Embarking 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.

""Q: Why did you accept this leadership position within the Graduate School?

A: "I was recruited to UAB in 1997 as Assistant Professor of Physiology where I started by independent research program examining cellular and molecular mechanisms of airway inflammatory diseases, including asthma and CF. In addition to these efforts, I served as Director of the Graduate Program in Physiology beginning in 1998. Through that role, I developed an interest in establishing interdisciplinary programs in graduate education that included training within and outside academic research, such as MBA for Scientists Program.

To further broaden these training efforts into postdoctoral education, I applied to and was selected as Associate Dean for Postdoctoral Education in 2007 while continuing my research program. During this time and since 2009, I have served as director of the NIH-funded IRACDA-MERIT Program in partnership with Oakwood University, Stillman College and Lawson State Community College. This program provides selected postdocs with formal research and teaching experiences while recruiting URM students into the biomedical sciences; to date, it has trained nearly 30 postdocs who are actively working in both academic and non-academic careers. It is on track to competitively renew in 2019 with a projected total budget of approximately $4.3M.

When Dr. McMahon became Dean in 2015, she offered me a full-time position within the Graduate School in my now current role – I excitedly accepted as it now allows me to focus all of my efforts in establishing career-related training programs for both grad students and postdocs."

Q: What are your specific responsibilities?

A: "My responsibilities include establishing innovative career-related training programs, facilitating conflict related situations, overseeing T32 data gathering efforts and directing the Office of Postdoc Education.

As a Grad School representative, I also serve on many university-wide committees, as well as national committees at the NIH and the AAMC. While not directly under the prevue of my Graduate School position, I also serve as the RCR Training Coordinator for the VP for Research."

Q: If you were talking with a group of incoming UAB students, what would you most want them to know about you and your hopes for their experience at the School?

A: "That I am willing and eager to work with them to help them define their career goals and to obtain the skills and tools they need to reach those goals."

Q: Can you talk about your own approach to teaching and how it has or has not informed your work in your current Graduate School leadership position?

A: "My overarching mentoring philosophy seeks to cultivate a balanced professional and interpersonal relationship in the context of a mentee’s individuality. With this approach, active mentoring becomes a freely flowing exchange of ideas and knowledge between mentor and mentee built on a foundation of trust and mutual respect. Further, with this approach, I endeavor to serve as a role model for those whom I mentor either directly or indirectly, instilling in and sharing with them a passion for mentoring and being mentored."

Q: What influences have shaped you? Moments that made a significant impact on you either personally or professionally.

A: "When my cat Rat-tail began wheezing, I was terrified that I had poisoned him. Rat-tail, formerly known as Fluffy, had been sickly for some time, losing all of the hair on his bushy black tail (hence the name change), and I, as a budding scientist at the wise age of 8, was going to cure him. Growing up in rural New England, I was accustomed to roaming the woods near my home, looking under rocks and playing in streams. There, I gathered various plants that looked therapeutic in nature and concocted a potion, which I fed to the ailing Rat-tail. Thankfully, his wheezing stopped after several stressful minutes and he recovered, though the hair on his tail never grew back. Little did I understand at that time that my passion for engaging in science in order to help others was just beginning.

Several years later, while attending a small, regional public high school, I knew very little about academic possibilities outside of my rural community. While excelling in college-prep courses and engaging in every sport, club and student government opportunity that was available to me, I found myself working alongside faculty and administrators, including my high school principal, on various school-related projects and activities. Expectations for attending college were generally defined by admission to the local, state public university. Although this university offers great opportunities for many students, my principal saw my need to be challenged and encouraged me to apply to a highly competitive small liberal arts school, Bates College. Acceptance into Bates was an inflection point that forever impacted my life. Looking back, I now understand that my high school principal was my first mentor. He saw in me potential that needed to go beyond the confines of that small town in order to grow and thrive. Since that time, I have had other mentors, good and bad, but none so impactful. It is because of his early mentorship that I now mentor others in order to help each reach his/her full potential."

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A: "Be with family."

Q: Tell me a bit about your family.

A: "My husband is also a scientist and currently has a startup biotech company here in Birmingham. We have two children, Elisabeth (19) and Turner (17). This fall, Elisabeth will be a sophomore at Grinnell College in Iowa and Turner will be a senior at Indian Springs School. We have four cats and two dogs."