2019 Outstanding Postdoc Mentors at Duke
Dr. Terrie Moffitt
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
Dr. Avshalom Caspi
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
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.
2018 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Seok-Yong Lee
Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Colin Duckett, Vice Dean for Basic Sciences, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc Mentor to Dr. Seok-Yong Lee from the Department of Biochemistry.
A postdoc in the Lee lab writes: "Dr. Seok-Yong Lee is a uniquely devoted, assiduous, and supportive mentor. Over the course of a four-year postdoctoral tenure in his laboratory, I have become a more capable, confident, inquisitive, and impassioned scientist, both by following his example and by responding to his guidance and constructive criticisms. His steadfast approach to science has been an incredible inspiration to me; he has encouraged me to tackle challenging scientific problems and to use the most rigorous and thorough methods of addressing them. He has also taught me the power of patience and diligence in the face of a scientific challenge. For example, in my second year as a postdoctoral fellow, we submitted our work to Nature and it was fortunately sent out for review. The referees provided very positive feedback on all aspects of the work, except for a major enzymatic assay we employed in the study. They suggested that our paper should be rejected on the grounds of this critique. However, the editor gave us the opportunity to repeat this portion of the work using another technique if we so desired. Feeling very dejected at the prospect of redoing a year’s worth of experiments, I suggested to Dr. Lee that we pull the paper from consideration in Nature and instead submit it elsewhere, perhaps to a lower impact journal. He understood my frustration, but encouraged me to brainstorm alternative techniques we could use to repeat the work in a timely manner. He saw that this roadblock actually offered us a great opportunity: most scientists working in the field were using a low-throughput and resource-intensive assay to interrogate enzyme activity, while we presented a more efficient alternative. If we could demonstrate to the referees that both techniques yielded similar results, we had an opportunity to advance the field more broadly and to thereby encourage more publication in this area. We jointly devised a strategy. I performed some key experiments using both techniques in addition to a third orthogonal biophysical method, all of which yielded consistent results. These data unequivocally demonstrated to the referees that both techniques were valid. We were able to publish our work in Nature, which was the most appropriate venue for our findings, as they influenced the direction of the field, both in a conceptual and technical sense. Dr. Lee’s focused attitude toward scientific inquiry and sense of integrity has influenced me on a personal level as well. Dr. Lee has been incredibly supportive, kind-hearted, and understanding during difficult times in my life. He of course gave me the time, space, and resources I needed to get back on my feet. But he also encouraged me to see science as a kind of escape during personal struggles. He helped me understand that the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a source of fascination and joy, which can be transcendent in times of difficulty. I am very thankful to have worked with Dr. Lee, from both a scientific and personal perspective, and I whole-heartedly endorse him as outstanding postdoctoral mentor."
2017 Outstanding Postdoc Mentors at Duke
Dr. John Aldrich
Department of Political Science
2017 Outstanding Postdoc Mentors at Duke
Dr. David Rohde
Department of Political Science
Dr. Raphael Valdivia, Vice Dean for Basic Sciences, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc Mentor to Dr. John Aldrich and Dr. David Rohde. Dr. Aldrich is the Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of Political Science. Dr. Rohde is the Ernestine Friedl Professor of Political Science. For the past 15 years, John and Dave have jointly run the "Political Institutions and Public Choice" (PIPC) lab, in which they bring together postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, high school students, and faculty. Drs Aldrich and Rohde were nominated by numerous current and former members of the PIPC lab, and by the Chair of the department. Dr Georg Vanberg, Chair of Political Science, wrote: "One aspect that consistently impresses me about Dave and John is the tremendous effort, care, and time they put into mentoring their postdocs. John and Dave are generous in sharing their intellectual gifts, expertise, and time with their postdocs to improve their work, and to embed them in networks that will be critical to their academic success. This is truly selfless work, not rewarded by any publication on their vita. Like many disciplines, political science suffers from an underrepresentation of women in faculty ranks, and -- unfortunately -- many women experience a lack of mentorship during their graduate school careers. Dave and John have focused on this issue, and have been very active in providing postdoctoral opportunities and outstanding mentoring to junior women in our field."
A current postdoc wrote: "Dave and John believe that the laboratory-team model of research and teaching, prevalent in the natural sciences and rarer in the social sciences, is a valuable and effective model for training students in political science. Individually, Dave and John are exceptional mentors. Dave takes obvious joy in mentoring students and scholars. His door is always open and I consistently walk out of his office with greater clarity of thought than when I entered it. John is unfailingly committed to his students’ personal and professional success. More than once, he’s told me that his favorite part of his job is mentoring PhD students and postdocs. I have learned more in the space of a single conversation with John, than I have over semester-long courses. For me, being a postdoc in the social sciences could have been, as it is for many people, an isolating experience. Because of Dave and John, my experience has been anything but isolating. John and Dave have provided support and encouragement beyond what I imagined possible when I accepted this position. I am overjoyed to acknowledge all the good Dave and John have done for me and their other postdocs."
A former postdoc, now Assistant Professor, wrote: "As a postdoc, it’s hard to imagine a better environment to work in than PIPC. Individually, the position gave me crucial time to work on my research, but the space itself also created a vibrant environment for curious researchers to come together. John and Dave have been incredible mentors to me and many others. One reason is they lead by example. They show you, rather than tell you, academic lessons and life lessons. I am so grateful for their continued encouragement and support."
Another former postdoc, now Assistant Professor, wrote: "The names John Aldrich and Dave Rohde are recognized throughout the discipline for the enormous impact they have had on the study of American politics. What may be less appreciated is their deep commitment to the development of postdocs. Their kindness, generosity, and patience helped me (and countless others) to become the scholar I am today. They always made time to meet with me, and always offered sage advice. The PIPC program is an open, welcoming environment for fostering scholars. While John and Dave’s scholarly accomplishments are awe inspiring, they pale in comparison to their kindness and generosity. I am profoundly thankful for these years of mentorship and friendship."
2016 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Jerry Reiter
Department of Statistical Science
Dr. Raphael Valdivia, Vice Dean for Basic Sciences, presented the award for Outstanding Postdoc Mentor to Dr. Jerry Reiter, Professor of Statistical Science, Principal Investigator of the Triangle Census Research Network, and Deputy Director of the Information Initiative at Duke. Dr. Reiter was nominated by numerous current and former lab members.
A current postdoc wrote: "Jerry has been a wonderful mentor to me. When I first arrived as a postdoc, he frequently made suggestions on areas he thought could be worth exploring, but he also very much encouraged me to find my own way and pursue my own interests. At first, this was a bit hard - in some ways I just wanted someone to tell me what to work on. Now, 2 years later, I am very grateful to Jerry for giving me the freedom to explore, always with my best interests at heart. I now feel confident in my own ability to discover research topics and see them through, skills that are necessary in academia or as a principal investigator in any field."
Another postdoc wrote: "One of Jerry's best qualities as a mentor is that he always makes decisions that are in the best interest of his students and postdocs. He always makes time to meet and always gives opportunities to make ourselves a place in the scientific community. Lastly, Jerry is a great example of work-life balance, and he encourages us to find our own balance as well. He is a devoted husband and father, with two young children who he adores, and he plays a very active role in their lives. This is encouraging to see, because as a woman in science who wants to have children, I have often felt skeptical of my ability to have a family, my own hobbies, and a successful academic career. Jerry has shown me that this is not only possible, but it can be a rewarding way to live your life."
A former postdoc, now professor, wrote: "I was a postdoc supervised by Jerry and have just become an assistant professor. My years at Duke are full of thankful memories because of my mentor, Jerry Reiter. As a successful researcher, he was willing to pass down all his knowledge to postdocs. He taught me not only research, teaching and writing skills, but also his passion to change the world into a better place. I want to express my special thanks to Jerry for giving me guidance for personal life matters. Unlike other "very productive" researchers, he emphasizes the importance of family and work/life balance. Like other postdocs, I spent a large amount of time on research, but I also could manage my own schedule and spend meaningful time with my family. Jerry trusts his postdocs, and that trust builds a strong bond."
Another postdoc wrote: "Professor Reiter is one of the most important researchers in the statistics field - his work speaks for itself. So I'd rather focus on my experiences with him as a mentor. In my opinion, an ideal mentor is someone who is willing to advise his pupils about academic life with total honesty, sharing all the knowledge he has acquired through years of experience. Professor Reiter is, by far, the mentor who has been closer to this ideal definition. He is always willing to work with his pupils, side by side. Some mentors get disappointed if a postdoc decides to work in industry instead of academia. Jerry is supportive of any decision postdocs might make and provides support no matter which direction you take. His understanding and respect for differences have not only helped me personally but also makes interdisciplinary work possible. Finally, he is a role model as a mentor. He has taught me that it is possible to obtain very good results without being mean and unfriendly. He comes to work with a smile every day and makes the life of a postdoc easier and happier."
2015 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Philip Benfey
Department of Biology
Dr Lawrence Carin, Vice Provost for Research, presented the 2015 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award to Dr. Philip Benfey. Dr. Benfey is the Paul Kramer Professor of Biology and director of the Duke Center for Systems Biology. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. Dr Benfey was nominated by numerous current and former lab members.
One of Dr. Benfey's postdocs wrote: "Philip Benfey is the epitome of an outstanding postdoc mentor. Despite leading an incredibly busy life, Philip is always available to his lab. He is patient and understanding about issues big and small, and never diminishes the concerns of his postdocs. As both an academic and biotech business founder, Philip is uniquely situated to mentor different scientific career paths. He creates an environment which rewards creativity and team work while developing the next generation of leaders."
Another postdoc wrote: "Philip is highly supportive of both our scientific and personal lives. He is unique in that he does not care what one does after leaving, just that you are successful, and success does not just mean being a professor, it can also mean going to industry. He realizes this is part of a journey and his job is to make the best scientist and person out of each of us. My wife and I agree that Philip doesn't really walk - he kind of floats a few feet above the ground."
A former postdoc, now professor, wrote: "In our field Philip has probably produced more professors and industry professionals worldwide than any other PI. Furthermore he has managed to foster a supportive, warm, family-friendly environment that is extremely supportive of women in science. I was considering leaving science before I started my postdoc, but joining the Benfey lab changed my life. I published well, I was exposed to a wide variety of disciplines and ways of thinking, and I was treated by Philip as an equal and as a colleague. As a postdoc and even still now as a faculty member, if I have a question he will email me back immediately. His legacy lives on in the large number of postdocs he trained who are now among the next generation of leaders in plant biology and systems biology."
Another former postdoc, now professor, wrote: "Philip gives postdocs the freedom to develop their own projects and treats every member of the lab with equal respect and courtesy. His fairness creates a sense of collaboration and community in the lab, and inhibits competition. I am currently an Assistant Professor, and I try to emulate this as head of my own lab. I conducted my graduate studies in a small lab, so when I joined the Benfey lab I struggled to find my place in such a large, fast paced environment. Philip never doubted me and always had confidence in my abilities. That trust and support has been invaluable to me, and it is one of the reasons I had the courage to apply for and accept a faculty position at a large research institution. I would not be where I am today if not for my experience in the Benfey lab, not only because of the scientific acumen I gained from working with him, but also because of rich network of friends and colleagues his lab fosters."
2014 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Mohamed Noor
Earl D. McLean Professor and Chair
Department of Biology
Dr. Lawrence Carin, Vice Provost for Research, presented the 2014 award for Outstanding Postdoc Mentor to Dr. Mohamed Noor, Earl D. McLean Professor and Chair of the Duke Department of Biology. Dr. Noor was elected president of the Society for the Study of Evolution and the American Genetic Association, and was awarded the Darwin-Wallace Medal in 2008. He has received numerous teaching and mentoring awards, including most recently the Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award. He unfailingly provides support and encouragement, not only to graduate students and postdocs, but to the offices that work with these populations, including the Office of Postdoctoral Services and Graduate Student Affairs. Importantly, Dr. Noor actively supports postdocs who wish to pursue non-academic careers as well as those following the traditional academic route.
Dr Noor was nominated by numerous current and former lab members. A former postdoc, now professor, wrote, "Mohamed was an amazing postdoctoral advisor. His spirit and enthusiasm is unrivaled and his dedication to his mentees is truly amazing. He is extremely busy with service, teaching, and research, but his postdocs would never know it because he is nearly always accessible. This communicated to me, and to everyone else, that he values and respects us, and that is one of the best gifts an advisor can provide. Mohamed is not just one of the most amazing postdoctoral advisors, he is probably the most amazing person I have had the privilege of knowing."
Another former postdoc wrote, "Mohamed was extremely supportive during my postdoc years. Not only did he encourage (and expect) me to think independently and develop my own research, he actively mentored me on aspects related to running a lab (like balancing a budget) to prepare me for the job. When I was on the job market, Mohamed wrote me wonderful letters of support, and forwarded them on to me. I re-read those letters to boost my spirits whenever I'm feeling discouraged. But the mentoring didn't stop after I received a job. Mohamed continues to be an amazing mentor. I cannot think of a person more deserving of this award."
2013 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Warren Grill
Addy Professor of Biomedical Engineering
Department of Biomedical Engineering
Dr. Mark Dewhirst, Associate Dean for Faculty Mentoring, presented the award for the 2013 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor to Dr. Warren Grill from the Department of Biomedical Engineering. A postdoc wrote, "Dr. Grill consistently encourages his postdocs. At every small victory along the way in my research, Dr. Grill made time to stop and tell me 'Great work!', 'Excellent job!', or some other encouraging word. Dr. Grill writes us 'thank you' cards expressing his appreciation for our efforts and the contributions we make to our team’s success throughout the year."
Another postdoc said, "I have always been amazed with Warren's ability to balance things. He balances giving direction without being a micromanager. He balances his time so he is available to all his students and postdocs with being an excellent teacher, and continually winning grants. And he balances being an excellent mentor and friend. There is no better candidate for Outstanding Postdoc Mentor than Warren Grill."
2012 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Adam Wax
Theodore Kennedy Professor
Department of Biomedical Engineering
A former postdoc of Dr. Wax wrote, "Adam respects and trusts his group members and creates space for them to be their own boss, yet he cares about their development and knows the perfect timing to step in to guide and help. He is easily available almost all the time, and would regularly spend time in the lab talking with me and other members about ideas and experiments. He is never a micromanager, yet he made great efforts to keep himself up-to-date on our progresses, needs, and even small technical details, just so he could share his thoughts with us and be a great resource.
"In addition to helping me progress in knowledge and skills, Adam always encouraged me to build network. He introduced me to every visitor to the lab so I could interact with them. He encouraged me to attend a wide variety of conferences just to network with people. In 2011 and 2012, I presented results of my independent research at major conferences in the field with full support from Adam. This is the kind of crucial support a postdoc mentee needs the most to prepare for an independent career."
2011 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Richard Mooney
George Barth Geller Professor
Department of Neurobiology
Dr. Mooney has risen above exceptionally sad and stressful circumstances: the untimely death of his own close friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Katz, in 2005. One of Dr. Mooney's postdocs wrote: "Larry ran a superb and vibrant lab in the Department of Neurobiology. When he passed, Rich immediately began to advocate for Larry’s students, taking one graduate student and two postdocs into his lab. This almost doubled the size of his lab and brought with it the responsibility of becoming an expert in a new field so that he could advise these new trainees on the projects that they brought with them. Rich was able to expertly shepherd these students through this stressful period, and all three got excellent academic positions....The fact that he took on such an enormous responsibility without compromising his support, enthusiasm and attention to other students and postdocs in the lab is truly remarkable. Rich stands as a model to the Duke community and I am proud to have him as a mentor, colleague and good friend."
Another of his postdocs wrote: "Rich thinks the world of his lab members, including his postdocs, and he is intensely devoted to their development as outstanding, successfully, and happy independent scientists. I can attest that every single postdoc I have seen come through Rich’s lab during the last five years has gone on to attain a successful position in research. Rich has recruited a number of postdocs to his lab over the years, and it is a testament to his dedication as a mentor that all of these people are successfully working in the field that they love. This fact sets Rich apart from many other postdoc mentors: although he very much wants all of his postdocs to continue in science, he also is supportive of whatever career choice meets your personal definition of success and fulfillment. Rich’s example as a mentor to his postdocs will continue to shape my development as a scientist and, eventually, as a mentor to my own lab."
2010 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Thomas Petes
Minnie Geller Professor
Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Dr Petes was nominated by several of his current and former lab members. One of his postdocs wrote: “Dr. Thomas Petes is not only a brilliant scientist, he is very willing to share his expertise with the post-docs and students around him. He has an open-door policy and will always make time for anyone who has a question, and will patiently discuss the issue until it’s resolved. He truly cares about helping everyone understand the research and why they are doing what they are doing. It is rare to find successful, driven, motivated scientists who are also caring mentors. I feel extremely grateful to have Dr. Petes as my post-doc advisor. I would not have been successful without his care and guidance!”
A former postdoc wrote: “Tom's mentorship of postdocs and graduate students is outstanding, and he has a long record of trainees with successful research careers. His enthusiasm and joy in what he does spills over into the entire lab group, keeping everyone motivated. When I was ready to leave the lab for my own independent faculty position, Tom was extremely generous with letting me develop a research program based on ideas that grew out of research in his lab. Tom is truly an exceptional mentor and a friend.” The faculty, administration, and staff of Duke University extend a hearty THANK YOU to all of our postdocs. We are proud to honor your achievements in research, mentoring, and teaching!
2009 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Deborah Gold
Associate Professor of Medical Sociology
Departments of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Sociology, and Psychology
Dr Gold was nominated by a group of her current and former postdocs. The nominations were uniformly enthusiastic and heartfelt, and all of her postdocs attended to cheer Dr Gold on as she accepted her award! Dr Gold's nominations read, in small part: "Dr. Gold encourages us, by example, to see beyond the boundaries of our various fields, and teaches us how to interact with researchers from other disciplines. She is unflagging in her recognition that work/life balance is crucial to maintaining one's quality of life in an academic setting. Her generosity of spirit and her enthusiasm for scholarship and human capacity building are assets to Duke's community of scholars. She always takes the time to recognize our accomplishments, no matter how small they seem to us. And she never misses an opportunity to market us and our potential within and beyond the walls of Duke. Being an exceptional mentor to one postdoc is a feat; being an exceptional mentor to as many as a dozen at one time is a marvel!"
2008 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Emily Bernhardt
Department of Biology
In her short time at Duke, Emily has served as mentor for four postdocs. They praised her for: "going out of her way to help us develop as scientists, challenging us to describe the larger significance of our research, and always emphasizing the importance of making our work relevant to science and society, which increases the chances of our manuscripts getting published in high-profile journals." Dr Bernhardt was also praised for her support for women in science and her commitment to increasing the numbers of minorities in ecology.
2007 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Joseph Nevins
Director, Center for Applied Genomics & Technology
Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy
Dr. Nevins was praised not only for his research successes, but for “having an open door policy, always making himself available on Saturdays, repeatedly helping to polish talks, tirelessly revising manuscripts, encouraging presentations at meetings, shielding postdocs from bureaucratic issues, and providing frantic rides to the airport in his sweet sports car.” Over 27 years, Dr Nevins has mentored over 60 postdocs, and virtually all have gone on to research positions at leading companies and universities including Tufts, Penn, Vanderbilt, and Merck. In an interdisciplinary center like IGSP, the variety of backgrounds and future career trajectories are endless, and Dr Nevins has worked carefully with each of his postdocs to prepare them for their unique careers.
2006 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor at Duke
Dr. Farsh Guilak
Director, Orthopaedic Bioengineering Laboratory
Department of Surgery
Dr. Guilak's nominators praised him as someone who mentors by example as a lab leader, a scientist, and a father. Dr. Guilak manages a lab of 28 students, postdocs, and staff, is the Editor in Chief of a major journal, serves as the PI for numerous grants, and is in the midst of developing a start-up company. Despite these responsibilities, he has steadfastly supported, challenged, and encouraged his postdocs as they develop their own research paths. He meets with his postdocs regularly and provides annual reviews of their individual development plans, provides grant application recommendations and support (all five of his postdocs have their own funding), and he has an open-door policy that allows for frequent advice and discussion.