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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 series, "Link to Leadership," features Q&As with UAB's Graduate School leaders and staff and an opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to get to know your Graduate School leaders/staff 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 my 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 the 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, University of Montevallo and Lawson State Community College. This program provides selected postdocs with formal research and teaching experiences while recruiting underrepresented students into the biomedical sciences; to date, it has trained more than 30 postdocs who are actively working in both academic and non-academic careers.

"When Dr. McMahon became Dean in 2015, she offered me a full-time position within the Graduate School as Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Affairs – I excitedly accepted as it allowed me to focus all of my efforts in establishing career-related training programs for both grad students and postdocs as well as developing and contributing to university-wide training efforts."

Q: What are your specific responsibilities?

A. "My responsibilities include establishing innovative career-related training programs, facilitating conflict-related situations, overseeing training grant data gathering efforts and directing the Office of Postdoc Education. With Dean McMahon’s departure, I am now also serving as Interim Dean until new leadership arrives. In this role, my priority is to ensure a productive and seamless transition to the new leadership as the develop their goals and priorities for the Graduate School.

"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 purview of my Graduate School position, I also serve as the RCR Training Coordinator for the VP for Research and as a Safe-Harbor designate for the Office of Compliance."

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 as they define their career goals and to obtain the skills and tools they need to reach those goals. Also, that I want to hear about their concerns and needs as they go forward into their careers."

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. "Growing up in rural New England, I attended a small, regional public high school and 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 more globally 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. I was a first-generation college student and was completely unaware of the academic and social pressures I would face. Having come from a small, rural high-school I always felt behind my seemingly better prepared peers. With that, and as a chemistry major, I studied constantly while also working two jobs during the academic year and several jobs during the summers. After graduating from Bates, I was exhausted and ended up taking a gap year in order to rest and reassess next steps. Following that year, I entered the doctoral program in Biochemistry at Dartmouth Medical School, where I met my husband, Erik. Looking back now, I see that I was experiencing imposter fears and burnout. These experiences have shaped my career, driving me to help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows navigate their own careers in a manner that focuses on wellness.”

Q: What do you like to do for fun?

A. "Be with family."

Q: Tell me a bit about your family.

A. "My husband was previously a tenured Associate Professor of Physiology and Biophysics here at UAB. In 2007, he left his faculty position to start a biotech company here in Birmingham. We have two children, Elisabeth and Turner. Elisabeth recently graduated from Grinnell College in Iowa and Turner is a junior at Denison University in Ohio."

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