Graduate School News

Meet Your Student Leaders: Nirzari Gupta, president of GSG

1. Nirzari Alokkumar PresidentThe Graduate School has launched another new series called "Meet Your Student Leaders." This series will provide graduate students and postdoctoral fellows an opportunity to get to know the students who run the various graduate student organizations. This week's featured student leader is Nirzari Gupta, president of the Graduate Student Government.
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Discoveries: The sweet science behind mending muscle

IMG 0174Rylie Hightower, a third-year graduate student in the Graduate Biomedial Sciences neuroscience program, studies proteins and other factors that contribute to the progression of muscular dystrophy. 

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Link to Leadership: Dr. Lisa Schwiebert, Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs

GRAD logo without taglineEmbarking on the graduate school journey can be a challenging experience, but it helps if you understand the major players involved in that experience. This new series, "Link to Leadership," features Q&As with UAB's Graduate School leaders and an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to get to know these leaders on a deeper level.
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Upcoming Events

Blazer Spotlights

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First Year Graduate Students Hone Scientific Skills on Alabama Coast




For many, Dauphin Island is a vacation destination for relaxation and sunbathing.  For others, it is a magical land where aspiring minds and first year graduate students congregate every summer to hone their scientific skills and expand their mental horizons.  UAB’s Introduction to Neurobiology course held at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab will teach anyone the true meaning of working hard and playing hard.  Almost three weeks of intensive training in the field of neurobiology using technical approaches such as electrophysiology, immunohistochemistry, and molecular biology, while working with some of UAB’s top notch mentors, provides for an unparalleled experience.

Dauphin Island is a little like Gilligan’s Island in that you need to learn to make things work even in the most difficult of situations. It can be frustrating to get electrophysiological experiments from the limulus lateral eye or the crayfish neuromuscular junction to work properly in a swaying building on stilts by the beach.  But when things work out, you realize your great accomplishments and that your hard work has paid off. You feel you have come out a better scientist.  And with a faculty to student ratio close to 1:1, a mentor willing to help is usually just a few steps away.  We are all amazed about the amount of material that we learned in such a short period time.  In short, a great man (Dr. Kent Keyser) once described it as “science camp for big kids”. 

But enough about the academics, the one thing that we will always cherish are the relationships that we developed there.  The memories and bonds we’ve made during the course on the island are stronger than any covalent or ionic bonds that you may learn about in class.  They are bonds that often become your support system for the rest of your higher education and in many cases for life.  From those evenings where we studied into the wee hours of the night, to walking on the beach watching bioluminescent ctenophores dancing in the waves under the Milky Way.  It’s a place, a time, and an experience that we won’t soon forget.  So put on your swim suit, grab your pens and paper, your electrodes and pipettes, and sign up for Intro to Neurobiology for the experience that will last a lifetime. 

(This article was written by the following first year graduate students: Kevin Chang, Vision Science Graduate Program; Ian Kimbrough, Neuroscience Theme Graduate Program; Scarlett Neeck, Neuroscience Theme Graduate Program; Eleanor Lewis, Behavioral Neuroscience Program)



Barker Award Recipients Chosen




The Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies, named for UAB’s first graduate dean, Dr. Samuel Booth Barker, is the most prestigious annual award from the Graduate School. Outstanding students are nominated by the graduate faculty in their respective programs and the award recipients are chosen by a committee that the Graduate School Dean convenes. Besides receiving a cash award, the recipients are honored at the Graduate School Awards Luncheon and Honors Convocation, and their names appear on plaques hung outside the Graduate School offices.


The 2011 Barker Award recipients are Victoria “Katie” Gibbs, a doctoral student in Biology, and James Gothard, a master’s student in English. Both award recipients are featured in the Student Spotlight located on the Graduate School’s homepage,


The Selection Committee was impressed with both students and believes that the awards are well deserved. For more information about the Barker Award, including a list of past recipients, visit



22 Recognized for Mentoring Excellence




This past Spring, 22 UAB graduate faculty members received the Graduate Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentorship during the 4th annual awards ceremony held in the HUC Great Hall on April 11. Each recipient was nominated by a current or former mentee and received a minimum of five nomination letters. Honorees received a bound volume containing the nomination letters written on their behalf and an engraved plaque.

Recipients are from the schools of Arts & Sciences, Dentistry, Education, Health Professions, Joint Health Sciences, Medicine, Nursing, Optometry, and Public Health.

The 2011 Mentorship Award recipients are: Michael Brooks, PhD (Human Studies), Steven Carroll, MD, PhD (Neuropathology), Nikolai Chernov, PhD (Mathematics), Noel K. Childers, DDS (Pediatric Dentistry), Loucrecia Collins, EdD (Educational Leadership), John Heith Copes, PhD (Justice Sciences), Terje Dokland, PhD (Microbiology), Robert Fischer, PhD (Biology), Roderick Fullard, OD, PhD (Vision Sciences), W. Timothy Garvey, MD (Nutrition Sciences), Barbara Gower, PhD (Nutrition Sciences), Amjad Javed, PhD (Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery), Julie Locher, PhD (Gerontology), Lori McMahon, PhD (Physiology & Biophysics), Nir Menachemi, PhD (Health Care Organization & Policy), Linda Moneyham, PhD (Nursing), Tim R. Nagy, PhD (Nutrition Sciences), Linda Searby, PhD (Educational Leadership), Rosa Serra, PhD (Cell Biology), John Van Sant, PhD (History & Anthropology), Rosalyn Weller, PhD (Psychology), Nengjun Yi, PhD (Biostatistics).

At this year's ceremony, the first Lifetime Award for Excellence in Mentorship was presented to the Dean of the Graduate School, Dr. Bryan Noe, by graduate student representatives from the GSA.

To read excerpts from nominating letters, visit the UAB Reporter at  



Call for Nominations: Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentorship




The Graduate Dean's Mentorship Awards are given to those mentors who inspire and motivate, promote ethical and professional values, create a collaborative and constructive atmosphere for training, and serve as outstanding role models for students and fellows in the performance of their scholarly activities and service.

Full-time regular UAB graduate faculty members who have demonstrated exceptional accomplishments as mentors of graduate students and/or postdoctoral fellows, and who have not received the award within the past five years, are eligible for the award.

For a list of all previous recipients and a nomination form for the 2012 awards, visit the Mentorship Award web page. The deadline to receive nominations and all accompanying materials is Friday, November 4.

Updated Policies for Fall 2


011 Semester




The following policies have been updated for the Fall 2011 semester:

Withdrawal from Courses

Beginning with the fall 2011 semester, the last day for graduate students to withdraw from courses and still receive a “W” on the transcript will be October 28, 2011. For all subsequent semesters, check the Academic Calendar on BlazerNET for the appropriate semester to verify the last date for withdrawal.

Immunization Policy

All first-time entering students who enroll at UAB must show proof of specified immunizations as outlined by the UAB Student Health Service on their website ( Enrolling students must show proof of the required immunizations with either an official certificate of immunization, a photocopy of an immunization certificate, or written documentation from their physician. Visit to review your immunization requirements. A hold will be placed on your registration if the required documentation has not been received by the beginning of early registration for your second semester. For questions, call 205-975-7751.

Tuition Payment Policy

Beginning in fall 2011, the Tuition Payment Policy was updated. For detailed information regarding tuition payments and deadlines for the spring semester, check the Student Billing and Payment Policy at


GSRD 2011

Graduate Student Research Days 2011




This year, 131 students participated in UAB’s 17th annual Graduate Student Research Days on February 23, 24 & 25. Of those students, 34 received awards and were recognized at the Graduate School Awards Luncheon held on Friday, March 4 in the HUC Great Hall.

“While Research Days has historically been a forum for graduate students to present their research among their colleagues, it has also provided an opportunity for faculty and postdoctoral fellows to serve as judges,” says Kellie Carter, the event’s coordinator. “Several judges commented on the depth and breadth of the research being done by students and were quite impressed.”

The Graduate Student Association, which helps sponsor the event, provided timekeepers for the 12 sessions. In all, 48 faculty and postdoctoral fellows volunteered their time and expertise as judges.

For a complete list of the 2011 award recipients, visit

Mark your 2012 Calendar!
January 27 at Noon - Deadline for abstract submission
February 22 - Graduate Student Research Days Competition for Master's students, HUC Great Hal l 
February 23 & 25 - Graduate Student Research Days Competition for Doctoral students, HUC Great Hall
Friday, March 2 - Graduate School Awards Luncheon, HUC Great Hall


UAB Graduate Programs Fair to be Held in October




The 2011 UAB Graduate Programs Fair will be held on Thursday, October 27 from 11:30 am - 2 pm in the HUC Great Hall. Designed to give undergraduates and anyone else interested in graduate studies the opportunity to learn about what graduate school at UAB has to offer, this graduate programs fair includes informative talks on “hot topics” such as how to pay for graduate school, how to select a program, and how to succeed in graduate school.

The "fair" portion of the event will include representatives from UAB graduate programs, along with graduate school staff members who will be able to answer questions regarding admissions. Information on financial aid and entrance tests will be available. Current graduate students will be on hand to provide a firsthand perspective on being a graduate student.

Anyone interested in learning about graduate school and speaking one-on-one with representatives from UAB graduate programs is welcome. More information is available at 


Sterne Library Workshops




The Sterne Library will be offering the following workshops during the fall semester. 

Library and Research Skills Refresher Course for Returning Students

Are you returning to the academic environment after years or decades away? Are you a little intimidated by the changes and advances that have occurred in college libraries?

This course will help returning students review and/or catch up on the knowledge and skills needed to navigate the library, both the physical space and the library website; find and use the print, audiovisual, and electronic resources; and understand and use basic research skills. This course will also give students avenues to pursue for additional guidance and instruction.

This course is divided into two classes:

  • Class 1: The Research Process, Navigating Sterne Library’s Web Page, and Locating Books:In this class, students will learn how to:
    • choose and focus topics for research
    • locate general information about the Mervyn H. Sterne Library
    • locate materials in SCOTTY, Sterne Library's online public access catalog
  • Class 2: Finding Articles, Weaving through the Web Wisely, and Getting Additional Help:In this class, students will learn how to
    • identify magazine, journal, and newspaper articles on a chosen topic by using indexes and databases
    • find, evaluate, and use Internet resources
    • locate information for help with research, citing, and the library

For the schedule of classes and to register, go to

Questions? Feel free to contact Imelda Vetter or Delores Carlito

 EndNote Web

EndNote Web is a citation manager designed to help users collect, organize, and format sources for citing in research papers. It is available for free to all UAB students, faculty, and staff through a site license.

  • The Getting Started workshop covers creating an account and the basic functions of collecting references from a library database, organizing and sharing references in a group, generating a bibliography in a citation style, and inserting a reference in a paper using Microsoft Word. 
  • The Collecting References workshop covers several methods of importing references, including using a connection file, a database filter, and a browser toolbar, as well as creating references manually.
  • The Formatting References workshop covers formatting references using bibliographies and annotated bibliographies, temporary citations, and Cite While You Write for Microsoft Word. 

Watch the Sterne Library Website for the schedule of classes and for registration to begin in September.  If you are unable to attend or would like to get started on your own, the EndNote Web research guide gives instructions and links to the workshop handouts.  Feel free to contact Imelda Vetter or Jennifer Long, with questions about the workshops or the research guide.

hooding pic

Graduation News




UAB master's and doctoral students take part in two ceremonies: The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and the Commencement, held each May and December. August graduates may attend the December commencement. The Doctoral Hooding Ceremony is the commencement for doctoral candidates receiving PhD, DrPH, and EdD degrees. Both graduation ceremonies will take place on Saturday, December 17.

 If you are a doctoral candidate that graduated in August 2011 or will be graduating in December 2011, you must fill out the commencement form no later than November 30 in order to participate in this ceremony. Simply showing up for the ceremony is not an option.

The commencement ceremony for master's, EdS and bachelor’s students will be held in Bartow Arena at 2:00 p.m. All master's and EdS graduates who would like to attend commencement should look at the graduation information online at


Don’t Forget These Deadlines!

When a candidate is near graduation, she or he must pay close attention to Graduate School deadlines, which are posted online. Important dates include the following Fall and Spring semester deadlines:

Fall 2011 Deadlines

  • Application for Degree                September 2, 2011
  • Defense Deadline                       November 4, 2011
  • Admission to Candidacy              August 15, 2011
  • Change of Residency                   August 1, 2011  


Spring 2012 deadlines

  • Application for Degree                January 27, 2012
  • Defense Deadline                        March 30, 2012
  • Admission to Candidacy              January 6, 2012
  • Change of Residency                   January 6, 2012 

Completing all paper work and final payments by the posted deadlines will ensure that a candidate will graduate by the expected date.


Biomedical Engineering Students Share Tissue Engineering Research with McWane Visitors




During the holidays last December, graduate students from UAB’s Biomedical Engineering program and BERM (BioMatrix Engineering and Regenerative Medicine) Center volunteered their time at the McWane Science Center at the tissue engineering exhibit.  Approximately 12 graduate students volunteered around 60 hours at the “Starfish” exhibit, educating the public and getting children interested in science.

One of the graduate students, Gregory Hoeker, explained that volunteering to work at the exhibit gave the students an opportunity to inform the public about the exciting research that is going on in their own backyard. He added, “We certainly were not short of volunteers because after the students came back from McWane, they just kept signing up to go again.”

Another graduate student, Katie Culpepper, talked about the implications of the experience, saying, “Spending time talking with visitors to the McWane Center really allowed me to step back out of the very specific field I am usually absorbed in to look at the big picture. This big picture mentality has allowed me to think of new ideas and concepts that I may have missed otherwise.”



Turning 20: The UAB Graduate School's Professional Development Program




Completing a dissertation. Developing confidence as a teaching assistant, or new college faculty. Presenting research at a professional conference. Understanding scientific integrity. Publishing a first article. Competing for grant funding. These are all challenging, but critical competencies for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB).

To accelerate success in these areas, one innovative program at the UAB Graduate School offers academic support to graduate students and post-docs: The Professional Development Program (PDP). Founded in 1991, the graduate-level, academic and research-communications program turns 20 years old this fall, and much of the credit goes to its founder Julia S. Austin, PhD.

 A Signature Program at UAB

“UAB should be extremely proud of the program, and the leading role that Dr. Austin has played in its development,” says Bryan D. Noe, PhD, Dean of the UAB Graduate School.  “To succeed in the wide variety of careers that they now pursue, graduate students and postdoctoral trainees must acquire many skills that are not traditionally offered within the curricula of predoctoral training programs. Very few universities in the U.S. offer the wide range of additional opportunities for specialty skills development such as those provided by the UAB PDP.  The PDP is a signature program at UAB.”

The program emerged two decades ago out of the specific needs of a small group of international graduate students, but it now serves the needs of a much larger and more diverse group of graduate students and post-docs who seek advanced degrees, careers in research, and/or work as teaching assistants or faculty. In 1991, Austin, a rhetoric and composition specialist with training in ESL, was the Director of English as a Second Language (ESL) when she noticed that 40 percent of her international students in the undergraduate ESL classes were graduate students.

Meanwhile, Terry L. Hickey, PhD, then UAB’s Graduate Dean, also recognized an urgent need for instructional support to the growing number of international graduate students in his field. He saw a proposal that Austin had written for a special task force and encouraged her to write a Scientific Communications Program for his students.  Hickey then agreed to finance the program for two years, housing it in the office of the Vice President for Health Affairs.

 Optimal Learning for Graduate Students & Post Docs

“The immediate response was huge. We tapped into a lot of pent-up need,” Austin recalls. “The next semester, we offered an oral communication course on Saturdays. After a needs assessment with graduate faculty in the Joint Health Sciences, we began offering graduate students individualized coaching in academic and research writing.”

From the beginning, Austin worked with faculty to design elective academic and research-communication courses, for credit, on a pass/no-pass basis, with the goal of creating an optimal learning environment for graduate level professional support. “An important part of the pedagogy includes the peer mentoring, the interdisciplinary discussions of professional practice, and the research-oriented focus for graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, whose needs are very different from those of undergraduate students.”

Soon, American graduate students began asking for similar services that were being offered international graduate students. “Many graduate students in science, technology, engineering, math, or STEM disciplines, as well as health careers, are masters in their core studies, but simply have not had instruction and experience in academic writing, publishing, and presenting,” says Austin. “For these students, a little bit of instruction from us goes a long way. We just help them speed time to degree and boost research productivity.”

In addition, other graduate students in professional schools, such as nursing or education, are returning to school after 10 or 20 years in the workforce, she added. “It’s been a long time since they have written a research paper, and they may have never written one for publication. Consider a nurse who is accustomed to writing up patient reports, or teachers, who are used to writing lesson plans. For some of these students, the idea of preparing a 200-page scholarly project, or dissertation study, to publication standards can seem almost impossible, at first. That is why our focus was and always has been on professional development in academic and research communications.”

“A National Model” for Adding Value

With funding from tuition and support from the Graduate School and the Office of the Vice President of Health Affairs, Austin nurtured the program. In 1993, with Hickey’s support, she moved to office space in the Lister Hill Library of Health Sciences to make the program more accessible to graduate students from across campus. During this time, Dr. Joan F. Lorden, then Dean of the Graduate School, had been getting requests from graduate students and faculty for support in teaching and grant writing, in addition to enhanced communication offerings. Lorden found out about an innovative program at the University of Pittsburgh and jumped at a chance to participate in a long-term, “survival skills” grant to help graduate students develop professionally through Austin’s structure and services.

Observes Lorden today: “Under Julia’s direction, the initiative evolved quickly into a full-fledged professional development program in which the Graduate School took the lead in providing an essential function for the campus and becoming a national model for how graduate schools could add value to virtually every program.  As someone who hires a large number of faculty, I now see even more clearly how important the program is.  We do a lot of on-the-job training for newly minted PhDs who haven’t had the benefit of such a program.”

In early 1995, with Lorden’s support, Austin moved her offices to the UAB Graduate School, where the program resides today. Over the years, new courses were gradually added, including Teaching at the College Level and Beyond, Fellowship Writing, Preparing TAs to be Effective Teachers, Presentation and Discussion Skills, and, more recently, Developing a Teaching Portfolio, and Research Writing and Publishing.  With expanded offerings, the program’s name was changed from Scientific Communications to Professional Development. 

In 2010, the PDP launched online sections of its most popular graduate elective, Writing and Reviewing Research, and it now offers special sections of this course tailored for nurses and public health students. It also recently developed two new courses, Dissertation Strategies and Successful Dissertation Writing, which Austin says helps dissertation writers operationalize their goals and be accountable for their writing progress.

 Becoming Writers, Teachers, & Grant Awardees

As for its impact on UAB graduate students, post-docs and professional research or teaching employees (who also frequently take the courses), recent feedback and comments say it all.

Among those taking PDP courses is Jody Gilchrist, RN, MSN, ACNP-BC, CRNP, and an instructor in the School of Nursing, who took the online section of Writing and Reviewing Research : “I learned so much in this course. . . [It] is the first course I have taken in several years. I cannot thank you enough for helping me to ‘bridge’ back into school!”

Adds John Ruby, DMD, PhD, Professor of Pediatric Dentistry: “Julia Austin’s Professional Development Program is why UAB is a great place to be for those who realize the necessity of writing well. Writing is hard, and clarity is difficult to find. Julia has helped our pediatric dental residents and also helped me become the writers we aspire to be.”

States Yogesh Vohra, PhD, Professor of Physics, Director, UAB Center for Nanoscale Materials and Biointegration (CNMB), and Director, Physics Graduate Program: “GRD 715--Preparing TAs to be Effective Teachers is a required course for all incoming physics graduate students. It has prepared them to be an effective communicator in recitation sections for physics undergraduates as well as managing large undergraduate laboratory sections. Also, assessment of teaching skills prepares students to be ready and give them a chance for self improvement. This training course is particularly important for undergraduates who enter graduate program without a prior teaching experience.”

Says Lisa M. Schwiebert, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education: “Through the Professional Development Program, Julia has had a significant and lasting impact on the education of postdoctoral scholars. In particular, her dedication and tireless efforts in the areas of teaching and grant writing have enhanced the training of many post-docs over the years.”

 Supporting Authorship Seminars & Integrity Grants

Today, in addition to courses and workshops, Austin and her team offer a series of upon-request authorship ethics seminars to faculty and students in support of UAB’s goal of responsible conduct of research. They are currently working with Jeffrey Engler, PhD, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in the UAB Graduate School, and Principal Investigator for the Council of Graduate School’s national Project for Scholarly Integrity (PSI) grant, and Tracey Baker, PhD in UAB’s Department of English, to develop a research-based authorship website for students who seek to write and publish their work.

The PDP staff also supports the Graduate School on other UAB grant projects aimed at recruiting and developing the brightest graduate students, including McNair, PREP, and MERIT Scholars, says Engler. “The PDP staff support all of the programs that help promote diversity in our student population.  They provide strategies and tools that help students develop a more efficient and focused presentation and writing style for the research they do in graduate school.  This is key to boosting our overall research productivity.”