Remembering Elspeth Gold: The legacy of a mentor and the importance of mentorship in academia.

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In memory of Dr. Elspeth Gold: an excellent mentor.

Elspth Gold, Ph.D. 

July 25, 1963 - August 21, 2015

On August 21, 2015, my supervisor, mentor and life teacher Dr. Elspeth Gold passed away after a long battle against breast cancer. Elspeth represented a very important part of my academic and personal life. She did everything in her power to make me stand as emerging scientist. She gave me so many possibilities I can't even mention all. She gave me the possibility to attend more than 5 international congresses, the possibility to publish 6 scientific papers, 5 as a first author, during the three years of my Ph.D. project. She also saw in me the passion for teaching and supervision, and she did let me teach and supervise students in the lab. Elspeth was also a great person, always available to help others. She faced the breast cancer battle with a very positive attitude, and she lived a great life despite this disease significantly affected the last years of her life. I will be grateful to this great mentor for the rest of my life. Elspeth wanted for her students to be the next generation of scientists, and she emphasized several times the importance of the 'pay it forward' in the mentoring process. Below is the letter I wrote for Elspeth's service. 

"I had the honor and privilege to be Elspeth’s Ph.D. student at the University of Otago. It is very difficult to find the right words to acknowledge a person who significantly contributed to your academic career and life. Elspeth was a great mentor and not just a supervisor. I was fortunate to find her in my early academic career. She continuously pushed me, challenged me, and gave me incredible opportunities that helped my career grows. It seems surreal, very surreal, to hear about Elspeth passing away when only six months ago we were discussing life, plans, next steps and the realm of possibilities. Therefore, I wanted to write down my thoughts in memory of a wonderful person who significantly shaped my professional and personal development.

 I met Elspeth for the first time at an international congress in Australia where she captivated me with her energetic and astonishing optimism. A few months later I applied for a Ph.D. project in her lab, and we started a fantastic and collaborative research experience together.

Elspeth was a relatively new staff member of the Department of Anatomy (appointed as a Research Fellow in 2009 and as a confirmation-path lecturer in 2011). She spent eight years in the laboratory of Professor Gail Risbridger at Monash University researching the function of activin-C. She used to say that Gail Risbridger represented a significant academic figure in her life, and in Gail’s lab Elspeth learned the great concept of mentoring: ‘pay it forward’. The relationship between Elspeth and Gail was remarkable. It was fascinating to see this strong reciprocal respect between mentor and mentee, a senior and well established academic professor and a relatively young scientist.

Elspeth quickly established herself as a successful postgraduate supervisor in the area of prostate cancer research. Every single moment during my Ph.D. experience she was enthusiastic, positive and motivating. With her open-door policy, she encouraged all her students to take an active part in planning experiments and developing their research. Elspeth’s ‘complete lack of selfishness’ was her most impressive quality as a supervisor. She spent her energy and resources to provide the best academic environment to all her students, trying to avoid to make the Ph.D. an intoxicating experience. As a good mentor, she also knew the right moment to let her students go and her best advice was: ‘Go, learn, become a great scientist, find young scientists with little regard for anything but their craft, and train them as I tried to train you’. This is the legacy Elspeth wanted to establish, and I will ensure to carry on the ‘pay it forward’.

Elspeth was a happy person, always optimistic, stubborn and with a strong personality. The strong personality that, as usually happens, was mistakenly considered by some people a sign of arrogance. Elspeth faced big fights, several times and she always smiled. Despite conscious of her terminal illness, she was so upbeat, positive and pleased that she lived a good life where she accomplished what she aimed to.  

 Dear Elspeth, you didn’t believe in God, and I do not either. However, I can say that it doesn’t matter when you die – it is the message you leave behind you that counts. Our understanding was remarkable, the best I could ever have desired. You left a legacy and as I said many times “A truly great good mentor is hard to find, difficult to part with and impossible to forget”. We will all miss you, and we will always remember you with a smile!

Francesco Elia Marino 

August 2015

Elspeth Gold, July 25, 1963 - August 21, 2015