UAB Postdoctoral Association Executive Board Handbook


Table of Contents

Mission of the UAB Postdoctoral Association

History of the UAB Postdoctoral Association

Orientation to the Executive Board: Roles and Responsibilities

Standing Committees: Descriptions and Positions

UABPDA Constitution

UABPDA By-laws




The mission of the UABPDA is to provide a voice for UAB and SRI postdoctoral fellows that reflects the important contribution postdoctoral fellows make to scholarly research: (1) by advocating for effective career training and preparation for transitioning to independence in the diverse career paths available to postdoctoral scholars, and (2) by working toward an improved environment for postdoctoral scholars which allows for balancing work and home responsibilities.



2004-2005 EB

Adam Keeton PhD, Aimee Landar PhD, Erin Thacker PhD, Maaike Everts PhD, Meredith A Preuss PhD, Doug Moellering PhD, Rob Cartee PhD, Stephanie Cowey PhD, Qiana Matthews PhD, Stephen Perrett PhD, Abdul Ajees Abdul Salam PhD, Amy VanEngen Spivey PhD.

Late in 2003, at the urging of Dr. Victor Darley-Usmar, the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education, a Founders Committee was formed to begin the process of establishing a Postdoctoral Association at UAB (UABPDA). The Founders Committee was comprised of two postdoctoral scholars at UAB, Drs. Keith Micoli and Maaike Everts. Modeling the UABPDA after the newly established National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), the Founders Committee prepared and submitted a Constitution and By-laws to the postdoctoral community of UAB in April, 2004, and the Constitution and By-laws were approved at the inaugural Town Hall Meeting of postdoctoral scholars on May 4, 2004.

The Executive Board

The first Executive Board (EB) was elected in June 2004 with Dr. Maaike Everts being elected to serve as Chair. The 2004-2005 EB worked to establish the basic framework of the UABPDA and began the process of defining the needs of postdoctoral fellows at UAB. The first university-wide Postdoctoral Research Day (PDRD), held in April 2003, was organized by the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE) under the direction of Dr. Victor Darley-Usmar and by the efforts of two postdoctoral scholars, Drs. Rob Cartee and Maaike Everts. This event allowed postdoctoral fellows an opportunity to present their research to their peers and gain valuable experience in an important career skill. In 2005, the UABPDA took over responsibility for the PDRD and the second PDRD was held in February 2005. It has continued as a yearly event organized by the PDRD standing committee of the UABPDA EB. The 2004-2005 EB also instituted the Balance in Science luncheon, which addresses the issue of balancing work responsibilities with the demands of home life. The Balance in Science luncheon has been held yearly since 2005 and is organized by the Balance in Science standing committee of the UABPDA EB.

2005-2006 EB

Doug Moellering (Chair), Erin Thacker (Vice Chair; I),  Qiana Matthews (Secretary), Stephanie Cowey (Treasurer; BiS), Meredith Preuss (Electoral Officer; PDRD), Xuxia Wu, Balu Chacko (O), Nick Khoo, Adam Keeton (BtB), Eric Kelley (TH), Steve Perrett, and Abdul Ajees Abdul Salam.

The 2005-2006 EB, with Dr. Doug Moellering serving as Chair, worked to provide a smooth transition to subsequent EB's as well as the incorporation of specific events designed to improve the training environment for postdoctoral fellows. Seminars and other events were implemented or continued, with input from the EB, to address specific career skills necessary for successful advancement, including effective presentation skills, grantsmanship and manuscript preparation. In addition, the By-Laws were modified to include representation on the EB by one postdoctoral scholar from Southern Research Institute (SRI).

2006-2007 EB

Catherine DiCostanzo PhD (Chair), Mickael Cariveau PhD (Vice Chair), Kelly Andringa PhD (Secretary), Lisa M. Curtis PhD, Erin Thacker PhD, Laszlo Not MD, Xuxia Wu PhD, Melanie Styers PhD, Senait Asmellash PhD, Amanda K. Wake PhD, Thea Nicola PhD, Balu Chacko PhD, Torry Tucker PhD and Issa Coulibaly PhD.

The activities of the 2006-2007 EB have focused on refining the goals of the UABPDA EB and expanding the professional topics addressed in seminars, workshops and other event venues. During the past year, a specific set of seminars and workshops was defined to constitute a Postdoctoral Curriculum. A current short-term goal of the UABPDA EB is the implementation of this Postdoctoral Curriculum. The long term goals of the UABPDA are to maintain a focus on empowering postdoctoral scholars in advancing their careers and maintaining a balance between career and home life.

2008-2009 EB

Kelly Andringa (Chair), Rashada C Alexander (Vice Chair), Diane Bimczok (Secretary), Marlene Winkelbauer, David Krzywanski, Melanie L Styers, Thomas William Lowder, Hilal Arnouk, and Jamiyanaa Dashdorj

2009-2010 EB

Marlene Winkelbauer (Chair), David Krzywanski (Vice Chair), Diane Bimczok (Secretary), Hilal Arnouk (Electoral Officer), Eugene Masters (Industry Roundtable Representative), Jamiyanaa Dashdorj, Lacey McNally, Changchun Ren, Jessy S Deshane, Michelle Amaral, and Tony Filiano

The 2009-2010 EB started addressing the postdoctoral quality of life, specifically pertaining to benefits and salary. With the help of the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE), the EB was able to improve the benefits at UAB for all postdoctoral scholars. In addition to improved benefits, the EB continued to plan and organize postdoctoral career development curriculum and seminar series that provides the trainees with the needed resources for transitioning to their next career stage.

2010-2011 EB

Marlene Winkelbauer (Chair), David Krzywanski (Vice Chair), Diane Bimczok (Secretary), Michelle Amaral (Interim Secretary), Aundrea Bartley (GCAT Liaison),  Kirk Yancy Williams (Electoral Officer), Jamiyanaa Dashdorj, Lacey McNally, Syed Rahmanuddin, Kumar Putcha, Changchun Ren, Jessy S Deshane, and Hilal Arnouk

The 2010-2011 EB has continued to address the postdoctoral quality of life and has focused on negotiating with the administration to increase the minimum postdoctoral stipend level. The EB continued the seminar series to address areas of interest indicated by the postdoctoral community, mainly focusing on the academia lifestyle. The majority of the committees were not in use during this year.    

2011-2012 EB

Aundrea Bartley (Chair), Jessica Perez (Secretary), Jessica Grunda (GCAT Liaison), Tabitha Hardy (Media Representative), Diane Bimczok, Michelle Amaral, Lacey McNally, Kumar Putcha, Hope Amm, Jackie Harris, Teruko Bredemann and Katherine Ingram

Several initiatives happened during the 2011-2012 that was supported by the EB. The need was felt and met to extend the awareness of UAB’s PDA to the postdoctoral community. This was accomplished through the establishment of a quarterly newsletter. The newsletter was used to make postdocs aware of the benefits available to them at UAB, issues that postdocs nationwide have encountered, as well as recap of important seminars. The seminar series mainly focused on careers that branched outside of academia, including but not limited to scientific writing, science policy, and patent law. Through our collaboration with the OPE, two additional courses have been implemented, Translational Science, and Job Skills. At the end of this term, we decided to remove the position of GCAT liaison from the EB and revamp the EB, more details on the revamp are below. These changes were partially brought on by the need for one on one career counseling for all postdocs at UAB. It has definitely been an exciting year.  

2012-2013 EB

Teruko Bredemann (Chair, Balance in Science Chair), Jessica Grunda (Vice-Chair, Postdoc Research Day Chair), Jessica Perez (Secretary), Tabitha Hardy (Social/Involvement Chair), Hope Amm (Postdoc Research Day Chair), Baldeep Khare (PDA Newsletter Editor), Tanecia Mitchell (PDA Newsletter Editor), LaToya Paul (Balance in Science Chair), Helen Collins, Jennifer McLarty, Tomader Ali, Michelle Amaral (emeritus) and Aundrea Bartley (emeritus)

The EB and the OPE

The UABPDA is independent from the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE), but collaborates with the OPE in organizing events aimed at postdoctoral scholars at UAB and SRI. The Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education works closely with the EB providing advice on the feasibility of carrying out the activities that the EB proposes on behalf of postdoctoral scholars at UAB and SRI. Prior Associate Deans have included Drs. Tika Benveniste, Sadis Matalon and Victor Darley-Usmar. The current Associate Dean, Dr. Lisa M. Schwiebert, was appointed in March 2007.

Several members of the Executive Board also serve on the UAB Council on Postdoctoral Education (COPE), which advises the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education on issues related to postdoctoral training. Issues that the EB believe require attention from the UAB administration can be brought to the attention of COPE for discussion and action.

In addition, the OPE will sponsor one or two interested Executive Board members to attend the annual meeting of the NPA ( each year, as permitted, with funds allotted by the Associate Dean. A past Chair of the NPA and current members of the Board of Directors of the NPA are at UAB and are important resources for the UABPDA. In addition, UAB is a founding member of the NPA and postdoctoral scholars at UAB are encouraged to consider joining the NPA as individual members.

ORIENTATION TO THE EXECUTIVE BOARD: Roles and responsibilities

The constituency of the UABPDA, the postdoctoral scholars at UAB and SRI, rely upon the Executive Board (EB) to bring about positive change to the postdoctoral training and environment at UAB which will result in improved career outcomes. Working in concert with and with the guidance of the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education and the staff of the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE), the EB is tasked with defining the needs of postdoctoral fellows at UAB and SRI and advocating for specific changes to achieve this goal. The EB works through the efforts of four officers and eight board members, who play important roles in implementing the goals of the UABPDA.

Officers of the Executive Board

A. Chair

Role and responsibilities:

1.  The Chair defines the overall vision and direction of the UABPDA efforts during the next 12 months, while being responsive to input from the EB.

2.  The Chair organizes and runs the business meetings of the EB and is responsible for timely notification to the EB of meeting times and locations, as well as preparation and timely dissemination of the agenda for the meetings and any other information or materials that the EB needs in order to address the issues. While also expressing his/her own views, the Chair must encourage and ensure that all EB members are given an opportunity to voice their opinion or input at meetings.

3.  The Chair should lead by example. The Chair should be engaged in all committees, assisting each committee chair in making progress on the committee's yearly goals.

4.  The Chair serves as the point of contact for the UABPDA in any official communications.

5.  The Chair works closely with and shares responsibilities with the Vice-Chair, as appropriate.

6.  The Chair should acknowledge and respond to all email communication in a timely manner, including communication of any known absence of availability (e.g. vacation, attendance at meetings) to the EB in advance.

7.  The Chair is responsible for presenting the goals and accomplishments of the UABPDA to postdoctoral scholars during the Postdoctoral Orientation. Be a point of contact and information for newly arrived postdoctoral scholars to help the transition of living and working at UAB.

8.  The Chair is responsible for scheduling the monthly EB meeting, both the room and sending out reminder emails.

9.  The Chair should recruit volunteers for committees and service on the EB.

Necessary skills/tools:

·    The Chair should have experience as a postdoc and a clear idea of the needs and concerns of postdocs, with particular emphasis on the needs of postdocs at UAB and SRI.

·    The chair will have sat on the EB for at least 6 months in order to understand the past efforts and history as well as any contacts which might be helpful in achieving the goals of the UABPDA. Substantial differences exist between graduate student organizations and postdoctoral associations and the postdoctoral scholar who assumes the Chair position should be cognizant of these differences. Experience as a postdoc, experience with UAB in some capacity (e.g. graduate student, staff), or perhaps service on another professional board might also be important credentials.

·    The Chair should exhibit strong leadership and people skills and be receptive to constructive input from the EB, the Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education or other interested parties in defining the goals of the UABPDA. Strong team-building, motivational and communication skills will facilitate not only the monthly meetings, but also the interactions of board members in the various activities.

·    The ability to delegate is important, however, the Chair should have sufficient time to dedicate effort in assisting Committee Chairs and be able to step in and take over the responsibilities of any position vacated until it is filled.

·    As the official point of contact, the Chair should have sufficient time to devote to handling email and phone interactions.

·    The Chair should demonstrate an ability to work well with the Vice-Chair, ensuring a smooth transition of responsibilities if necessary.

·    Ultimately, the ability of the chair to effectively lead will determine the success rate of the EB.

B. Vice Chair:

Role and responsibilities:

1.  The Vice-Chair should work closely with the Chair as a collaborator. In the event that the Chair steps down, the Vice-Chair must be able to step in and take over the responsibilities of the Chair.

2.  The Vice-Chair should be fully versed in the status of all projects and the overall vision of the UABPDA as defined by the Chair.

3.  In addition, the Vice-Chair functions as the liason for the additions/corrections to the website, which are done by staff of the Office of Postdoctoral Education or other administrative entity.

4.  The Vice-Chair should acknowledge and respond to all email communication in a timely manner, including communication of any known absence of availability (e.g. vacation, attendance at meetings) to the EB in advance.

5.  The Vice-Chair should recruit volunteers for committees and service on the EB.

Necessary skills/tools:

o  Since the duties of the Chair and Vice-Chair potentially overlap, the Vice-Chair should have similar experience as the Chair and have sat on the EB for at least 6 months.

o  Leadership and people skills as well as strong communication and team-building skills are important.

o  Although the Vice-Chair does not need as much background in a leadership position as the Chair, this position should be seen as a natural step towards Chair, with the year as Vice-Chair an opportunity to become fully acquainted with UAB, the OPE and the EB and how they work together to improve the lives and training of postdocs.

C. Secretary

Role and responsibilities:

1.  The Secretary is responsible for taking minutes at the monthly EB meetings and composing and disseminating a synopsis of these shortly after each meeting.

2.  The Secretary is responsible for communication with the OPE regarding advertisement of events to postdocs via email as well as making certain that events are advertised in the UAB Reporter or other venues appropriate for communication with postdocs.

3.  The secretary should acknowledge and respond to all email communication in a timely manner, including communication of any known absence of availability (e.g. vacation, attendance at meetings) to the EB in advance.

4.  The Secretary should recruit volunteers for committees and service on the EB.

Necessary skills/tools:

o  Because the Secretary is the main point of communication in the EB, he/she should exhibit strong organizational and writing skills and be able to manage inflow and outflow of information effectively.

Members of the Executive Board

The members of the EB are made up of emeriti members, standalone members, the chairs of all the committees, and the officers. The emeriti members are made up of individuals who previously served on the EB, but transitioned out of the postdoctoral category, and maintains an interest in seeing the PDA evolve. The standalone members are made up of postdocs who are involved in one of the committees, but are not a chair of the committee.

All EB members should embrace the following role and responsibilities on top of any other duties needed in the PDA.  

Role and responsibilities:

1.     EB members must represent the views of postdocs at UAB and SRI.

2.     All members of the executive board should be on at least one committee. As members of any committee, each EB member should contribute recognizable effort to the activities of any committee on which he/she is a member. The following are list of standing committees.

a)    Postdoctoral Research Day

b)    PDA Newsletter

c)     Social/Involvement

d)    Balance in Science

3.  As chair of a standing committtee, the EB member must clearly define and direct the activities of the members of his/her standing committee and communicate effectively with the EB to facilitate completion of the committee's yearly goals.

4.  EB members should acknowledge and respond to all email communication in a timely manner, including communication of any known absence of availability (e.g. vacation, attendance at meetings) to the EB in advance.

5.  Help plan and carry out the annual Town Hall Meeting, where UAB and SRI postdoctoral scholars can gain insight into issues affecting their status and progress at UAB.

6.  Help develop and plan a comprehensive and evolving series of seminars and workshops to address various concepts of fundamental, scientific, administrative and career preparation.

7.  The EB members should recruit volunteers for committees and service on the EB.

8.  When an EB member attends a conference outside of UAB, they are required to obtain recruitment materials from the OPE office. These materials should be displayed at some point during the conference to advance UAB’s mission to recruit more postdocs. Please notify the OPE office in advance so that they will have enough material available.

Necessary skills/tools:

o  Enthusiasm for issues associated with the goals of the PDA is essential.

o  Board Members should demonstrate an ability to work well in teams and communicate ideas, in both written and verbal form.

o  Board Members should have an ability to convey the importance and fun of being on the EB of the UABPDA to prospective volunteers. Ideally, a Board Member who leaves the EB should identify a potential replacement before or at the time he/she resigns.

o  Chairing a committee is an excellent vehicle for development of leadership and networking skills and Board Members should exhibit enthusiasm for taking on these challenges.



Standing Committees: Descriptions and Positions

Each committee requires a minimum of one chair person to oversee the committee. The committees are made up of individuals from the executive board as well as UAB postdocs that want to become more involved.

All committees need to perform surveys on a regular basis to ensure that we are meeting the needs of the postdoctoral community.

PDA Newsletter

Goals: To continue to increase awareness about the PDA’s activities at UAB, the benefits available to all postdocs at UAB, and highlight important issues faced by the postdoctoral community. Additionally, this is an avenue for postdocs to become more involved.

Activities: Creates, writes, and distributes newsletter to increase number of persons reading/utilizing newsletter.

Required Positions

UABPDA Newsletter Editors

As this is a very involved entity, this will require the need for two individuals to be co-editors.

Role and responsibilities:

1.     The PDA Newsletter Editor is responsible for developing and maintaining a quarterly newsletter discussing issues that postdocs at UAB and SRI face, as well as solutions developed by the PDA towards the issues.

2.     The Editor is in charge of developing the format for the Newsletter.

3.     The Editor should recruit volunteers to write brief pieces for the newsletter.

4.     The Editor should recruit volunteers for committees and service on the EB.

Balance in Science

Goals: To stimulate discussion of how postdoctoral scholars can balance their work with family and personal responsibilities.

Activities: Plans mentoring luncheon where postdoctoral scholars can discuss their concerns about balancing their work and other aspects of life with a faculty member in a small group setting. Also plans seminars regarding aspects of time management, such as "Seven habits of highly effective scientists" and the WorkLife workshop, "How do I manage?", that addresses personality differences in the workplace.

Required Positions

Committee Chairs

This committee will include two co-chairs to oversee all activities.

Role and responsibilities:

1.     The Chair organizes and runs the committee, ensuring that they meet the goals of the committee.

2.     The Chair is the liaison between the committee and the executive board, so that the executive board is aware of the needs of the postdoctoral community as a whole.




Goals: To encourage involvement of the UABPDA members in activities of the Association and in interaction with each other.

Activities: Plans monthly networking meetings and special events throughout the year to facilitate the interaction of postdoctoral scholars at UAB and SRI across disciplines and departments. This includes the yearly Postdoc Appreciation Events in September. Additionally, they are responsible for maintaining our media relations, including Facebook and LinkedIn.

Required Positions

Chair of the Committee

Role and responsibilities:

1.     The Chair organizes and runs the committee, ensuring that they meet the goals of the committee.

2.     The Chair is the liaison between the committee and the executive board, so that the executive board is aware of the needs of the postdoctoral community as a whole.

Postdoctoral Research Day

Goals: To plan and carry out the annual Postdoctoral Research Day, where UAB and SRI postdoctoral scholars can present research results and compete for monetary prizes.

Activities: Plans the Postdoctoral Research Day, including obtaining funding for catering and awards.

Required Positions

Committee Chairs

As this is a very involved entity, this will require the need for two individuals to be co-chairs.

Role and responsibilities:

1.     The Co-Chairs organizes and runs the committee, ensuring that they meet the goals of the committee.

2.     The Co-Chairs are the liaisons between the committee and the executive board, so that the executive board is aware of the needs of the postdoctoral community as a whole.

3.     The Co-Chairs are responsible for the fundraising necessary for this event in order to award cash prizes.

4.     The Co-Chairs are involved in ensuring that the event has enough judges and that they come from a variety of backgrounds.

5.     The Co-Chairs are responsible for determining the rules and guidelines for the event.

6.     The Co-Chairs are involved in the placement of postdocs in the appropriate sections of Postdoctoral Research Day.


May 4, 2004

Amended June 16, 2012



1.1   Name

The name of the organization shall be the University of Alabama at Birmingham Postdoctoral Association, hereinafter referred to as the "UABPDA" or the "Association".

1.2 Purpose

The purpose of the UABPDA is to establish a self-sustaining organization to provide a voice for postdoctoral fellows and scholars (hereafter referred to as postdocs) and advocate for their interests.

1.3 Activities

The UABPDA shall work to provide a voice for the interests of postdocs. The UABPDA will: (1) gather information and build consensus regarding "best-practice" policies for postdocs, (2) work with the Office of Postdoctoral Education (OPE) to develop educational initiatives for the dissemination of these policies to postdocs and the University administration and encourage their implementation into institutional policy, and (3) enter into meaningful and constructive dialogue with the OPE, the Council of Postdoctoral Education, University administration, professional organizations and other relevant organizations to advocate for improvements in policies affecting postdoctoral scholars.

The UABPDA is not, and shall not become, a union. The UABPDA does not represent, or seek to represent, any class of individuals for the purpose of collective bargaining with any organization or organizations. The UABPDA shall not use, or cause to be used on its behalf, lobbying activities. The UABPDA shall seek to use a collaborative, educational and non-adversarial approach to its relationships with all relevant parties for the pursuit of the aims of the Association.



2.1 Eligibility

All postdocs at the University of Alabama at Birmingham or Southern Research Institute (SRI) are automatically members of the UABPDA.

2.2 Rights and Obligations

All members shall have the right to petition the Executive Board (EB, section 4.1) with respect to any matter of relevance to the purpose of the UABPDA, nominate or be nominated for positions on the EB, propose policy initiatives to the EB, serve on committees of the UABPDA as established in the By-Laws, vote for members of the EB, vote on amendments to the Constitution, and attend the Annual Meeting. Members shall be obligated to observe the By-Laws of the UABPDA.

2.3 Non-Discrimination

The UABPDA shall not discriminate against any individual or organization on the basis of age, socio-economic status, disability, ethnic or national origin, gender, marital status, political orientation, race, religion or sexual orientation.



3.1 Annual Meeting

The UABPDA shall hold an annual national meeting open to all members of the UABPDA, prospective members, and interested parties, to further the purpose of the Association, provide a forum for open discussion of issues relevant to postdoctoral scholars, debate the policies and vision of the Association, and carry out the necessary democratic processes of the Association. The annual meeting location and details shall be decided by the Executive Board.

3.2 Notification of Annual Meeting

Printed and electronic notification of the Annual Meeting of the UABPDA, including the date, time and place shall be widely disseminated.


May 4, 2004

Amended June 16, 2012



1.1 Membership

Membership of the UAB Postdoctoral Association (the "UABPDA" or the "Association") shall consist of all postdoctoral fellows and scholars (hereinafter referred to as postdocs) at the University of Alabama at Birmingham or Southern Research Institute (SRI).

1.2 Voting Privileges

The voting privileges of the Association (the "voting members") shall apply to all members of the Association. Each individual or institutional member shall be entitled to one vote.

1.3 UABPDA Definition of a Postdoc

For the purposes of the UABPDA the term postdoc shall be defined as follows: an individual holding a doctoral degree or equivalent (e.g. PhD, MD, DVM), appointed to pursue research and scholarship under the direction of a mentor. The postdoctoral appointment is not a permanent position, and is undertaken for the purpose of further developing professional skills that will benefit the postdoctoral fellow in pursuing the career path of his/her choice. In addition to research activities, postdocs may provide instruction to undergraduate, graduate and medical students, and write or assist in the writing of grants or fellowships, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and other scholarly works.



2.1 Removal

Members who violate any provision of these By-Laws or act in an injurious manner towards the Association may be removed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the Executive Board present at a meeting in consideration of the matter.



3.1 Annual Meeting

The UABPDA shall hold an Annual Meeting open to all members of the UABPDA, prospective members, and interested parties, to further the purpose of the Association, provide a forum for open discussion of issues relevant postdoctoral scientists, debate the policies and vision of the Association, and carry out the necessary democratic processes of the Association in compliance with the UABPDA Constitution.



4.1 Executive Board

The UABPDA shall be governed by an Executive Board ("EB") of up to 15 persons. Each member of the EB must be a member of the UABPDA at the time of his/her election and may serve for a maximum of two consecutive two-year terms (four years) unless a petition for an extension of one year is allowed by a majority vote of the EB. One of the maximal 15 EB positions will be available for a postdoctoral representative from SRI. SRI will be responsible for determining that individual and informing the UABPDA EB. If an SRI postdoc is not elected, appointed, available or notification from SRI that a postdoctoral representative exists to occupy that one EB position, by default that one position may be filled by any of the remaining UABPDA members Each member of the EB shall be entitled to one vote on each matter of substance submitted to a vote of the EB. Vacant positions on the EB arising between elections shall be filled by a majority vote of the EB within 60 days of the vacancy and the appointed individual shall serve the remainder of the unexpired term. The Chair, Vice-Chair, and Secretary, shall be elected from the EB for one-year terms by majority vote of the EB.

4.2 Duties and Obligations of the Executive Board

The Executive Board shall act in the best interests of postdoctoral scientists at UAB. The EB shall ensure that the UABPDA is an information and consensus driven organization that provides a constructive means for postdoctoral scientists to advocate for effective change. Specifically, the EB shall:

·    endeavor to establish the UABPDA as an organization that provides a voice for the interests of postdoctoral scientists

·    gather information and build consensus regarding "best-practice" policies for postdocs, develop educational initiatives to disseminate these policies to postdocs and the university administration, and encourage and facilitate their implementation into institutional policy

·    conduct or assist in surveying postdoctoral scientists and policies and tracking progress over time

·    host and distribute information and resources of interest to postdoctoral scientists

·    adopt resolutions and statements on matters affecting the Association

·    propose amendments to the Constitution and amend the By-Laws

·    establish standing committees and appoint standing committee chairs

·    initiate, supervise, and terminate subcommittees

·    appoint administrative officers

·    determine the time and place of the annual meetings, have general responsibility for the programs and arrangements for the annual meeting

·    authorize public statements on behalf of the Association

·    arrange to meet as a group at least four times per year

·    take whatever precautions necessary to ensure that the By-Laws and Constitution of the UABPDA are upheld

4.3 Executive Board Chair

The Executive Board Chair (the "Chair") shall be appointed from the EB by a majority vote of the EB. EB members are eligible to be Chair after serving 6 months on the EB. The Chair shall serve a term of one year. The Chair shall convene, preside over and set agendas for meetings of the EB and the UABPDA. The Chair shall act as the representative of the UABPDA to the university administration and Council of Postdoctoral Education, delegate such duties to other EB members as may be required, and ensure that the UABPDA is performing within its Constitution and Bylaws and making progress towards its aims. The EB Chair shall be a member or an ex-officio member of all UABPDA sub-committees.

4.4 Vice-Chair

The Vice-Chair shall assume the responsibilities of the EB Chair when the Chair is unable to perform those functions. If the Chair is unable to function in that role for more than four months for reasons foreseen, or unforeseen, the Vice-Chair shall become the Executive Board Chair. EB members are eligible to be Vice-Chair after serving 6 months on the EB. The Vice-Chair shall be responsible for taking on projects from the Chair when, or if, the Chair is too encumbered to carry them out at the discretion of the Chair. The term of the Vice Chair is one year.

4.5 Secretary

The Secretary shall maintain a current record of all members of the EB, Standing Committees and ad hoc subcommittees, maintain a permanent record of EB, Standing Committees, and ad hoc subcommittees proceedings, and arrange for and approve drafts of official UABPDA correspondence.

4.6 Committee Chairs

Each Standing Committee (Article V) shall have a committee chair who shall be responsible for managing the efforts of the committee, advising the EB of issues of concern to the committee or issues that require the attention of the full EB, providing updates to the UABPDA on committee activities, and providing an annual report on the activities of the committee. Chairs of committees are appointed by the EB, and will be members of the EB.

4.7 Admittance and Elections

Admittance to the EB will be on a rolling admission basis, since all postdocs do not start UAB at the same time. The only time admittance may be denied is if the EB contains is at the maximum number of individuals required to govern the Association. However, if in this situation positions are taken on the EB by emeriti members, then the emeriti members should give their slot to the interested postdoc.

Elections shall be held as needed. This will occur either when the one year term is finished for that position or due to changes in the elected official’s situation. A positions should not be left vacant for greater than sixty days.

Slates for candidates for EB positions shall be published to the members at least 30 days in advance of issuance of ballots. Nominations should be submitted to the EB, and must include the following:

1.  A curriculum vitae of the candidate

2.  A biographical statement from the candidate describing their interest in serving on the EB and their relevant experience. This statement will be provided to the electorate with the slate of candidates.

4.8 Leave of Absence

Any member of the EB may request a leave of absence from the Chair, or the Vice-Chair if the Chair is the requesting party. A leave of absence may be no longer than three months, except under extenuating circumstances as determined by the Chair or the Vice-Chair if the Chair is the requesting party. In no circumstance may the leave of absence extend beyond the term of office of the EB member. The Chair, or Vice-Chair if the Chair is the requesting party, upon granting the leave of absence, shall appoint a member of the EB to serve in the vacant position on an interim basis.

4.9 Removal

Any member of the EB may be removed from office for malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance by a two thirds majority vote of the EB and subject to the following grievance procedure: any person wishing to file a grievance must submit a letter to the Chair of the EB, or the Vice-Chair if the Chair is named in the grievance, outlining the grievance. The Chair, or Vice-Chair if the Chair is named in the grievance letter, shall convene an Adjudication Committee consisting of the EB members not named in the grievance letter. Within 15 days of the receipt of the grievance, this committee shall be provided with the grievance letter, shall contact the parties involved in the dispute and give both sides the opportunity to satisfactorily express their positions in the grievance, shall then discuss the issue and vote on the validity of the removal. A majority vote of the Adjudication Committee shall be required for the removal to take place.

Members who do not attend the EB meeting for three consecutive months without notification to the Chair as to the reason for the absence are eligible for removal.

4.12 Resignation

The resignation of an EB member shall be effective when a written letter of resignation is received by the Chair of the EB, or in the event of a leave of absence exceeding three months in duration without approval of the Chair, or Vice-Chair if the Chair is the involved party.

4.13 Parliamentary Procedure

Robert's Rules of Order, except when inconsistent with the Constitution and By-Laws of the Association, shall govern the meetings of the EB, subcommittees, and annual UABPDA meeting.



5.1 General Regulations

Committees may be established, charged and, when appropriate, terminated by a majority vote of the EB.

Each committee shall promote the work of the Association, under general direction and oversight by the EB. Meetings of the committees may not incur financial obligation by the Association without prior approval of the EB. The EB shall determine the maximum size of each committee. The EB shall annually review the activities of the committees and, where appropriate, shall provide for rotation of committee membership.

5.2 Standing Committees

Standing Committees necessary to the achievement of the goals of the UABPDA shall be formed by the EB. A committee chair shall be named by the EB, and this chair is responsible for the activities of the committee and for reporting the activities to the EB. Standing Committees are formed as permanent committees, but can be dissolved or reorganized following a majority vote of the EB.

5.3 Ad-hoc Subcommittees

Ad-hoc Subcommittees shall be established within Standing Committees as and when necessary by a majority vote of the EB. In its charge to a committee, the EB shall make explicit the term of the subcommittee's effective life. The EB may subsequently extend that term if, in its judgment, such extension is desirable. Any two members of the UABPDA prepared to work on a Subcommittee may suggest the creation of a Subcommittee and a remit for that Subcommittee.



The Association shall not be responsible for statements or opinions advanced by any of its officers or presented in papers, discussions at meetings of the Association or printed in its publications, except for those authorized by the EB.



7.1 Amendments

Amendments may be made to these By-Laws by a two-thirds majority vote of the EB or the voting members of the UABPDA. Amendments to the By-Laws will become in full effect the next day following the conclusion of the vote. Any By-Law amended by a vote of the EB must be approved by a majority vote of the members of the UABPDA at the next Annual Meeting of the UABPDA. If the amendment is then not accepted by the vote of the members of the UABPDA it shall be repealed.

7.2 Proposal of amendments

Amendments to the By-Laws may be proposed by any member of the EB or by petition signed by at least 10% of the members of the Association. Proposed amendments shall be submitted in writing, or electronically, the Chair of the EB by any voting member of the UABPDA. A vote by the EB on acceptance of the amendments must occur within sixty (60) days of their acceptance by the Chair of the EB.

7.3 Notification

Proposed amendments must be sent in writing, or electronically, to all members at least thirty (30) days prior to voting.

7.4 Annual Review

The EB shall conduct an annual review of the By-Laws of the UABPDA so as to evaluate and update them if necessary to ensure that they stay current, adapt with the times and remain effective.



8.1 Ratification

The By-Laws of the UABPDA shall take effect immediately pursuant to ratification by a majority vote of the attendees of the inaugural UABPDA meeting.

Postdocs in UAB News

  • New role for immature brain neurons in the dentate gyrus identified

    Researchers have proposed a model that resolves a seeming paradox in one of the most intriguing areas of the brain, exploring how immature granule cells in the dentate gyrus appear able to enhance pattern separation due to lesser synaptic connectivity than mature cells.

    University of Alabama at Birmingham researchers have proposed a model that resolves a seeming paradox in one of the most intriguing areas of the brain — the dentate gyrus.

    This region helps form memories such as where you parked your car, and it also is one of only two areas of the brain that continuously produces new nerve cells throughout life.

    “So the big question,” said Linda Overstreet-Wadiche, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAB Department of Neurobiology, “is why does this happen in this brain region? Entirely new neurons are being made. What is their role?”

    In a paper published in Nature Communications on April 20, Overstreet-Wadiche and colleagues at UAB; the University of Perugia, Italy; Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Duke University School of Medicine; present data and a simple statistical network model that describe an unanticipated property of newly formed, immature neurons in the dentate gyrus.

    These immature granule cell neurons are thought to increase pattern discrimination, even though they are a small proportion of the granule cells in the dentate gyrus. But it is not clear how they contribute.

    This work is one small step — along with other steps taken in a multitude of labs worldwide — towards cracking the neural code, one of the great biological challenges in research. As Eric Kandel and co-authors write in Principles of Neural Science, “The ultimate goal of neural science is to understand how the flow of electrical signals through neural circuits gives rise to the mind — to how we perceive, act, think, learn and remember.”

    Newly formed granule cells can take six-to-eight weeks to mature in adult mice. Researchers wondered if the immature cells had properties that made them different. More than 10 years ago, researchers found one difference — the cells showed high excitability, meaning that even small electrical pulses made the immature cells fire their own electrical spikes. Thus they were seen as “highly excitable young neurons,” as described by Alejandro Schinder and others in the field.

    But this created a paradox. Under the neural coding hypothesis, high excitability should degrade the ability of the dentate gyrus — an important processing center in the brain — to perceive the small differences in input patterns that are crucial in memory, to know your spatial location or the location of your car.

    “The dentate gyrus is very sensitive to pattern differences,” Overstreet-Wadiche said. “It takes an input and accentuates the differences. This is called pattern separation.”

    The dentate gyrus receives input from the entorhinal cortex, a part of the brain that processes sensory and spatial input from other regions of the brain. The dentate gyrus then sends output to the hippocampus, which helps form short- and long-term memories and helps you navigate your environment.

    In their mouse brain slice experiments, Overstreet-Wadiche and colleagues did not directly stimulate the immature granule cells. They instead stimulated neurons of the entorhinal cortex.

    “We tried to mimic a more physiological situation by stimulating the upstream neurons far away from the granule cells,” she said.

    Use of this weaker and more diffuse stimulation revealed a new, previously underappreciated role for the immature dentate gyrus granule cells. Since these cells have fewer synaptic connections with the entorhinal cortex cells, as compared with mature granule cells, this lower connectivity meant that a lower signaling drive reached the immature granule cells when stimulation was applied at the entorhinal cortex.

    The experiments by Overstreet-Wadiche and colleagues show that this low excitatory drive make the immature granule cells less — not more — likely to fire than mature granule cells. Less firing is known in computational neuroscience as sparse coding, which allows finer discrimination among many different patterns.

    “This is potentially a way that immature granule cells can enhance pattern separation,” Overstreet-Wadiche said. “Because the immature cells have fewer synapses, they can be more selective.”

    “It’s almost like they are a different neuron for a little while that is more excitable but also potentially more selective.”

    Seven years ago, paper coauthor James Aimone, Ph.D., of Sandia National Laboratories, had developed a realistic network model for the immature granule cells, a model that incorporated their high intrinsic excitability. When he ran that model, the immature cells degraded, rather than improved, overall dentate gyrus pattern separation. For the current Overstreet-Wadiche paper, Aimone revised a simpler model incorporating the new findings of his colleagues. This time, the statistical network model showed a more complex result — immature granule cells with high excitability and low connectivity were able to broaden the range of input levels from the entorhinal cortex that could still create well-separated output representations.

    In other words, the balance between low synaptic connectivity and high intrinsic excitability could enhance the capabilities of the network even with very few immature cells.

    “The main idea is that as the cells develop, they have a different function,” Overstreet-Wadiche said. “It’s almost like they are a different neuron for a little while that is more excitable but also potentially more selective.”

    The proposed role of the immature granule cells by Overstreet-Wadiche and colleagues meshes with prior experiments by other researchers who found that precise removal of immature granule cells of a rodent, using genetic manipulations, creates difficulty in distinguishing small differences in contexts of sensory cues. Thus, removal of this small number of cells degrades pattern separation.

    The first author of the paper, “Low excitatory innervation balances high intrinsic excitability of immature dentate neurons,” Cristina Dieni, Ph.D., was a postdoctoral fellow at UAB and now has an independent position at University of Perugia, Italy. Coauthors include Jacques I. Wadiche, UAB Department of Neurobiology and Evelyn McKnight Brain Institute; Roberto Panichi, University of Perugia, Italy; James B. Aimone, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Chay T. Kuo, Duke University School of Medicine. Corresponding author is Overstreet-Wadiche.

    This work was supported by NIH grants NS064025, NS065920, NS047466, MH105416 and NS078192, and by the Laboratory Directed Research and Development program, Sandia National Laboratories. Sandia National Laboratories is a multi-program laboratory managed and operated by Sandia Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corporation, for the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration under contract DE-AC04-94AL85000.

  • Palliative care makes every moment count
    Palliative care helps patients get the most out of life, whether they’re newly diagnosed, a survivor, or nearing the end of their journey. UAB’s palliative care pioneers provide a fresh look at the fast-growing specialty and its emphasis on listening, choices, patient goals, and quality of life.
    Illustrations by Ernie Eldredge

    What do you want out of life?

    For someone facing a serious, chronic illness, the answers to that question take on a sharp focus. A patient with heart disease might want enough energy to walk around the neighborhood. A cancer survivor may want to feel like herself again after rounds of chemotherapy. Others might have a goal of seeing their children get married—or perhaps to get married themselves.

    Helping patients get the most out of life is the aim of palliative care—which could surprise some people who associate the specialty with hospice, or care delivered in the final days and hours. Palliative care services do indeed benefit people nearing the end of their journey, but the field has become much broader over time. Many patients with a life-threatening disease now start receiving palliative care early—sometimes soon after diagnosis—to support them throughout their fight. In fact, palliative care now ranks among the fastest growing medical specialties—67 percent of U.S. hospitals with 50 or more beds offer it, according to a 2015 report from the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC)—in part because patients, families, and physicians like its emphasis on personalized treatment goals and quality of life.

    Care + comfort

    Perhaps the best way to understand the value of palliative care is to recall a time—not long ago—when such care was scarce. Marie Bakitas, D.N.Sc., remembers it well. Earlier in her career, before becoming the Marie L. O’Koren Endowed Chair and professor in the UAB School of Nursing and associate director of the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care (CPSC), Bakitas wondered about the “invisible” patients—the ones who weren’t responding to pioneering cancer treatments. They didn’t have a lot of resources or support, she noted.Marie Bakitas and Rodney Tucker lead the UAB center providing an extra layer of support for patients dealing with serious illnesses.

    Likewise, J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom, Ph.D., a School of Nursing postdoctoral fellow who worked as an intensive-care unit nurse for 10 years, saw patients and families navigating a traumatic “alien environment” of life-sustaining machines and uncomfortable procedures. “They often were dumbstruck,” he explains. “It was not how they imagined the end of their lives.”

    The “extra layer of support” that palliative care provides can make all the difference, both physically and emotionally, Bakitas says. Teams of specialists focus on the patient’s comfort, managing symptoms such as pain, breathing issues, nausea, vomiting, and sleeping problems, to name a few examples, along with depression, anxiety, and spiritual issues. They also help patients and families make health-care decisions and plan for the future.

    What these teams don’t do is replace a patient’s primary- or specialty-care physicians. Many patients concurrently receive treatments geared toward cure or remission, and the palliative care team works in tandem with their doctors. That’s the case with many cancer patients, says Rodney Tucker, M.D., director of the UAB CPSC. The same goes for “a heart-failure patient struggling earlier in the disease process, or a patient and family early in the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease who need a discussion about advance care planning and what to anticipate,” he adds. “Any patient with an illness that is life-threatening or life-limiting — one that causes severe decreases in quality of life — could benefit from palliative care.” Age, disease, and stage of disease progression do not matter.

    “We’ve shown that people who engage in palliative care early and concurrently have improved survival rates,” Tucker says. “That’s the opposite of what many people think — that if I’m acknowledging my serious illness, then I’m giving up hope. When people are aware of all their choices, then they often select options that improve the quality of their lives when the quantity of their lives is limited.”

    Symptoms, choices and goals

    Here’s an example of one of those choices: Let’s say you’re a cancer patient with a normal life expectancy, but you’re dealing with the side effects from treatment. Is the best solution a medication with its own powerful side effects such as confusion or drowsiness? Or do you pursue other forms of symptom management with less impact on your day-to-day life?

    Specialist teams led by Ashley Nichols, left, and Elizabeth Kvale design palliative care plans to meet patient and family goals.

    Elizabeth Kvale, M.D., might advise you to choose the latter. She directs the UAB Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic, located at The Kirklin Clinic of UAB Hospital. UAB was among the first palliative care programs to establish an outpatient clinic, around 2000, and it’s where Kvale and her team help patients who are living with cancer, advanced heart disease, lung disease, or other serious conditions. Some of those patients still receive medical treatment for their chronic diseases, while others have completed it. Kvale and her colleagues help all of them manage symptoms. She compares the clinic to “a good corner man in a boxing match, who can keep patients patched up enough to stay in the fight if they want to do that.”

    A few blocks away, another team, led by Ashley Nichols, M.D., staffs UAB Hospital’s 12-bed Palliative and Comfort Care Unit. Each room resembles a hotel suite, with comfortable leather couches, warm lighting, and wood accents—and the comparison is appropriate, Nichols says, because it is a “transitional unit.” Here, critically ill patients and their families have an option beyond the ICU while they are in the hospital, and for many of them, the next stop is their own home. “That’s where so many patients want to be,” says Nichols, a School of Medicine assistant professor. “So we work to control their symptoms, and we work with families and community hospice partners to develop a care plan to get them back home.”

    Beyond the unit, Nichols and her group visit patients with every kind of disease throughout UAB Hospital, provide care at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Children’s of Alabama, and coordinate continued care with community hospice partners; they even do a few home visits. Typically, the team works with physicians on late-stage care, “but we’re also consulted more upstream—earlier in the disease process—when teams recognize an uncontrolled symptom burden, such as shortness of breath from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pain from a newly diagnosed cancer, or depression and anxiety associated with any chronic illness,” Nichols says. “If a symptom bothers patients, then it bothers us. We can partner with them and their physicians early and help manage symptoms throughout the course of the disease, as well as talk about goals for the patient’s care.”

    Those goals are the key to quality palliative care, no matter the setting. What do patients want to accomplish—today, tomorrow, and in the rest of their lives? What kind of care will help them achieve their aims? Helping patients weigh the benefits of medical interventions against the potential costs to their quality of life, not to mention their pocketbook, is “the crux of what we do,” says Kvale, an associate professor in the School of Medicine. “Our objective is to align our care plan with patient and family goals. We also want to provide a space where it is OK for them to begin exploring other options, such as not seeking further invasive treatments.”

    Strength in numbers

    A hospital is not the easiest place to perform a full-immersion baptism, but UAB Pastoral Care chaplains have made it happen, thanks to an arrangement with UAB’s therapy pool. They also have officiated marriages for patients, complete with music and wedding cake; nurses helped one bride with a dress and makeup.

    Mostly, though, they simply talk with patients about their sources of strength and the big questions that arise in tough times, sometimes without bringing up religion at all.

    The chaplains are part of the interdisciplinary teams that staff the Palliative and Comfort  Care Unit and the Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic. Both groups bring together a variety of specialists who can help patients relax physically and cope mentally: physicians, nurses, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, physical therapists, music therapists, and even massage and pet therapists, in addition to spiritual care. In meetings, each professional provides a different perspective on what each patient needs; the result is a comprehensive, holistic, seamless care plan, Nichols says.

    Teams also support families and caregivers. “Most of our patients live in the community and try to manage their illnesses with the help of a caregiver, so if we aren’t helping them engage with what’s going on with the patient, then the system is likely to fail,” Kvale says. “It’s a place where palliative care can have a big impact.”

    A way forward

    Listening may be the teams’ most powerful tool. When patients and families share their stories, they reveal much about their symptoms and quality of life—but also their joys, fears, loves, regrets, relationships, and unfinished business.

    Diane Tucker, left, and Kay Knowlton encourage patients and families to talk about grief, fear and the future.

    “We listen with no agenda; we’re not trying to diagnose anything or resolve relationship issues,” says counselor Kay Knowlton, Ph.D. The overriding emotion is grief, she adds—grief over the end of life, or grief over life changes caused by illness. For example, a patient in the Supportive Care and Survivorship Clinic whose cancer is in remission might not look sick, but chemotherapy and radiation may have affected her sight, hearing, cognitive function, and ability to return to work.

    “She’s coping with losses as well,” says Diane Tucker, Ph.D., a UAB psychology professor who also counsels palliative care patients. “She can’t go back to where she was before treatment.”

    Diane Tucker and Knowlton help patients and families adjust to their new normal by talking with them about the future—how to move forward and accomplish what they consider important—without discounting the sadness, worry, or anger they might be experiencing. Tucker notes that suffering and pain are partly psychological. Helping patients handle their tension and fear can bring some relief.

    Often, the psychologists help patients leave a legacy for their loved ones. Patients might write letters to their children or grandchildren, to be read when they are graduating from high school, getting married, or marking other milestones. Patients and families also can use the hospital unit’s art station to create a treasured memento.

    Knowlton recalls helping one nine-year-old girl make handprints with her ill grandmother. The big and small handprints touched at the thumbs. “It didn’t mean that the girl wasn’t going to cry anymore, but it was a connection she needed because her grandma was leaving,” Knowlton says.

    Likewise, the marriage ceremonies that the chaplains have performed create legacies for family members. Sometimes it means that the survivors can receive benefits. But these special moments also become pieces of family history that they can cherish for the rest of their lives.

    Long-distance learning

    Although palliative care has made great strides in recent years, millions more patients stand to benefit from it—if they can access it. The specialty is scarce or nonexistent in smaller hospitals, rural areas, and minority and underserved communities, says Bakitas. Alabama traditionally has ranked among the states with the lowest access, with less than one third of hospitals offering palliative care, according to the 2015 CAPC report. And there are a host of reasons why: lack of palliative care knowledge among health providers, socioeconomic factors, geographic distance, and transportation issues, among others.

    Bakitas, along with Dionne-Odom, is bridging those gaps via telehealth—teaching palliative care principles to patients over the phone. Health coaches “show patients how to build upon the strengths of their personal, family, and community resources,” Bakitas says. They also talk about problem-solving and decision-making, self-care, early symptom management, communicating health concerns to clinicians, and emotional and spiritual topics. “We help people think about their illness in context,” she explains. “The illness is not who they are; it’s only a piece of their lives.”

    Dionne-Odom develops telehealth programs for family caregivers as well as patients newly diagnosed with advanced illness. Caregivers often experience levels of stress and anxiety equal to—and sometimes greater than—those of patients, he notes. Talking with a health coach offers an outlet to express what they’re experiencing and to learn skills and coping abilities.

    In fact, a recent study led by Dionne-Odom was the first to show that early palliative care benefits caregivers as well as patients. For caregivers of patients with advanced cancer living in rural areas, depression scores improved when those caregivers received palliative care via telehealth within a month after diagnosis, as opposed to those whose patients received care four months later. For patients in the study, one-year survival improved by 15 percent.

    Now, with support from the National Palliative Care Research Center, Dionne-Odom is laying the groundwork for a new intervention to coach family caregivers at diagnosis, through the course of disease, and into bereavement. He hopes to implement the initiative in rural areas of Alabama and the Deep South.

    Bakitas also is expanding her investigations with a $3.5-million National Institute of Nursing Research grant to study whether early palliative care, delivered by phone, can improve quality of life, mood, and symptom burden for advanced heart-failure patients and their caregivers. The American Cancer Society also awarded her a grant to study the impact of a phone-based intervention for veterans, minorities, and rural patients with advanced cancer.

    Jessica Merlin and J. Nicholas Dionne-Odom are adapting palliative care for rural areas and diseases such as HIV.

    What patients want

    UAB researchers also are expanding palliative care’s boundaries by adapting it for other serious diseases. Few specialists had studied the intricacies of chronic pain in patients with HIV before Jessica Merlin, M.D., M.B.A., began her work. “It’s not clear why there’s a lot of chronic pain with HIV,” says Merlin, assistant professor and director of the HIV Pain/Palliative Care Clinic at UAB’s 1917 Clinic. “Does something with HIV predispose patients to pain?” To complicate matters, some patients might experience chronic pain not caused by HIV, such as migraines or arthritis, and current medications aren’t entirely effective and may carry risks, she adds.

    Now Merlin is developing an intervention—supported by a National Institutes of Health grant—that relies on behavioral therapy instead. “It’s unlikely that a pill can take away chronic pain, so we need to help patients put their pain in the background and themselves in the foreground,” Merlin explains. She envisions a program in which patients learn pain self-management skills from a trained provider.

    “This is practical,” Merlin says. Medical research suggests that “when patients come to physicians and other providers, their highest priorities are treating pain and other symptoms.”

    Lessons at the bedside

    To ensure that health professionals understand quality-of-life issues, the UAB CPSC has a robust educational program. UAB students and residents in medicine, nursing, clinical psychology, and social work rotate through or intern in the clinic and hospital unit. For many, “this may be the first encounter with a patient who’s dying,” Nichols says. And that leads to important early lessons about discussing difficult end-of-life decisions with patients, handling anger and sadness from families, and responding personally to the loss of a patient. It also influences how future professionals look at life and death, Nichols adds. “Death is not a failure, but an opportunity to support patients and families.”

    Physicians, nurses, and others seeking advanced training can join UAB’s specialized fellowship program or its clinical training academy, which has attracted professionals from as far away as Australia to observe UAB palliative experts at work. In addition, “we have trained 85 health-care institutions across the country and one in Korea about building business plans around palliative care,” Rodney Tucker says.

    "We've shown that people who engage in palliative care early and concurrently have improved survival rates"

    Reaching further

    Palliative care will continue to grow and become more common throughout health care, say UAB’s experts. The field’s focus on patients and their goals offers a template for personalized medicine. And demand for it will rise as health care shifts toward “managing disease crises at home quickly and efficiently so that patients don’t need to come to the hospital,” Nichols says.

    “We must learn better ways to partner with care organizations closer to the patient—including those that may not be considered palliative care, such as home-care organizations and skilled nursing facilities,” Rodney Tucker says. This year, the CPSC will establish the Southeast Institute for Innovation in Palliative and Supportive Care, which will educate health workers in communities throughout the region and conduct research to better understand the needs of seriously ill patients and families. Some of those initiatives may build on UAB’s pioneering work in telehealth and the training of lay navigators—people in community settings who can help patients make sense of the health-care system and their options.

    While the new institute will give UAB a greater voice in the national conversation about palliative care, the specialists on UAB’s care teams feel privileged to help Alabama’s mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, and their families and friends maximize their lives when facing tough situations and choices.

    “The truth is that none of us know how much time we have left,” Knowlton notes. “So what is today about? How can we live today in the best way possible?”

    Pioneering a new kind of care

    Some of the seeds for palliative care’s rapid growth were planted in the 1990s by a team led by UAB psychiatrist John Shuster, nurse scientist Pam Fordham, and medical oncologist Amos Bailey. Their partnership brought together the UAB schools of Medicine and Nursing and Cooper Green Hospital to promote clinical care, education, and research in the emerging field. The group soon established some of the nation’s earliest fellowship programs for physicians and training tracks for nurse practitioners.

    Ten years ago, the UAB Center for Palliative and Supportive Care opened two clinical units, at UAB Hospital and the Birmingham Veterans Affairs Medical Center, within six months. At that time, when many major cities across the country barely had one inpatient palliative care facility, Birmingham had three, counting Cooper Green’s unit.

    Nationally, UAB is one of only 11 Palliative Care Leadership Centers, which train and mentor other institutions launching their own clinical programs, and was among the first nursing education programs in palliative care. UAB also is a founding member of the national Palliative Care Research Cooperative Group.

  • Moore selected for competitive American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship
    The fellowship will help further the completion of the first study, bilingual edition of a centuries old legal case.

    John K. Moore Jr., Ph.D., has been awarded a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. Moore is an associate professor of Spanish in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

    The $45,000 award is to further the completion of Moore’s bilingual edition and study of “His Majesty’s Prosecutor v. José Soller, Mulatto Pilgrim, for Impersonating a Priest and Other Crimes,” a previously unedited and unpublished legal case from late 17th-century Spain. José Soller was traveling as a pilgrim from Lisbon, Portugal, to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and had intended to continue from there to Rome, Italy, when he was apprehended in Ourense, Spain, in 1693 for impersonating a priest. This body of work will be the first study, edition and translation of the case.

    Moore is one of 70 fellows selected from more than 1,100 applicants. Fellows and grantees are selected by a committee of scholars. Moore’s project was received well by the review committee.

    “The discovery of this fascinating trial record of a mulatto who was prosecuted in Spain in 1693 for impersonating a priest while embarked on a pilgrimage from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela is a rare find,” the committee noted. “The trial record and supporting documents provide fantastic windows into the legal status and treatment of black slaves in Spain during this period and stand in contrast to that in the New World. The details of black experience and the breach of conventional social structures (encroachment on the priesthood and on the very conception of holiness and piety) are intriguing; there does not seem to be anything like this elsewhere. This work will be of broad interest.”

    The ACLS is a private, nonprofit union of 73 national scholarly organizations devoted to the advancement of humanistic studies in all fields of learning in the humanities and the social sciences and the maintenance and strengthening of relations among the national societies devoted to such studies. It is the leading private institution supporting scholars in the humanities and related social sciences at the doctoral and postdoctoral levels. The ACLS's contributing institutions include The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

More Items

UAB Research News

  • UAB driving simulator lab has national debut live on TODAY
    Cutting-edge technology and research brings national attention to UAB.
    Click the image above to play TODAY show segmentNBC’s TODAY show traveled to Birmingham to hear from UAB College of Arts and Sciences distracted driving expert Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D.

    On April 29, TODAY show correspondent Jeff Rossen reported live from UAB’s Translational Research for Injury Prevention Lab about the dangers of using social media and texting while driving.

    The TRIP Lab recently became home to the world’s first SUV simulator, made possible through donations from Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Transportation.

    With the new simulator, UAB researchers hope to facilitate solutions and best practices in motor-vehicle-related safety and crash prevention, addressing the major public health problem of highway and traffic-related injuries and death. 

  • Six brothers spend two decades at UAB, youngest to graduate Saturday
    Kevin Franks will earn his degree in mechanical engineering this weekend, becoming the sixth family member to graduate from UAB.
    Standing, from left: Jared and Ginny holding their son Colin, Alan, Eric, Brian, Leah, Kevin, Anna, Douglas; Seated: Woodrow holding grandson Graham, Margie holding grandaughter Adeline.

    Blount County parents Woodrow and Margie Franks will watch the youngest of their six sons — who have all attended the University of Alabama at Birmingham — graduate this weekend. Each of the six Franks brothers has received an undergraduate degree from the university, spanning nearly two decades of studying at the campus.

    On Saturday, April 30, Kevin Franks will be the final Franks brother to cross the stage at Bartow Arena and receive his degree.

    “I thank God that my sons were blessed with the opportunities they had while at UAB,” Margie said. “They’re an important part of our life, so we were thankful that they didn’t have to look far from home to find a world-class education.”

    “Having my last son graduate brings as much joy as having my other sons graduate. I am equally proud of each son,” Woodrow said. “There is a relief that all were given the opportunity to attend a great university, and each one obtained a degree that provides knowledge necessary to participate in their chosen career.”

    The brothers

    The first of the six brothers, Brian began his education at UAB in 1997. He first pursued and received a degree in management information systems in 2001, and then pursued a second undergraduate degree in accounting, which he received in 2004.

    While Brian was pursuing his first degree, the next brother in line, Jared, started at UAB on the same path Brian took for his second degree, in accounting. The two brothers graduated with the same degree in the same year. During his years at UAB, Jared served as a UAB Ambassador and a UAB Trailblazer and was a member of the UAB Honors’ College University Honors Program.

    Alan, the third of the six brothers, began his education at UAB while Brian and Jared were still on campus. Alan took a departure from his two older brothers’ paths in the Collat School of Business and became the first brother to study in the School of Engineering. He was a Fulbright Scholar, a member of the University Honors Program, president of Tau Beta Pi and vice president of Chi Epsilon. In 2006, he graduated with a degree in civil engineering, and minors in mathematics and film.

    “UAB set the stage for my career path, beginning with my interdisciplinary experience in the University Honors Program,” Alan said. “It shifted my mindset to approach my education in broader terms, finding ways to overlap multiple fields that interested me. The result was my focus in science communication, combining my engineering degree with my film experience.”

    As Alan was finishing up his degree, the fourth brother, Eric, arrived in Birmingham to attend UAB. Eric followed in Alan’s footsteps as the first brother to get an engineering degree, and pursued a degree in biomedical engineering, while also serving as a resident assistant and orientation leader, graduating in 2010.

    “UAB started out as just a university to me,” Eric said. “As I started getting involved in extracurricular activities, I met amazing people who I still consider family even to this day. Some of my happiest memories come from the relationships I was able to build while attending UAB.”

    During Eric’s tenure at UAB, Douglas, the next brother in line, started at UAB and, continuing the family’s interest in engineering, graduated in 2012 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering, as well as a minor in digital communication studies. Douglas was a member of the University Honors Program and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers student chapter.

    Kevin arrived as the last Franks family member to attend UAB the same year Douglas graduated. Kevin, who will graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering this weekend, was a member of the University Honors Program and UAB’s chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and also served as a resident assistant. He has decided to continue his education at UAB and pursue his master’s degree in the same field.

    Waiting for the game to start, from left, Brian holding Adeline, Leah holding Graham; Kevin in back; Douglas and AnnaWhy UAB?

    “I chose UAB because Birmingham feels like home, and I love being in the city,” Kevin said. “The relationships formed with faculty, colleagues and friends are what I’m taking away; but it’s not coming to an end. I’ll be continuing my work with engineering professor Dr. Dean Sicking, who allowed me to participate in undergraduate research in his lab analyzing football video of real-world helmet-to-helmet impacts, assisting in the creation of safer football helmets. As a graduate student, I’ll get to continue that research, getting more and more real-world experience that I couldn’t get anywhere other than UAB.”

    Many of the brothers echoed Kevin’s sentiment that the university’s location was a major factor in their decision to attend.

    “Internship opportunities and job prospects seemed much stronger at UAB given its urban setting,” Alan said. “Collaboration between UAB and area companies opened the door for me to work at a Fortune 500 company during much of my undergraduate experience.”

    “Because of its urban location, UAB offered opportunities for internships and other programs that allowed practical application of several majors and fields of study,” Jared said.

    The opportunities afforded to several of the brothers by acceptance into the University Honors Program also played a big role in their time at UAB.

    “I had a wonderful undergraduate experience at UAB because I was able to become involved in so many great organizations,” Jared said. “I especially enjoyed my time in the University Honors Program, which is an incredibly unique organization. I consider myself fortunate to have been a student of Ada Long, the founder of UHP. She’s a visionary, and I, among many others, am in her debt as the recipient of a captivating and unforgettable educational experience.”

    Graham and Adeline. Photo by Meredith Rowlen PhotographyA lasting legacy

    The family’s ties to UAB remain strong, even with the last of the six brothers graduating this weekend. Alan works as an assistant professor in UAB’s Department of Communication Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, where he teaches visual media.

    Three of the brothers are now married — to UAB graduates, and naturally, UAB is the common thread that brought these three couples together.

    Douglas’ wife, Anna, a 2011 UAB graduate, now works at UAB as a digital media specialist. Douglas and Anna, who was Ms. UAB 2008-2009, met at UAB in ethnographic filmmaking class and have been together ever since.

    “I’m very glad I attended UAB,” Douglas said. “I made a lot of lasting friendships through the University Honors Program, received a great engineering education, was able to obtain real-world engineering experience interning with Southern Company, learned about and got plugged into the community, and to top it off met the lovely lady who would later become my wife.”

    Ginny, married to Jared, attended UAB to receive her Master of Business Administration degree to vary her education experiences after receiving her undergraduate degree from Samford University. Jared and Ginny now have one son, Colin.

    Leah, married to the oldest Franks brother, Brian, is a two-time UAB graduate. Leah received her undergraduate degree in computer and information sciences and then her Master of Business Administration degree, and served as a UAB Ambassador at the same time Brian’s younger brother Jared was serving in that same organization. Brian and Leah have two young children, Graham and Adeline.

    “Brian and I went to the same high school, but never really talked until we had a class together at UAB and did a group project together,” Leah said. “We casually kept in touch after that class, but it wasn’t until after we graduated that we discovered we had a mutual UAB friend and reconnected. Years later, after we were married and I was in grad school, I met Ginny and set her and Jared up on a blind date. Blazer spirit is something special that we all share as a family.”

    Over the years, the family has enjoyed time together at UAB football and basketball games, and has found that UAB is something they all have in common and are very passionate about. This Saturday, they will once again share a UAB experience when they sit together in the stands at Bartow Arena to watch one last Franks brother receive his degree.

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