14th Annual Postdoctoberfest

The Office of Postdoctoral Services and the Duke University Postdoctoral Association (DUPA) held the 14th Annual Postdoctoberfest Celebration on Friday, October 4, 2019 to honor the university’s hard-working postdocs and their mentors. Postdocs, their families, faculty, and staff enjoyed hot dogs and veggie dogs with all the fixings, Torch Pilsner from Foothills Brewery, and the music of the Huzzah Band. The giant bouncy race car was a hit with all the kids in attendance, as were the four flavors of Maple View Farms ice cream. Postdocs received an official Duke Postdoc t-shirt and enjoyed the warm fall weather. We gave ourselves a big round of applause in honor of our fourteenth anniversary!

Each year, the highlight of Postdoctoberfest is the presentation of awards to the Outstanding Postdoc and Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke.

Outstanding Postdoc Mentors:

The 2019 Outstanding Postdoc Mentors are Drs. Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi from the Department of Psychology & Neuroscience. Drs. Moffitt and Caspi were unable to attend, so Dr. Colin Duckett, Vice Dean for Basic Science, presented the award to two of their postdoctoral mentees, Drs. Leah Richmond-Rakerd and Jasmin Wertz.

A former postdoc in the lab, now an Assistant Professor, writes: Terrie Moffitt and Avshalom Caspi, or Temi and Av as their colleagues and friends know them, are not only outstanding postdoc mentors at Duke, they are likely the best postdoc mentors anywhere. They run a big team, and at any given moment they have several postdoc mentees. Still, Temi and Av blocked two full hours every week to meet with me (and every other one of their postdocs) to review projects, critique writing, and plan career steps. I learned how to conduct rigorous research, how to think about analysis and data presentation, and became a much better writer. Even better, their kindness and affection makes one feel at home. They invite us all to celebrate holidays with them, and they remember to celebrate the big and small events in work and in life for all of us in the lab. Temi and Av were not only the best postdoc mentors I could wish for professionally, they also became my family away from home.

Another postdoc, now Assistant Professor, writes: Moffitt and Caspi are exceptionally generous mentors. They invest extraordinary time in their people. And they provide a model of how a senior academic can remain deeply engaged in day to day research and have fun doing it. They cultivate a research Eden in their lab.

Another postdoc, now Assistant Professor, writes: The training and support I received from Temi and Av did not end with my postdoc. After leaving the nest, Temi and Av continued their mentoring, under their policy of “trainee for life.” I regularly call on them with questions about projects, papers, funding, tenure and promotion. One additional and very meaningful component of their mentorship is they model and encourage work-life balance for their trainees. I had two young children under the age of 5 when I was a postdoc for Temi and Av. They made my career as a mother and a scientist seamless and easy. I won the lottery by getting the opportunity to work with Temi and Av.

A current postdoc writes: In addition to facilitating their postdocs’ research development, Temi and Av emphasize the importance of work-life balance. I had my first child halfway through my postdoc, and I was blown away by Temi and Av’s incredible support, including regular supportive messages, a lovely baby shower, and a huge amount of openness and flexibility when it came to fitting work around my family commitments (e.g., I was more than welcome to attend meetings with baby in tow). Professors Moffitt and Caspi are invested in their postdoc’s personal wellbeing, and it shows in their behavior.

Another current postdoc writes: Temi and Av have fostered many successful researchers, and I feel so incredibly lucky to work with them – of course, because this is a unique opportunity to work with such distinguished researchers, but mostly because getting to know Temi and Av has been such a fun experience!  They constantly support us in all aspects of research and career development, while still making sure we have fun every step of the way. I honestly cannot think of a better place in the whole wide world to do my postdoc.

In short, Drs. Moffitt and Caspi exemplify what it means to be Outstanding Postdoc Mentors.  Thank you for serving as role models for faculty mentors at Duke University!

Outstanding Postdoc:

Dr. Chris Freel, Associate Vice President for Research, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc to Dr. Adrian Oliver from the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Dr. Oliver’s PI, Dr Charles Gersbach, writes: Adrian has been a postdoctoral associate in my laboratory since 2015 and has proven to be an absolutely fantastic scientist with a tremendous work ethic and exceptional professionalism. She has made great progress in the area of engineering new technologies for gene therapy that are certain to be of value for the field, and has brought recognition to Duke through her work in multiple ways.  Adrian’s first project in my lab aimed to explore the diversity of CRISPR systems in nature as genome engineering tools in human cells. This work is now in press at Nature Biotechnology.  She has mentored two undergraduates, both of whom are co-authors on her Nature Biotechnology paper. They were both so inspired by their experience with Adrian that they chose to go to PhD programs in biomedical research.  Adrian is on a perfect path to establishing an impactful independent research program in gene and cell therapy, and has the ideal skill set to do so.

A lab member writes: I’d say Adrian is one of the rock stars in the lab. She is one of the most driven, energetic and passionate scientists I have ever met. She is constantly thinking of new experiments and encouraging me to come up with my own ideas. She truly loves the research that she does, and her excitement about new ideas and projects is palpable; it makes me excited to come to work every day. I am so grateful to work alongside her.

A grad student in the lab writes: Adrian was assigned to be one of my postdoc mentors, and she went above and beyond to help me get acclimated to the lab. She took it on herself to teach me all the fundamental skills I needed to get my project started. She also was key in the intellectual planning of my project, spending multiple hours to help me think through each and every detail. She also advocated for me to be a part of her project and got me on her paper within my first year of being in the lab. There's no doubt in my mind that Adrian would make a fantastic PI herself, because she truly looks out for the needs and success of the people she mentors.

A former postdoc, now Assistant Professor, writes: Two characteristics highlight why Adrian is a good candidate for this award: her tenacity during her research and her dedication to mentorship. Adrian was among the first to harness CRISPR systems of a special type, the subject of her recently accepted Nature Biotechnology paper. This work is impressive, but it started with a small blip on a graph. When the initial result was unimpressive, most people would have walked away from the project. Adrian instead set out to optimize every aspect and eventually developed a technology that can increase gene activation over 100-fold, resulting in a manuscript in one of our field’s top journals. She did this impressive work while mentoring two Duke Undergraduate students. She was a fierce advocate for both of them, and motivated them so that they were some of the most productive undergraduates I’ve ever seen. Adrian truly deserves this award.

A former student writes: I worked for Adrian as an undergraduate at Duke for two and a half years. Adrian was a joy to work for and her mentoring style set me up for a successful transition into graduate school. I learned a great deal from her strong work ethic and high standards for scientific rigor. In addition to research, she always helped me with my next career step. When I was thinking about going into industry, she connected me with people who could share their experiences. When I finally decided on graduate school, she helped me understand the application process and guided me through the pros and cons of each school. Adrian is an Outstanding Postdoc because she embodies the characteristics of an outstanding mentor and teacher.

Dr. Oliver, these nominations demonstrate that you are truly an outstanding postdoc whose research successes are bolstered by your mentorship of others.  Thank you for serving as a role model for postdocs at Duke University.

The faculty, administration, and staff of Duke University extend a hearty THANK YOU to all of our postdocs and postdoc mentors. We are proud to honor your achievements in research, mentoring, and teaching!


Accepting the 2019 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award on behalf Drs. Moffitt and Caspi are their postdocs, Drs. Leah Richmond-Rakerd and Jasmin Wertz, with Vice Dean for Basic Science Dr. Colin Duckett and Director of Postdoctoral Services Molly Starback.

2019 Outstanding Postdoc Dr. Adrian Oliver, with Associate Vice President for Research Dr. Chris Freel and Director of Postdoctoral Services Molly Starback.

The t-shirts went fast this year!

Thanks to the Huzzah Band for keeping things swinging.

The hardest decision all week - which flavor of Maple View ice cream to enjoy.

Hot dogs for hot days.

Let's slide on out until next year!