Valentina Greco, PhD, associate professor of genetics, of dermatology, and of cell biology, has received the 2018 Yale Graduate Mentor Award in the Natural Sciences.
The award is bestowed each year by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) to honor exemplary qualities of mentorship in faculty members. After nominations from graduate students, the honorees are chosen by a committee of students and faculty, in coordination with the GSAS Dean's office.
“In my role as a mentor, what really drives me is a passion for people,” Greco said in her acceptance speech delivered Sunday, May 20th at Yale. “I feel an extreme connectivity to people because of their wish to belong, and to have an impact while being connected to their vulnerability. … At all levels, we experience a need to be heard.”
Former students, who praised Greco’s positive influence on them, echoed these thoughts. “She has always treated all members of our lab as equals, regardless of our genders, ages, and backgrounds,” wrote Cristiana Pineda, PhD ‘18, in her nomination letter. “She actively includes everyone in hiring decisions, as she is incredibly committed to having a harmonious and supportive lab environment.”
“It is clear to anyone who has spent time with her that she cares deeply about the development and achievements of everyone she encounters,” wrote Kailin Mesa, PhD ’17, a postdoctoral fellow now at NYU. “Whenever I’m in a mentoring role, I still ask myself: ‘What would Valentina do?’”
Elizabeth Jacox, PhD ’14, held similar memories of her time studying with Greco. “Dr. Greco is a phenomenal mentor,” wrote Jacox by email. “She cares passionately about her mentees physical, emotional, and personal well-being, and does everything she can to foster a lab ‘family.’ I am forever grateful for her mentorship.”
For Greco, being a professor requires more than expertise in a subject matter—it’s a commitment to society. “People will give you what you invest in them,” she said during an interview earlier this year. “If you treat them badly, they will behave badly as they are more likely to model the behaviors that surround them. If you treat them with respect and dignity, they will flourish and contribute great things to the world. When you bring this attitude to medicine and science, it’s more than simply ‘teaching’—it’s an obligation to behave well, to treat others as you’d want your loved ones to be treated.”
Part of the secret to positive mentorship, according to Greco, is viewing one’s personal life and moral development as an extension of scientific inquiry. “There is a lot to learn, because there are always new people from whom to learn and grow and with whom to explore science with a team approach.”
Born in Palermo, Italy, Greco earned her undergraduate degree in molecular biology at the University of Palermo, and her PhD at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Germany. She completed her post-doctoral studies at the Rockefeller University in 2009. She joined the Yale faculty in 2009 and is a member of the Yale Stem Cell Center and Yale Cancer Center.