Dr. Miller and Dr. Batra -- a mentorship legacy continues

Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman of the UNMC Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, didn't know what a mentor was.

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Surinder Batra, Ph.D., second from left, one of the world's best pancreatic cancer researchers, says his mentor at North Carolina State University, Bill Miller, Ph.D., right, provided the support and care that helped foster Dr. Batra's career success. Also pictured are Dr. Batra's wife, Sunita, second from right, and Dr. Miller's wife, Laura.
As a young researcher overseas, in France, his lab boss had let him work all day without even asking if he needed a lunch break. Dr. Batra was alone, and lonely, and no one seemed to care a whit about him, beyond the work he could do. He thought this was just what it was like.

But then Dr. Batra came to America, to work in the lab of William Miller, Ph.D., at North Carolina State.

Bill Miller was different.


When we think of mentors in science, we tend to think of the science. And yes, over countless hours in the lab, Dr. Miller taught Dr. Batra lots of science.

But it's the humanity Dr. Miller taught him that mattered most.

It's great humanity that can lead to great science, Dr. Batra said. Isn't great humanity what science strives for in the first place?

"Why do we do all this stuff?" Dr. Batra asked.


After a lab accident, young Dr. Batra had third-degree burns on both feet; he was injured so badly, he couldn't walk.

It was Dr. Miller himself who came to Dr. Batra's home and changed the bandages.

Dr. Miller took young Dr. Batra to yard sales, to furnish a bare-bones bachelor pad. Taught Dr. Batra how to hang drapes and hammer a nail. Drove Dr. Batra to driving school and back every Saturday night.

He took Dr. Batra into his home. Took him Christmas caroling. Young Dr. Batra manned the microphone on the talking pumpkin at Halloween.


When reached in Raleigh, N.C., Dr. Miller compared mentoring to gardening. A little water, a little soil ...

Dr. Batra, of course, bloomed beautifully, Dr. Miller said.

And at UNMC, among Dr. Batra's mentees, they all know it.


Academically, personally, if someone has a problem, 24-7:

"He is always there," said Subhankar Chakraborty, M.B.B.S., internal medicine resident.

Somewhere along the line Dr. Batra became a pretty good gardener, too.


Dr. Batra went home to India. But he found he was missing something. He was missing the scientific opportunities. He was missing the America Dr. Miller had shown him.

Today Dr. Batra is an American. Today he's at UNMC. Today he's the mentor.

He knows the impact a great mentor can have.


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Tom O'Connor
May 29, 2012 at 8:38 AM

This is an inspiring story. Kudos to Drs. Miller and Batra for passing on their mentoring skills. They are great examples for the rest of us to follow.