David Abbott recognized for excellence in mentoring undergraduate researchers

In recognition of his dedication to mentoring undergraduate students, David Abbott, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, has received a 2021 Award for Mentoring Undergraduates in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities.

The awards are administered by the UW–Madison Office of the Provost to honor the important role mentors play in fostering undergraduates’ intellectual, personal, and professional growth. The awardees include faculty members, academic staff, graduate students, and post-doctoral fellows. The awards provide $2,000 of university expendable funds.

Photo of David Abbott, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who received a 2021 Award for Mentoring Undergraduates in Research, Scholarly, and Creative Activities Abbott earned his undergraduate degree and PhD from the University of Edinburgh. He joined the School of Medicine and Public Health’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1992, and is affiliated with the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. His research is focused on polycystic ovary syndrome and has led to advancements in women’s reproductive health research.

Undergraduates are a key part of Abbott’s laboratory and play a vital role in its success, he says. He has mentored nearly 70 undergraduates throughout his career. In any given semester, there are about a dozen undergraduate members of his lab. He has published co-authored work with 17 bachelor’s degree students.

“I truly value receiving this award as mentoring undergraduate students means so much to me — and I hope my students,” Abbott says. “They strive so hard to succeed that I cannot resist enabling them along the way.”

Abbott oversees the engagement of undergraduates in his research program, while also helping graduate students and postdocs gain mentorship experience. Each student works on his or her own project relevant to their interests and goals, and Abbott meets with them weekly. The lab holds a weekly journal club where undergraduates are encouraged to participate in discussions and build their confidence in talking about their data. In addition, at the end of each semester, project teams present their research and participate in a question-and-answer session.

“Dr. Abbott views undergraduate mentoring as an essential accompaniment to his research career as it creates enthusiasm, energy, and stimulus between himself and his mentees,” wrote co-nominators Laurel Rice, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Jon Levine, PhD, professor of neuroscience and director of the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center. “It is clear that Dr. Abbott’s efforts as a mentor are greatly appreciated by his mentees, many of whom view his mentorship as having been integral to their intellectual and professional development.”

A significant number of his former mentees have gone on to successful careers as physicians, veterinarians, research faculty, and pharmaceutical industry professionals. Students currently in the lab say he has inspired them to pursue their passions.

“I have had many mentors, but none have come close to the magnitude of impact that Dr. Abbott has had on my professional, personal, and academic development,” says Lukas Henjum, an undergraduate currently in Abbott’s lab. “In journal club, he fosters an inclusive atmosphere where I immediately felt like I belonged. These meetings have taught me not to ask ‘what,’ but instead to ask ‘why.’ These are skills that I will carry with me throughout my life and are invaluable assets to my professional development.”