University Professor Marla Sokolowski honoured for a career of inspiring and guiding students

University Professor Marla Sokolowski has been recognized with a prestigious 2022 JJ Berry Smith Doctoral Supervision Award.

Headshot of Marla Sokolowski.
University Professor Marla Sokolowski.

The awards are presented by the School of Graduate Studies to a faculty member who, over a minimum 15-year period, has demonstrated graduate supervision excellence at the University of Toronto.  

This honour recognizes her commitment and success in guiding graduate students, providing a supportive and stimulating learning experience, inspiring excellence in academic scholarship and integrity, and preparing them for their future careers. It also reflects her commitment to student wellness and to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion.

A member of the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Sokolowski is a pioneer in the field of behaviour genetics and has conducted foundational research into the interaction between genes and the environment, and how genetic tendencies are affected by the environment and experience. Her groundbreaking investigations into the genetic and molecular basis of individual differences in behaviour include the discovery of the foraging gene in Drosophila melanogaster, or fruit flies.

Over her career, Sokolowski has supervised 22 postdoctoral fellows, 23 PhD students and 15 master’s students. Of 168 refereed papers published by her research laboratory, 112 have included graduate student co-authors. Six of her former PhD students have gone on to faculty positions at the University of Toronto, Washington University of St Louis and Brown University. As a testament to her role in their careers, her students organized a special issue of the Journal of Neurogenetics in her honour.

According to her former student, Ina Anreiter — now an assistant professor at U of T Scarborough’s Department of Biological Sciences — Sokolowski is a mentor for life. “When Professor Sokolowski believes in someone,” says Anreiter, “she goes out of the way to support them in every way possible — and Marla Sokolowski always believes in her students.” Other students give her credit for teaching them to be critical and objective learners, for nurturing a research lab that is diverse by design, and for being a role model for their own careers and mentorship.

Sokolowski adds the award to a growing list of honours. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and a recipient of the Society’s Flavelle Medal for her contributions to biological science. She is a fellow and former co-director of the Child & Brain Development Program of CIFAR, as well as the recipient of the Genetics Society of Canada’s Award of Excellence, the Distinguished Investigator Award from the International Behaviour and Neurogenetics Society, as well as the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal.

by Chris Sasaki