Yale School of Medicine’s (YSM) Student Research Day (SRD), an annual celebration of student research and scholarship, will include a new tradition beginning in May 2021. With funding from more than 30 donors, YSM will recognize exceptional faculty mentors each spring by awarding the John N. Forrest, Jr., Prize for Mentorship in Student Research.
This endowed fund is named for Emeritus Faculty John N. Forrest, Jr., MD, who helped establish the YSM Office of Student Research (OSR) in 1986, started the tradition of SRD, and served as the director of OSR until he retired in late 2019. The efforts to raise this endowment were spearheaded by his children, John K. Forrest, MD, YSM ’05, associate professor of medicine (cardiovascular medicine); Gwendolyn Forrest; and Suzanne Forrest, MD, YSM ’13, as a tribute to their father.
Student research plays a central role in the YSM MD curriculum. Since 1839, nearly every student has completed a thesis as a requirement for graduating. (The requirement was dropped during World War II, when the MD Program was shortened to three years.) As Forrest described in remarks at SRD in 2019, the thesis requirement helps students develop the ability to evaluate data critically and apply the scientific method to medicine, critical skills regardless of career path.
Another important benefit is the opportunity the thesis provides students to work closely with a faculty mentor. The creation of this new fund recognizes the importance of this mentorship relationship to students’ development, and the time and commitment required to perform this role well.
When Forrest was approaching retirement, his son and then YSM dean Robert J. Alpern, MD, Ensign Professor of Medicine (Nephrology), discussed how best to both honor the legacy of the elder Forrest, whose life and passion have been students at YSM and the OSR, and give back to the school. While students traditionally have been recognized with prizes at SRD, mentors have not. Because Forrest cared deeply about helping connect students to mentors, as well as personally opening the doors of science to people working in his lab when they were in their formative years, this endowed prize seemed wonderfully fitting—as did presenting it at SRD.
While initially the plan was to limit donations to the fund to family members, John K. Forrest said that when friends, close colleagues, and people his father had mentored heard about the idea, many wanted to contribute to show their gratitude and to give back by supporting student research and its rich tradition at Yale.
Nancy J. Brown, MD, Jean and David W. Wallace Dean of Medicine and C.N.H. Long Professor of Internal Medicine, stated, “I am grateful to the Forrest family and the many other donors to this new fund, which enables Yale School of Medicine to recognize and reward exceptional faculty who devote significant time and effort to serve as mentors to our students in their research work. This mentorship is critical to our students’ development and one of the school’s strengths.”
Forrest’s successors, Associate Deans for Student Research, Sarwat Chaudhry, MD, and Erica Herzog, MD, PhD ’05, also are appreciative of this new fund and commented, “our students’ research experience is only as strong as the mentors with whom they work. We are grateful for this opportunity to honor the mentors’ role in our students’ success at next year’s Student Research Day.”