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CRS Director, Dr. Teresa K. Woodruff, receives 2018 Society for the Study of Reproduction Trainee Mentoring Award

By: Francesca E. Duncan, PhD, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, CRS Executive Director, July 16th, 2018

Dr. Woodruff receiving awardThe Society for the Study of Reproduction (SSR) Trainee Mentoring Award recognizes an SSR member who as a mentor has had significant impact on Trainees within SSR. This year, the Society recognizes Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD with this honor. Dr. Woodruff has been a dedicated member of SSR for 22 years, having published ~20% of her manuscripts in Biology of Reproduction, and having served on the SSR Board of Directors, Clinical Outreach Committee, Program Committee, and Nominations Committee. Dr. Woodruff is an exemplary woman in science, and she not only mentors individuals, but she selflessly and fervently mentors our entire field of reproductive science and medicine. 

Dr. Woodruff is an awe-inspiring example to all of her trainees because she does not simply work towards the final goal of the next scientific manuscript or grant application.  Instead, she pushes the boundaries to develop entirely new research disciplines or influences policy to ensure that her research can be accomplished. Dr. Woodruff’s knowledge of reproductive science and medicine is expansive and her passion for the field contagious.  To date, she has authored over 300 publications focused primarily on mammalian female reproductive biology in models including mouse, nonhuman primate, and human. She is well-revered in 1) reproductive endocrinology for her ground-breaking work on the structure-function relationships of activin and inhibin, 2) ovarian biology for her pioneering efforts in engineering human in vitro follicle growth and microfluidic systems, and 2) gamete biology for her trailblazing discoveries of zinc signaling in early development. Given the depth and breadth of her research impact, it is not surprising that Dr. Woodruff has received numerous accolades. To highlight just a few, she is an elected fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering, she was the President of the Endocrine Society, and she is a Guggenheim Fellow.  Her recognition transcends the academic sphere into the public realm, and she was voted 112th in Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2013.

Dr. Woodruff’s scope of mentorship is wide. Since beginning her own laboratory at Northwestern University in 1997, she has formally mentored 30 undergraduate students (20 completed honors theses under her tutelage), 25 graduate students, and 29 post-doctoral fellows.  In her laboratory, she has also influenced the career trajectories of countless high school students, research technicians, and senior scientists. A large number of trainees from the Woodruff lineage have secured faculty positions in top-ranked institutions, which is often viewed as the ultimate success of an academic mentor. However, perhaps even more importantly, almost all of Dr. Woodruff’s trainees have stayed in reproductive science and medicine – fueling our field as scientists, clinicians, educators, industry leaders, medical writers, journalists, policymakers, government officials, and lawyers. 

Dr. Woodruff with award

Beyond her laboratory, Dr. Woodruff has served as the Associate Director (2006-2015) and Director (2015-present) of the Northwestern University Center for Reproductive Science where she interacts with hundreds of trainee members and captivates and cultivates their burgeoning interest in our field. In 2016, Dr. Woodruff’s launched the Masters of Science in Reproductive Science and Medicine (MS-RSM) program at Northwestern University, a comprehensive one-of-a-kind program focused on human reproductive health to keep our pipeline strong. Dr. Woodruff was recently appointed the Dean of the Graduate School and Associate Provost of Graduate Education, demonstrating her broad commitment to trainees across disciplines. Dr. Woodruff is an internationally esteemed mentor for young reproductive scientists.  She was actively involved in shaping the prestigious Frontiers in Reproduction course that has been held annually at the Marine Biological Laboratory since 1998. She served as the course Director from 2001-2003 and as a lecturer from 1999-2004. She has continuously supported the program and has sent many of her own trainees to the course as students.  For her efforts, she received the 2013 Beacon Award for being “a valued source of illumination and guidance in the development of research careers in the reproductive sciences.”

Dr. WoodruffDr. Woodruff’s mentorship is unique because it knows no boundaries as her motto so aptly states: “Reproductive Science Education for All: From K to Gray.” In fact, she has created a series of products that unequivocally demonstrate her passion and commitment for teaching all-comers across generations. For example, she recognized a gap in how young children were learning about their own reproductive health, so she partnered with childhood communication specialists and animators to develop a three-part cartoon series called “A New You, That’s Who” that explains reproductive anatomy, puberty, and menstruation in an accurate but age-appropriate manner.  To serve high school students, Dr. Woodruff created the Women’s Health Research Program (WHSP), which provides educational programming for females from underserved communities who are interested in STEM careers. Hundreds of students have participated in these programs, and Dr. Woodruff was awarded the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring for this work. For college students and beyond, Dr. Woodruff created and launched a MOOC entitled “Sex 101: Introduction to Reproduction” through Coursera in 2015. Finally, Dr. Woodruff is committed to mentoring the lay public.  To this end, she created the Repropedia, an authoritative lexicon containing definitions, images, and videos that explain reproductive science terms for both scientists and non-scientists. This site has been visited thousands of times from people all over the world. 

In summary, Dr. Woodruff is an outstanding mentor who is well-revered for her scientific prowess, her genuine enthusiasm, and her bottomless generosity. These qualities are unanimously echoed by Dr. Woodruff’s trainees across the career continuum both within her laboratory and beyond. Please join the Center for Reproductive Science in congratulating Dr. Woodruff on this award!