Faculty of Graduate Studies names Sapna Sharma recipient of Postdoctoral Supervisor Award

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Faculty of Science Associate Professor in the Department of Biology, Sapna Sharma, received the 2022 Supervisor of the Year award from the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) at a council ceremony on Dec. 1.

Sapna Sharma
Sapna Sharma

FGS bestows the award annually on an individual who has demonstrated outstanding support for postdoctoral scholars at York University, exceeding general supervisory expectations. Nominations must provide evidence that the nominee: fosters an exemplary environment of support for professional skill development; is a role model for intellectual leadership and professionalism in research; promotes and models a climate of respect and collegiality; and offers advocacy and guidance in long-term personal, professional and career development.

The adjudication committee reviewed an exceptional pool of nominees this year and were particularly impressed by Sharma’s work as a supervisor. The letter of nomination highlighted her drive to create an environment of support for her postdoctoral Fellows and students. Acting as a true mentor, she provides ample opportunities for professional skill development and exemplifies a steadfast commitment to facilitating international collaborations.

Sharma consistently went above and beyond her expected role, supporting the members of her lab, Sharma Lakes, by advocating for their personal, as well as professional, career development. This dedication was especially crucial within the context of the global pandemic and its impact on mental, financial and overall well-being.

“The past two years have been an unprecedented time with the COVID-19 pandemic and York University frequently closing. In response, Dr. Sharma has prioritized the mental health of everyone under her supervision, including myself,” her colleague, Alessandro Filazzola, stated in the nomination letter. “She frequently checks in to ensure we are financially stable, whether we require leave, or have the necessary support should we decide to continue working.”

Postdoctoral Supervisor of the Year awarded to Sapna Sharma by FGS council
FGS council names Sapna Sharma (top right) Postdoctoral Supervisor of the Year

On the challenges of research during the pandemic, Sharma said, “The students and postdocs in my lab worked incredibly hard to keep our research moving forward, despite the immense challenges of working remotely during the pandemic. I thank them for their work, supporting one another and the research program, and keeping the lab environment alive.”

Sharma’s area of research examines how lakes worldwide respond to climate change, including rapid ice loss, warming water temperatures, degrading water quality and changing fish distributions. The work performed in her lab involves predicting the effects of environmental stressors, such as invasive species and habitat alteration, on lakes. This important research highlights the real-life repercussions of climate change, which can inspire others to seek out ways to create a more sustainable future.

“I am lucky to have a wonderful lab. I work with amazing students and postdocs. They make my work life fun and intellectually stimulating as I learn a lot from them,” said Sharma.

Outside of her research and role as supervisor, Sharma is an active member of the community. She currently holds the position of vice-Chair of the Royal Canadian Institute for Science, a charity committed to science public engagement, which demonstrates her dedication to science communication. Moreover, she is also the founder and Chair of SEEDS at York University, an outreach program that provides refugee children who have recently arrived in Canada with additional educational opportunities in science and math.

“As a Provostial Fellow, Dr. Sharma has been working on a University-wide engagement strategy to build partnerships that focus on access to clean water, and in that sense is really taking hold of York’s commitment in the University Academic Plan to further the UN [United Nations] Sustainable Development Goals,” said Dean and Associate Vice President Graduate Thomas Loebel.

The Supervisor of the Year Award acts as a way to acknowledge dedication displayed by faculty who exemplify all the characteristics of an outstanding role model. “[Sharma] has enriched the lives of her postdoctoral Fellows. Her investment and commitment serve as a model for others to follow.  She embodies the award’s dedication to mentorship creativity, excellence, and dedication,” said Loebel.