Yale Honors Liza Comita
For Postdoc Mentorship

Comita in the field
Liza Comita, an Assistant Professor of Tropical Forest Management at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES), has received Yale University’s 2016 Postdoctoral Mentoring Prize. The award recognizes one faculty member annually who best exemplifies the role of mentor to postdoctoral trainees. 

Nominations for the award, which is offered by the Office of the Provost, are solicited from postdoctoral fellows and associates campus-wide. The honor includes a $1,000 prize.

Comita, who joined the F&ES faculty in 2014, was recognized for her efforts to help women postdocs succeed in their research by succeeding in the practical arenas of the faculty job search process, work-life balance, time management skills, conflict resolution, professional network development, and navigating the sciences as women.

She provides guidance through Women in Science at Yale (WISAY), an organization of students and postdocs that promotes the interests of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and advocates for gender equality in all fields.

“The postdoctoral years are a crucial stage in the career trajectories of young scholars, and good mentoring can make the difference between success and failure,” wrote Provost Benjamin Polak in a letter notifying Comita of the award. “Your mentorship through Women in Science at Yale makes a tremendous contribution to the professional growth and sense of community for postdoctoral women in science.”

“You provide this mentoring voluntarily through WISAY, and your mentees see your leadership as a model for themselves and others to emulate.”

Comita researches the regeneration ecology of tropical tree species and how spatial and temporal variations in regeneration dynamics act to maintain forest diversity and shape tropical tree communities. She came to F&ES from Ohio State University, where she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology. Prior to that she held postdoc positions at the University of Minnesota, the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis.
She’s always been generous with her time, which I really value because I know she doesn’t have a lot to spare.
— Sara Kuebbing, Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctral Environmental Fellow
In the nomination letter, signed by nine female postdocs pursuing academic careers in the STEM fields, Comita was lauded for donating her time to mentor women academics — including some who are not her direct advisees.

“As our WISAY mentor, Liza has provided guidance and advice on the faculty job search and interviews, sexism in the workplace, personal conflicts with research advisors, and issues related to work-life balance,” they wrote. “These discussions provided us with an unparalleled opportunity to seek additional advice from a successful role model on campus, and many of us will continue to ask Liza for advice as we pursue careers at other institutions.”

Sara Kuebbing, a Gaylord Donnelley Postdoctral Environmental Fellow at F&ES and one of those who nominated Comita, says she has learned that navigating the rigors of graduate school and postdoc life requires the assistance of mentors.

“I’ve also learned that the more mentors the better, because everyone’s academic experience is unique and you need different perspectives to help guide you through early career stages,” she said. “It’s been great having Liza as one of my mentors here at Yale, and I’ve reached out to her many times with questions and advice. She’s always been generous with her time, which I really value because I know she doesn’t have a lot to spare.” 

In 2015, Comita was named an Ecological Society of America (ESA) Early Career Fellow, which honors early career ESA members for their contributions and potential contributions to the discipline.

“In just two short years at Yale, Liza has already established herself as not just a respected educator and researcher but as an important role model for other women entering the science fields,” said F&ES Interim Dean James Saiers. “Through her generous mentorship she has provided valuable guidance, encouragement, and support to many postdocs, offering useful career insights and, I am sure, enriching their time at Yale.”

Comita will be officially recognized at an event in her honor during National Postdoc Appreciation Week in September. 
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842
PUBLISHED: July 7, 2016
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.