UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock in his office on March 3, 2023. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock in his office. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bruce Hammock: Distinguished Graduate and Postdoctoral Mentoring Award

'Incredible Mentor, Legendary Scientist, Highly Supportive Colleague and a Great Friend'--Guodong Zhang

UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock in 2019
UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock in 2019. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, described as “an incredible mentor and legendary scientist,” is a newly announced recipient of the 2024 Graduate Studies Distinguished Graduate and Postdoctoral Mentoring Award

“Your dedication to mentoring is truly commendable, and this recognition is well-deserved,” wrote Jean-Pierre Delplanque, Vice Provost and Dean of Graduate Studies in his letter of congratulations.

The annual award recognizes “the vital role mentoring plays in the academic and professional development of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars at UC Davis.” Hammock will receive a certificate and a $1,000 education enrichment award.

Hammock, who holds a joint appointment with the Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Center, “is an incredible mentor, legendary scientist, highly supportive colleague, and a great friend,” wrote nominator and former Hammock lab member Guodong Zhang, now an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Nutrition. “He richly deserves this prestigious award.”

“Bruce is an unwavering source of guidance in navigating the complexities of academia,” Zhang wrote. “His pride in my accomplishments, be it a publication, grant, or award, has been palpable.  The genuine joy he expresses underscores the supportive and nurturing mentorship I have received….He is the best mentor, collaborator and friend I have ever encountered in my professional journey.  His invaluable guidance and unwavering support have been pivotal in fostering the success of numerous lab members. He is undeniably a giant in the field of science.  However, what truly sets him apart is his unwavering commitment to student mentoring, his devoted care for group members, and his exemplary role as a model for training the next generation of scientists.”

Guodong Zhang
Guodong Zhang

Zhang described the Hammock lab as a “highly multidisciplinary, with members having scientific backgrounds in nutrition, pharmacology, analytical chemistry, cancer, pain, and environmental toxicology. “From these extensive interactions within and outside of the research group, I have learned how to conduct scientific collaborations.  The transformative impact of my postdoc training in his lab extends beyond mastering experimental techniques in eicosanoid biology; Bruce imparted valuable lessons on being a scientist and a responsible citizen. Bruce is a caring person and treats his group members as family.”

Chronicling his experiences in the Hammock lab, Zhang wrote: “I joined Bruce’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow (2010-13) and continue to interact and collaborate with him in my current position. When I joined Bruce’s lab.  I had just finished my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My Ph.D. training was very different from Bruce’s research, and at that time, I knew very little about his research area in eicosanoid biology. During my postdoc interview with him in 2010, he told me that he liked new scientific ideas and that I could research whatever I wanted to in his lab.  Because of this encouragement and the research freedom, I immediately joined his lab, the best decision I have ever made in my professional career. 

'Bruce Was a Constant Source of Encouragement'

“The 3-year postdoc training in the Hammock lab stands out as one of the most rewarding periods in my research journey,” Zhang related.  “In my moments of experimental setbacks, Bruce was a constant source of encouragement, guiding me on extracting valuable insights from negative data.  Conversely, when experiments yielded positive results, he offered insightful advice and introduced me to other labs at UC Davis, thus broadening the scope of our research projects.  Bruce was most excited about the ‘unexpected data’ because of his belief that such anomalies often herald new scientific discoveries.  And he always encouraged us to perform experiments to disprove his favorite hypotheses, fostering a positive and nurturing research environment.”

Hammock, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 1980, is known for his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry, entomology and human health research. His work in enzyme research alone spans more than 50 years. He co-discovered a human enzyme termed Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase (sEH), a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of fatty acids. The enzyme regulates a new class of natural chemical mediators, which in turn regulates inflammation, blood pressure and pain,  and is in human clinical trials to replace opioid analgesics.

As director of the UC Davis Superfund Research Program (funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) for nearly four decades, Hammock supported scores of pre- and postdoctoral scholars in interdisciplinary research in five different colleges and graduate groups on campus. campus. He ran a pre- and postdoctoral training grant associated with this program and in addition for 15 years was principal investigator of a NIH training grant in the  UC Davis Biotechnology Program.

Sharing Comments

In his letter of nomination, Zhang shared comments by four other Hammock lab alumni: Kin Sing Stephen Lee,  now an assistant professor, Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University; Yuxin Wang, lead computational biologist and manager of the Stephen Lindemann lab, Purdue University; Weicang Wang, assistant professor, Department of Food Science, Purdue University, and Susanne Mumby, retired assistant dean for postdoctoral affairs at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Kin Sing Stephen Lee
Kin Sing Stephen Lee

“I am truly grateful to have Bruce as my postdoc training mentor,” wrote Stephen Lee, a postdoctoral fellow in the Hammock lab from 2010 to 2015, and an assistant project scientist from 2015 to 2016, before joining the Michigan State University faculty in January 2017.  “I could not be where I am without Bruce's support and mentoring. With Bruce's guidance, I got the K99/R00 NIH Pathway to Independent Award in 2015. This award is given to talented postdoctoral researchers to help them transition to an independent investigator in academic research institutes. 

“Bruce cares very much about his mentees' careers and personal growth,” Lee wrote. “He loves to engage in conversation with his mentees outdoors, either on a campus walk, hiking, or kayaking, and this is one of the most enjoyable experiences with Bruce. During these activities, Bruce usually discusses science and sees how I am doing. In addition, he has many stories to share that are always teaching moments

“I learned so much about scientific communication and research strategy from him,” Lee continued.  “One of the things that I admire and is still learning from Bruce is his effective scientific communications skills. Bruce always finds a way to communicate his science to people with very diverse backgrounds…all in all, I am so lucky to have Bruce as my mentor and friend and he is definitely one of the best mentors in the scientific community.”

Yuxin Wang
Yuxin Wang

Yuxin Wang, who served in the Hammock lab from November 2019 untill August 2023,  joined the Hammock lab as a postdoctoral fellow, and was promoted to assistant project scientist in May 2022.

“Bruce is an exceptional mentor for me,” Wang shared. “With boundless patience and wisdom, he creates a free environment where creativity and growth are encouraged. During research, Bruce always listens attentively and offers constructive feedback with lots of humorous examples, and a genuine passion for helping young researchers grow and succeed. Beyond research and work, Bruce also cares about our families. When I gave birth to my baby son and returned to the lab, he prepared lovely flowers and sweet chocolate as a ‘coming back’ present. He will also hold parties to welcome each scholar coming to the lab or farewell to the scholars who will leave. Under his guidance, not only do individuals thrive professionally, but they also feel valued and supported in all aspects of their lives.”

Weicang Wang
Weicang Wang

Weicang Wang praised Hammock “as my greatest mentor…He has provided me with lots of guidance and support, not only in my academic journey but also in my daily life. In research, Bruce encourages me to pursue projects that have a real-world impact, helping people in Africa to overcome the challenges of foodborne toxins. I find it very helpful that Bruce emphasizes the importance of discussing ideas with other colleagues before conducting experiments or writing papers. I also benefit greatly from Bruce’s suggestions on targeting the specific aims of funding agencies for grant applications. During my job search, Bruce gave me valuable advice on how to deliver effective chalk talks and interact with other colleagues.”  

Susanne Mumby wrote that when she was “freshly graduated with a B.S. in biochemistry in 1975, I became the first member of Dr. Hammock’s lab as a technician in the Department of Entomology at UC Riverside.  He mentored me as he did graduate students who joined his lab.  He challenged us, encouraged us, and supported us to develop as scholars and scientists of high standards.  In addition to training me in all facets of work in his lab, he included me in journal club, had me present my work at a meeting of the American Chemical Society and draft manuscripts. Dr. Hammock encouraged me to take the Graduate Record Exam and an advanced organic chemistry course during workday hours.”

Susanne Mumby
Susanne Mumby

Mumby added: “With this extraordinary mentoring he afforded me--a technician at the time--I went on to obtain my Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Washington, was awarded an NIH fellowship for postdoctoral training, and became an associate professor of pharmacology and the assistant dean for postdoctoral affairs at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. As with superlative mentors, Dr. Hammock and I have stayed in touch all these five decades.”

An internationally celebrated scientist, Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, the National Academy of Sciences, the California Academy of Sciences, and the Entomological Society of America.  At UC Davis, he received both the Academic Senate’s Distinguished Teaching Award and the Faculty Research Lectureship. In 2020, UC Davis Chancellor Gary May awarded him the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award

Also contributing to the awards project were molecular geneticist-physicist Joanna Chiu, professor and chair of the Department of Entomology and Nematology; and Kathy Keatley Garvey, the department’s communications specialist and member of the awards committee.

Three other professors also received a 2024 Distinguished Graduate and Postdoctoral mentorship award:

  • David Mills, Distinguished Professor, Department of Food Science and Technology
  • Claudia Sánchez-Gutiérrez, Professor, Department of Spanish and Portuguese
  • Cassandra Tucker, Professor, Department of Animal Science

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