Professor Jonathan Abbatt has received the 2023 JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision.
The award, given annually by the School of Graduate Studies, aims to recognize outstanding performance in the multiple roles associated with graduate supervision. Candidates must be active faculty members, who, over a period of at least 15 years, have demonstrated excellence in supervision at U of T. Two awards are offered every year: one for the Humanities/Social Sciences and one for the Physical/Life Sciences.
Winners of the JJ Berry Smith Award for Doctoral Supervision receive an SGS conference or travel grant to award to a student and a framed certificate of recognition.
You always have to be attuned to their interests – what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at. Another challenge is to always recognize that people have different goals – not everyone is going to go into academics, and not everyone is going to go into industry. Everyone’s goals are valid.
“A lot of the value for me of this position comes from interacting with people,” says Abbatt, who has supervised 16 PhD students and 12 master’s students since joining the University of Toronto in 2000. “I love working with students and other members of the group. And to know that students have found those interactions meaningful is wonderful.”
Abbatt completed his BSc in Chemistry at U of T before pursuing a PhD at Harvard University and a postdoctoral fellowship at MIT. He is an atmospheric and environmental chemist, who has had a long-standing interest in the multiphase interactions that occur between atmospheric gases, aerosol particles, and other surfaces in the environment, and in the roles that aerosol particles play in cloud formation. Abbatt’s current research interests include wildfire emissions and indoor environments, while his past work has focussed on chemistry of remote environments, including stratospheric, forested and Arctic settings. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and the Royal Society of Canada.
Under Abbatt’s supervision, 16 graduate students have won NSERC graduate scholarships, while seven have secured highly competitive NSERC postdoctoral fellowships. In the past five years alone, he has co-authored 45 publications with his graduate students.
Abbatt, who has also been recognized with a Chair’s Distinguished Teaching Award (2019) in the Department of Chemistry, as well as an Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring in his previous role at the University of Chicago, says it’s important to keep students’ individual goals in mind.
“You always have to be attuned to their interests – what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at,” he says over the phone. “Another challenge is to always recognize that people have different goals – not everyone is going to go into academics, and not everyone is going to go into industry. Everyone’s goals are valid.”
He also feels that norms for working in the lab have changed considerably – and for the better – since his days as a graduate student, with an increased emphasis on work-life balance. This is something he tries to model for his students by not being in the lab on weekends, and ending his workday at 5 pm.
“My supervisor was a very distinguished person, and he was leading a huge group of 30 people,” recalls Abbatt. “He was also a father to two young children, one of whom was not well. He was very strictly on a 9 to 5, and I think, unconsciously, that had an effect on me.”
“Jon is an exceptional role model,” wrote one group of students in support of Abbatt’s nomination. “From how he approaches problem solving, to how he conducts himself in conflicts of interest, to how he balances work and family life.”
“I think one of Jon’s biggest strengths as an advisor is his ability to recognize the type of supervision each advisee will benefit from and cater to that effortlessly,” wrote one former student. “A distinct memory I hold, even today, is the feeling of inspiration and motivation to do better after every meeting with Jon.”