Petition for a holiday of graduate supervisors

Why don't we have a holiday for graduate supervisors? I am writing to share my personal story with my PhD mentor whose mentorship has deeply infused into my career DNA.
Published in Microbiology

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He picked me up around midnight on the last day of April in 2004 at the Toronto Pearson airport when I first arrived in Canada from China; he dropped me off in the early morning on the 1st day of 2011 at the Toronto Pearson airport when I left for Boston for my postdoc training. It was a drizzling morning and I might have seen some teary eyes that touched my heart. 

He is also the one who taught me how to drive; the 2nd time I successfully let his Ford Explorer slide slowly on the driveway until it hit the house because I wasn't told yet I should have pressed on the brake before ignition and also because, instead of sitting beside me, he was outside chatting with a neighbor when he told me to get in and start the car.  Right after the incident, we got on a country road and he fell asleep while I was nervously driving. Such a coaching style has made me quickly become independent in driving and, later, in science. 

He drove across the border to pick me up at the Buffalo airport when I panically called him from Boston Logan airport to let him know that I accidentally left my immigration card at home and can't fly directly back to Canada after I finished my job interview at Harvard.

He took me and my wife to a resort in the Caribbeans, before my graduation, for a winter retreat which is a never-forgettable experience; we had the best weather that week and left right before a storm hit the region. 

He also babysat my 2-year old son in the background when my wife and I had to attend an official July-1st ceremony.  

He explained all the nuances in science writing and the Canadian culture; as a result, I was good at puns.  

He took real flight lessons just to take nice pictures of the campus; I still don't think I will ever do that (especially now we have drones) but it helped me better understand what "sky is the limit" means. 

He revised all my manuscripts very carefully, often with us sitting on the patio (if weather permits) of the university pub with beers, nachos,  and sweet potato fries; after which I would work on the heavily marked paper by pen and food stains back in the student office. And we would do another round of revisions like this again.

He dressed up and came to the Toronto consulate with me and my wife to witness an award I was about to receive. I gave an invited talk in Chinese that he couldn't understand but he told me my joke must be good since all of the audience laughed. 

He came to visit when I started my career as a professor in Calgary and all across the Pacific in Shanghai when I relocated; he said it was for a business trip but I know it's probably also to make sure I am OK. 

His mentorship has deeply infused into my career DNA. He has become a lifetime friend who is always there when I need guidance and any support. He set the bar so high that I have to try my best to meet, with my own graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.  For all supervisors like him, don't they deserve a special ceremonial holiday as graduate supervisors, just like the King's, the Queen's, Family's, and Columbus's days, or even the fool's?  

I know I can't make up a national holiday but today is a special day for you:  Happy birthday, Herb!

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Go to the profile of Cesar Sanchez
about 1 year ago

You were lucky to have a very unique PhD mentor, and that was a very nice post. Thanks for sharing, Tao!

Go to the profile of Tao Dong
about 1 year ago

Thanks Cesar for the nice note. I was also given very valuable career advices by my supervisory committee and my postdoc mentor as well. They are all great mentors. Indeed, I was lucky!

Go to the profile of Laura Baldassarre
about 1 year ago

This sounds like a very good friendship between supervisors and students and it is deeply inspiring.
Thank you both and happy birthday Prof. Herb!