Outstanding Postdoc at Duke Hall of Fame

Andrew Butler 2013 Outstanding Postdoc   2016 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Chris Nelson
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Lawrence Carin, Vice Provost for Research, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc to Dr. Chris Nelson from the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Dr. Nelson was nominated by his PI and many of his labmates.

Dr. Nelson's PI, Dr Charles Gersbach, wrote: "Chris has made a tremendous impact at Duke and beyond since arriving as a postdoc in my lab.  Chris’s many accomplishments from graduate school (including an impressive 16 research publications, 8 review articles, and 5 patent applications), were an accurate harbinger of what he would accomplish as a postdoctoral fellow. In a relatively short time in my lab, Chris worked hard through several different technical challenges, and was able to submit a manuscript to Science only 15 months after joining my group, which was published in that journal earlier this year.  The impact of the results is reflected in the widespread attention that the paper received, including highlights in The New York Times, The New England Journal of Medicine, Nature, BBC, and NIH Research Matters.  As evidence of the translational impact of Chris’s work, we have been contacted by many biotech companies interested in his results.  In fact, Duke is in the process of licensing Chris’s patent applications. I am certain that Chris will have a successful independent career in which he will mentor many students and postdoctoral fellows.  The Outstanding Postdoc Award will honor the incredible contribution that Chris has made both through his internationally recognized research and his mentoring within Duke to support our students."

A graduate student wrote: "Since undergrad, I have worked in four different labs and been mentored by many people along the way. Chris is by far the best mentor that I have had.  In addition to patiently teaching me lab techniques, he inspires me to think like a scientist and has become my role model on how to mentor.  Chris’ insights always lead me to a broadened perspective.  Even when he knows the answer to something, he teaches me how to figure it out myself so that next time I don’t need to ask. He makes me feel like part of the team and excited to own my part of the project."

An undergraduate wrote: "I have yet to find – in any of my research experiences at Duke or otherwise– a mentor who is as dedicated and engaged as Christopher Nelson.  Dr. Nelson teaches me to be an independent researcher by giving me actual experience, instead of simply spoonfeeding me a “recipe.”  Dr. Nelson has also taught me to think critically about accuracy and honesty in science.  In every project, Dr. Nelson encourages me to be rigorous in my inquiry, stringent in my methods, and honest in my analysis. Needless to say, Dr. Nelson is generous with his time.  He meets with me almost every week to check in, and comes in on some weekends simply to accommodate my schedule.  Beyond the time he spends on me, he is also the go-to for many other undergraduates in the lab because he is so approachable, non-judgmental, and encouraging.  I have always felt encouraged to discuss my new, sometimes half-baked ideas with Dr. Nelson, and he empowers me to question his reasoning about his project designs.  Finally, Dr. Nelson is a mentor to me outside of research.  He is truly invested in my future.  Every semester, after we give each other performance reviews (yes, he insists that I give him a mentor review), his first question is about my well-being: am I stressed? Overcommitted?  Unlike many other mentors I have had in the past, I feel that Dr. Nelson is genuinely my advocate. Dr. Nelson is a gift - to the Duke research community, to science, and to me."


  2015 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Kathryn Dickerson
Center for Cognitive Neuroscience

Dr. Raphael Valdivia, Vice Dean for Basic Sciences, presented the 2015 Award for Outstanding Postdoc to Dr. Kathryn (Katie) Dickerson from the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Dr. Dickerson's PI wrote: "Katie Dickerson has earned the best endorsement I can imagine for this award: her lab mates clamored for me to nominate her. Katie’s upbeat, direct approach is coupled with ingenuity, keen intelligence, and a true gift for clear-sighted and gracious communication.  Katie makes it look easy, even when things are very hard.  Katie has been deeply involved in mentoring the graduate students in the lab.  Her ability to teach the process of being a scientist has given students exactly the right guidance to keep them on track with difficult projects.  Graduate school is inherently hard and often dispiriting, so I cannot stress enough the value of Katie’s ability to offer both concrete instruction and social support for the students.  I predict that when she leaves my laboratory she will continue to help everyone achieve superb science with tremendous translational impact, just as she is doing here, and make it look easy along the way."

One of the grad students who works with Dr. Dickerson wrote: "Kathryn Dickerson is hands-down THE BEST RESEARCH MENTOR I have ever observed.  I consider myself very lucky to be one of the graduate students she has taken on as a mentee.  Knowing I can go to Katie for help on everything from research to writing my dissertation has been a great resource (and comfort) in progressing towards my dissertation defense.  Katie’s example has taught me a lot about how to better conduct research AND how to better conduct myself as a researcher."

Another grad student wrote:"Katie Dickerson is exactly type of postdoc that this award was designed to honor.  From the moment she joined our lab 4 years ago, her warm presence and bottomless good cheer has been contagious. It's simply better in lab when Katie is there.  I was particularly blessed in getting paired up with her on projects that eventually turned into my dissertation.  And without hyperbole, I'm not sure I would have finished without her.  At every stage, she was there offering helpful guidance, a critical eye for detail, and dedication to making sure everything stayed on track.  When I was racing against the clock to complete data collection and analysis for the last chapter of my dissertation, Katie selflessly postponed a trip to the Bahamas in order to help me finish up.  My last 4 years are full of experiences like that.  And I was just one of five graduate students; everyone has similar anecdotes about her.  We're all better scientists because of her guidance.  More importantly, however, is what Katie offers as a friend and mentor.  Over the last few years I've had more than my share of anxiety-riddled what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments, and Katie has been there each time to listen, offer perspective, and invariably leave me feeling more optimistic.  Her achievements over the last 4 years are a testament to her as a scientist; her ability to foster growth in those around her is a testament to her as a mentor.  Combined, these are a testament to why she is a unique and outstanding postdoc."


2014 Outstanding Postdocs at Duke
Duke Diversity Postdoc Alliance

                                                                                Tricia Wright  

Molly Starback, Director of the Duke Office of Postdoctoral Services, presented the 2014 Award for Outstanding Postdoc to not just one postdoc, but a group of postdocs, the Duke Diversity Postdoc Alliance (DPA). The Diversity Postdoc Alliance was launched in 2013 by three postdocs, Drs. Shraddha Desai, Argenia Doss and Tricia Wright.

Drs. Desai, Doss, and Wright recognized a need for increasing communication between postdocs and graduate students from diverse backgrounds, which they define broadly as underrepresented, international or from different fields of research within the Duke community.  The Diversity Alliance has collaborated with the Office of Biomedical Graduate Diversity, the Duke Biosciences Collaborative for Research Engagement, the Office of Postdoctoral Services, and the Duke Postdoctoral Association to host networking events for postdocs and grad students from diverse backgrounds. The Diversity Alliance also joined with the UNC Minority Postdoc Alliance and the NCCU Postdoc Association to throw a Diversity Postdoc Mixer for postdocs from all over the Triangle.  


Andrew Butler 2013 Outstanding Postdoc   2013 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Andrew C. Butler
Department of Psychology & Neuroscience

Dr. Anne West, Associate Professor of Neurobiology in the Duke School of Medicine, presented the 2013 Outstanding Postdoc Award to Dr. Andrew C. Butler in the Marsh Lab of the Duke Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

One lab member who works with Dr. Butler wrote, "Andrew always wants to mentor undergraduate and graduate students. Many people try to spend as little time as possible with the undergraduates (an unfortunate comment, but one I’m afraid is true) but Andy sets up a weekly meeting schedule and does an individualized reading schedule with each student. I believe he truly enjoys these meetings and he spends a large amount of time working with his undergraduates to help them write the best independent study (honors thesis) papers possible. Andy also has served on several thesis committees beyond the students he has directly mentored, and he is a fair questioner who at the same time always makes the students think."


McKell Carter  2012 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Ronald McKell
Center for Brain Imaging & Analysis

One lab member who works with Dr. Carter wrote, "McKell is incredibly kind and generous with his knowledge and his time. He has mentored countless graduate students, research assistants, and undergraduates, while at the same time being one of the hardest workers I've ever collaborated with, as well as an extremely active father and husband. It is inspirational to see how he makes the time to commit his focus and enthusiasm towards so many areas of his life."

Another labmate wrote of Dr. Carter, "Science is competitive, no matter what field you work in. This can sometimes cause people to hoard their experience and refuse to work with others under the fear that doing so may compromise their work. McKell’s willingness to help anyone in the lab that comes to him is the key to making him such an outstanding postdoc. Whether you’re a fellow postdoc in the lab, an aspiring grad student, or an associate in research, McKell will take time out of his busy schedule to sit down, listen to your problem, and help you as best as he can. This is not a trait you find in many work environments, let alone one in science. It’s this altruistic behavior that really makes McKell a natural leader and someone that others respect."


Hak Suk Chung   2011 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Hak Suk Chung
Department of Biochemistry

By any measure she would be an outstanding postdoc, but Dr. Chung has helped her lab rise above particularly sad and challenging circumstances: their mentor, Dr Christian Raetz, passed away in August 2011.

A former lab member wrote of Dr. Chung, "Having known Chris Raetz for the past 15 years, first as his graduate student, hak suk then as a post-doc, and finally as a colleague and friend, I have been privileged to hear his praises of Hak Suk on numerous occasions. I can say without hesitation that Chris would have written this nomination himself were he able. Hak Suk is, according to a letter written in July for her by Chris, 'an extraordinarily talented and hard-working scientist, who is also an outstanding mentor for young graduate students and new members of the lab.'"

A graduate student and labmate wrote: "Hak Suk has shown an unmatchable intellectual curiosity that, when paired with her devotion for experimentation, has made her the most productive member of our laboratory. To the rest of the lab, Hak Suk represents much more than a productive pair of hands. She has been a continuous mentor to undergraduates, graduate students, and fellow postdocs. It seems as if every conversation between members of our lab ends with a decision to consult Hak Suk. Over the past year, Hak Suk’s role as mentor and 'den mother' to the Raetz lab has become increasingly essential. Hak Suk’s impact on our lab is clear: she is the single greatest factor in our ability to continue Prof. Raetz’s work. Hak Suk has proven an invaluable source of lab cohesion, personal support, and experimental advice. She serves not only as a mentor we are lucky to have, but a friend we could never do without."


Suzanne McGaugh   2010 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Suzanne McGaugh
Department of Biology

Dr. McGaugh’s mentor, Mohamed Noor, wrote of her, “She's moved in a year from being an evolutionary and physiological ecologist to a widely respected genomic bioinformatician and geneticist. I have never seen anyone so adept at such a broad swath of biology! Within the laboratory, Suzanne is a brilliant, scholarly, and friendly resource. If I had to summarize Suzanne in a word, it'd be ‘determination.’ If I had to summarize Suzanne in 2 words, they'd be ‘utterly irreplaceable.’ I cannot sufficiently express how fortunate I feel to have her in my lab.”

One of Suzanne’s lab mates wrote: “Suzanne embodies all of the qualities that this award seeks to honor. She is a determined and tireless advocate, undaunted by any obstacle, whether it’s teaching herself a new computer programming language, or setting up a server for our lab. She inspires and encourages others around her to persevere to success. And while she is extremely dedicated to her work, Suzanne also serves as a role model for a healthy work/life balance. Suzanne McGaugh is an excellent example of an outstanding postdoc.”


Melanie Auffan   2009 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Mélanie Auffan
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dr Auffan's mentor, Dr. Mark Weisner, wrote: "Dr. Auffan combines outstanding science with dedication to student mentoring. Her work in the laboratory has spanned traditional environmental engineering with work in the life sciences. Her work has required her to develop methodologies where virtually none have existed. As a result she has played a vital role in bringing together faculty and students from widely differing disciplines. In the 18 months she has been at Duke, she has published or had accepted 6 papers based on her work since coming here, including an upcoming paper in Nature Nanotechnology. Dr. Auffan has also given generously of her time in mentoring graduate students, undergraduates, and high school students. She has lectured in several of my classes and to outside groups concerning her research and the broader topic of environmental nanotechnology, and took the lead in organizing a conference between French and US researchers on the topic of nanotechnology."

Mélanie was selected in 2009 for France's highly competitive search for a permanent position with the French National Scientific Research Center. She joined the European Center for Research and Education in Geosciences and the Environment in late 2009. Mélanie is truly an outstanding postdoc, not just for her research skills, but for giving back to the community by teaching and mentoring


Joshua Carter   2008 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Joshua Carter
Department of Chemistry

 Dr Carter's mentor, Dr. Thomas LaBean, wrote: "Josh possesses an impressive range of interdisciplinary research skills, including materials characterization and molecular biology, as well as synthetic and analytical chemistry. I have repeatedly been impressed with Josh's ability to reach outside his previous experience and implement new solutions to difficult experimental challenges. In addition to his bench science prowess, Dr. Carter displays a relaxed, easy leadership style with the younger members of the group, and has acted as lead mentor for the research projects of local high school students from Project SEED. Despite the costs in time and effort, Dr. Carter cheerfully gives of himself to provide a profitable research experience for these young students."

Not only did Josh's labmates provide written testimonials praising his excellence in teaching, mentoring, and research, they were so enthusiastic about him that they created a video in his honor! Josh's nominations demonstrate that he is truly an outstanding postdoc, whose success in research is complemented by his service to the University and the larger community.


Siobhan Brady   2007 Outstanding Postdocs at Duke
Dr. Siobhan Brady
Department of Biology

Dr. Sally Kornbluth, Vice Dean for Basic Sciences, presented two awards for Outstanding Postdoc in 2007.  In alphabetical order, the first recipient was Dr. Siobhan Brady from Dr Philip Benfey’s lab in the Department of Biology. One of her nominations read, “Dr Brady’s research in transcription factor expression patterns has yielded innovative ways to approach expression research. In all, her two years of research at Duke have yielded six first author papers. Dr Brady currently has four collaborations with laboratories in the United States and abroad, ranging from developmental genetics to computational biology and bioinformatics. What is incredible about Siobhan is that she accomplishes all of her research while managing undergraduate independent research students and summer students. Within the past two years, she has mentored six students, all of whom completed their projects with posters, theses, or both. No matter how busy she is, she is never too busy to stop and answer questions, always with a big smile. Siobhan is not only active in the lab, but also in the community. She has volunteered at Rogers-Herr Middle School, teaching genetics to seventh graders, and she volunteers at marathons and races, including the Susan Komen Race for the Cure.”

Dr. Tim Griffith
Dr. Tim Griffin
Department of Surgery

Dr. Kornbluth presented the second award to Dr Tim Griffin from the Department of Surgery. Dr. Griffin’s mentor, Dr Farshid Guilak, wrote: “Tim is the ‘walk-on-water’ type of postdoc that we all dream of. His ability to learn in multiple areas has made him a uniquely trained scientist with expertise in subjects including physiology, biomechanics, bioengineering, and biological anthropology. As a scientist, he has a balanced view of every question, and so is able to reach conclusions through the data without any bias. He is able to manage and direct a number of different projects at the same time, all performed with the utmost care and precision. He is able to accomplish so much because of his clear and organized way of thinking, but also because of his ability to communicate and collaborate with others. He spends significant time mentoring undergrads, med students, and junior post-docs in our group. Tim has the characteristics of a true leader – he is exceptionally smart; he is confident yet unassuming; he is an outstanding writer and speaker; and he is highly ambitious. He is a team player who is always willing to help others and mentor younger members of the lab.”


Xiaopeng Zhao   2006 Outstanding Postdoc at Duke

Dr. Xiaopeng Zhao
Department of Biomedical Engineering

Dr. Zhao received nominations from his mentor, from a student in one of his classes, and from an officer of Sigma Xi, the professional society he serves in. Dr. Zhao's research used techniques of nonlinear dynamics to study the mechanisms underlying cardiac arrhythmias such as ventricular fibrillation, and he has established an excellent record of publication. All three of Dr. Zhao's nominators praised not only his research achievements, but also his service, teaching, and mentoring activities at Duke.


Elizabeth Johnson   2006 Outstanding Postdoc Leader at Duke
Dr. Elizabeth Johnson
Department of Neurobiology
(Current Associate Director of Duke Institute for Brain Sciences)

Vice Provost for Research and Professor of Biology, Dr. James Siedow, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc Leader to Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, then president of the Duke University Postdoctoral Association. Dr. Siedow described Dr. Johnson as a force for positive change for postdocs on the Duke campus. He noted that Dr. Johnson had been instrumental in crafting the new postdoc policy, which mandated a minimum salary level and provided equal access to health insurance regardless of source of funding. Dr. Johnson also led the effort to establish the new postdoc office at Duke, and had built DUPA from a relatively small group into a well-organized team that hosted numerous professional and social events for Duke postdocs. Needless to say, Dr. Johnson did all of this while maintaining her own research in the Fitzpatrick Lab of the Department of Neurobiology.