Feller uses tribal lessons to manage multiple difficult tasks

Margaret Feller is thankful for many things, but the one thing at the top of her list these days is the stimulus funds awarded by the federal government.

It’s the reason she has a job as a research assistant in the UAB Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care.

“Hopefully people will see the money is going to good use,” she says. “I know I appreciate it.”

Feller has put her stamp on the division in a little more than a year, showing drive, determination and a willingness to adapt and step in when needed — even when it meant presenting research findings at the Gerontological Society of America meeting in New Orleans. As a result, she has been named January’s Employee of the Month.

Ali Ahmed, M.D., professor of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care, hired Feller and says she immediately stood out as one of the most proactive, dependable and compassionate research assistants or colleagues he has ever had.

“She is hardworking, detail-oriented and sincere,” Ahmed says. “Regardless of how many concurrent projects we are working on, she is always able to provide a timely, thoughtful response to all the details of each one of them.”

No project showed Feller’s skill more than preparing research for presentation for numerous national meetings — including a project she presented at the Gerontological Society of America meeting.

All told, Ahmed’s team submitted more than 30 abstracts this past year and presented more than 20. Feller took over the administration of those abstracts and completed the process in a smooth fashion. “If submitting this many abstracts from a single team in one year is not a world record, it must be pretty close to it,” Ahmed says. “And she was in charge of all of them.”
“She played a key role in coordinating geriatric heart-failure research for these meetings,” says Mustafa Ahmed, M.D., resident in graduate medical education. “Even arranging for one presentation requires a huge amount of effort. I was one of those presenting research there, and I am thankful to Margaret for her invaluable help.”

Feller went a step further for one faculty member who couldn’t make the trip to present findings — she presented the work herself.

“It was a challenge,” says Feller, a 2007 master’s graduate in Public Health. “But it also gave me an opportunity to give an oral presentation at a national meeting — my first. I presented on what predicted whether or not a person with heart failure was referred for hospice care. It was a nice experience, and it went smoothly.”

Donna Bearden, M.D., assistant professor of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care, says Feller did a great job.

“Margaret was able to step in and present the findings in an admirable fashion,” Bearden says. “She also recently helped me to prepare for a national meeting, and I would not have felt as confident or ready to present our findings if she had not assisted me.”

In addition to coordinating many of the division’s research projects, Feller directs new students and faculty into areas of research that support their interests.

“A year ago, I was a novice in the area of epidemiological research and its principles, and I needed someone to help steer me in the right direction,” says Tony Winters, an undergraduate student and part of Ahmed’s research team. “Margaret has been the perfect teacher and guide. She has helped me develop skills to analyze data for my research projects, develop abstracts based on my projects and even help finalize my poster presentation for a national scientific meeting.”

“She has always been available and willing to help me learn and further my research goals anytime I need assistance,” Winters says.

Other researchers who collaborate with Ahmed outside of UAB also have had positive experiences with Feller. They say she works hard and has acclimated to her position quickly.

“I have found her to be outstanding in every manner and extremely productive,” says Wilbert Aronow, M.D., clinical professor of medicine at New York Medical College. He met Feller and watched her in action at the American Heart Association meeting in Chicago this past fall. “I understand why Dr. Ahmed says he couldn’t have presented 17 abstracts at the American Heart Association without her,” Aronow says.

The number of projects Feller juggles could lead anyone to have some sleepless nights. But Feller tries to head those off by staying organized — a trait she says she’s always had. She fields many e-mails from co-workers and students asking for help, and she does her best to keep fewer than 50 messages in her inbox at all times. “I don’t file an e-mail until I know the task is done,” she says.

Her time spent as a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname from 2005 to 2007 also taught her much about helping and working with others.

“I lived in the Amazon with an African tribal community,” she says. “There were no modern conveniences — no electricity, running water or Internet. In order to be the most effective at your work, you have to be able to put yourself into their shoes, try to figure out their way of thinking so you know best how to handle the work the community wants you to do. The experience really taught me a lot about the different ways people view the world.”

If you know someone that should be Employee of the Month, send letters of nomination to Kelly Mayer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .