identify obstacles that they face," said Professor Shine.

"Using my own experience, I can help students build their own plans, clarify their aims, and identify how to attain those aims. The challenge is not just to help students obtain their degrees and publish papers, nor just to write reference letters for postdocs in their job applications, and it's not just about being a friend, or a role model - though that is important also," explained Professor Shine.

"My students share my enthusiasm for wildlife, and my desire to conserve our unique animals - and I think that has made it a lot easier for us to work together. They are a great group of people, and spending time with them in the field and the lab has been enormous fun; I'm sure I've learnt at least as much from them as they have from me."

Read about all the 2013 Eureka Prize winners.

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