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Robert Wood receives McDonald mentoring award

Faculty member honored for inspiring graduate students

Robert Wood receives the Capers and Marion McDonal Award from Dean Frank Doyle. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell/SEAS Communications.)

Robert J. Wood, Charles River Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has received the Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising.

A tradition at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) since 2008, the award was established by Capers and Marion McDonald. It recognizes leaders in engineering and applied sciences who, as exemplary mentors and advisors, have significantly and consistently supported the personal and professional development of others.

Wood accepted the award from SEAS Dean Frank Doyle at a ceremony on Friday, April 8. In presenting the award, Doyle cited Wood’s sincere dedication to his students and post-docs, establishment of a collaborative work environment, and ability to motivate and inspire others.

Wood, who joined the SEAS faculty in 2006, focuses his research on new manufacturing techniques for tiny electromechanical devices, intelligent control systems for devices with limited sensing and computational power, and active materials. He is also a core member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering.

He received more than a dozen nominations from current and former members of the Harvard Microrobotics Laboratory, which he founded. In their letters, nominators cited Wood’s generosity, approachability, patience, trust in his researchers, and ability to motivate and inspire.

“[Rob] would never hesitate to encourage, and then tirelessly advocate for, his graduate students and postdocs who went on to apply for postdoctoral and faculty positions at other top-tier research universities. In the end, I believe I am more confident in myself as a researcher and an engineer because I had Rob as a mentor,” wrote one former graduate student.

A current graduate student in Wood’s lab wrote, “Rob has become just as much a friend as he has been an advisor. He always has something encouraging to say, cares about our individual success as much as the success of the lab, and never fails to have a positive attitude, even on those days that it seems like everything is going wrong with my work.”

“As a postdoc in his lab, I felt a sense of ownership in my project and a duty to ‘give back’ to the lab by supporting other researchers and collaborative efforts. As a professor running my own research lab, I aspire to emulate Rob’s leadership qualities and establish that same balance of generosity, confidence, and high expectations,” wrote one former advisee.

Wood also mentors undergraduate students as a co-instructor of “Engineering Design Projects” (ES 100), a capstone course in which seniors demonstrate mastery of engineering knowledge and techniques by completing independent projects.

In addition to their work at Harvard, Wood and the Microrobotics Laboratory research team inspire children to consider STEM careers through partnerships with a number of educational organizations, including the Boston Museum of Science, the American Society for Engineering Education, and the Cambridge Science Festival.

Scientist Profiles

Robert J. Wood

Harry Lewis and Marlyn McGrath Professor of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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