Peer Story

The Importance of
Being a Good Supervisor

The Keeping Up with the Boost Fellows series aims to shine a spotlight on the journeys, challenges, and achievements of our Fellows. This time, we talked with Dr. Domenico Azarnia Tehran about the KT Boost Fund and the importance of being a good supervisor.

In an exciting development for 2024, our colleague Dr. Birte Seffert embarks on a nationwide tour to meet with the Klaus Tschira Boost Fund Fellows across Germany. This time, she talked with Dr. Domenico Azarnia Tehran, who is a neurobiologist researching how neurons and astrocytes drive brain ageing. This work might, in the future, help identify biomarkers and treatments to maintain brain health while we grow older.

A mass spectrometer to identify and analyze the chemical makeup of substances by measuring the mass of molecules plays an important role in Domenico´s research, which he explained during a lab tour.

This visit also gave two PhD students, Anjalinna Kugathas and Mei Wu, the chance to present their posters for the European Synapse Meeting and get feedback. Since Anjalinna´s position is funded by Domenico´s KT Boost grant, he and Birte talked about his first experience in supervising a PhD student, the challenges, and how he takes on that responsibility. 

What do you like in working with a mass spectrometer?

It is a powerful tool that helps me understand what is inside my samples, all the components and structures, and therefore what is behind my data. It´s a bit like digesting my samples.

Before being a Boost Fellow, I used to hand in my samples and got back the data. Now, I am responsible for the full experimental cycle from beginning to end, from sample preparation to data visualization, so I feel I am a more proficient user of this instrument.

How is your experience in supervising a PhD student – and what is important as a supervisor?

I got this chance only with the Boost Fund, allowing me to fund a PhD student on my own for the first time. So in the beginning, the responsibility was challenging. I did supervise Master’s and Bachelor’s students, but this is short-term. Supervising a PhD student, you are responsible for a project and the “scientific life” of a person.

I learned a lot from my PhD supervisor, who, in the first year, supervised me closely regarding my experiments – and at the same time gave me the freedom to explore. Both are important.

A good supervisor is also a mentor. You need to explain how the academic system works, the good and the bad, so that they can make informed decisions. As a supervisor and mentor, you need to understand the rules of the system, and also be able to question them.

Eight take-aways and one motto from Domenico:

1. Be Kind: A smile, a listening ear, and genuine support can foster an environment of mutual respect, enabling us to achieve shared goals and overcome obstacles together!

2. Manage Your Work: Projects can be overwhelming, but you are not alone! Seek advice, prioritize tasks, and leave room for creativity. Set realistic expectations and then exceed them!

3. Build Your Network: Find sponsors to advocate for you, mentors for guidance, and allies for day-to-day support to unlock diverse resources and perspectives.

4. Be Honest: Be open to feedback! Share both successes and failures, avoid confirmation bias, and foster a culture of open debate where every voice is heard!

5. Promote Inclusion: Address microaggressions immediately to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels respected and valued.

6. Practise Self-Care: Moving countries, being away from family, and short-term contracts can affect mental health. Prioritize self-care – it’s NOT selfish!

7. Celebrate Wins: Celebrate all achievements, no matter how small! External recognition is valuable, but self-motivation drives long-term success.

8. Stay Adaptable: Explore new directions with resilience to navigate and thrive during uncertain time!

 Motto: It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it!

The KT Boost Fund is a joint program of GSO and the Klaus Tschira Foundation for postdoctoral researchers in the Natural Sciences, Mathematics, and Computer Science. It offers flexible funding for risky and interdisciplinary research on the way to academic independence. Funding can be used to hire staff, buy equipment, or build collaborations – tailored to the research project. To stay up to date for the new, upcoming call this summer, follow us on Linkedin and register for the GSO newsletter.