The 2016 NIEHS Science Days (see related story) wrapped up, as it does every year, with awards for the best posters and science talks, as well as for trainee and mentor of the year.
“This event is a celebration of our research achievements and is a way to recognize and honor specific scientists,” said Joel Abramowitz, Ph.D., special assistant to NIEHS Scientific Director Darryl Zeldin, M.D.
Trainee with a passion for research
“This is the fifth fellow-of-the-year award given by the Office of Fellows’ Career Development [OFCD],” said Tammy Collins, Ph.D., director of OFCD. “We want to recognize an outstanding fellow, who demonstrates excellence in qualities that are important for a successful, well-rounded, independent research career.”
Lead researchers and staff scientists select the fellow of the year based on six criteria — dedication to research, leadership, service, collegiality, science communication, and mentoring. The candidate that stood out this year was Katie O’Brien, Ph.D., an Intramural Research and Training Award (IRTA) postdoctoral fellow in the Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch (BCBB).
“Katie exemplifies a model postdoctoral fellow, in terms of her passion for the research — in her case, it was trying to discover causes for breast cancer — but also her personal integrity, and ability to think and write clearly and beautifully,” said Clarice Weinberg, Ph.D., head of BCBB and O’Brien’s mentor. Weinberg also praised O’Brien’s mentoring and teaching experience.
A high bar for mentoring
The mentor of the year is selected from nominations submitted by trainees and researchers alike. Cheers of excitement greeted the announcement of the winner by NIEHS Trainees’ Assembly representative Brandi Baughman, Ph.D. “While all the nominees were outstanding this year, we were all in agreement that Dr. Humphrey Yao was most deserving of the award,” she said. Humphrey Yao, Ph.D., is a lead researcher in the Reproductive and Developmental Biology Laboratory (RDBL).
Barbara Nicol, Ph.D., a visiting fellow in Yao’s group, praised his mentorship. “We really feel appreciated by him and this pushes us to do better,” she said. “He provides individual mentoring for each of his current trainees, as well as trainees who left his lab years ago, other people here at NIEHS, and even people he has only met briefly in a five minute talk in the elevator. He is setting the bar high!”
Outstanding posters and presentations
During the Science Days poster session, 99 scientists from every research division in NIEHS stood by their posters to share their findings with participants. This year, being able to communicate with a broad audience was emphasized in the scoring, by judges from NIEHS and area research institutions.
The top nine were recognized, and the top five poster presenters received a travel award to attend a conference of their choice. A two-way tie for fifth place resulted in six winners of the travel award (see text box).
In addition to the posters, nine trainees were selected to present their findings in a scientific talk. A travel award for the best oral presentation went to Mahita Kadmiel, Ph.D., an IRTA fellow in the Signal Transduction Laboratory (STL), for her discussion of “Glucocorticoid Actions at the Window of the Eye.”
“It’s such a pleasure for me to help organize Science Days to be able to share the high quality of science that’s conducted here by trainees and their mentors. It is a true celebration of science,” Abramowitz said in conclusion.
(Simone Otto, Ph.D., is an IRTA fellow in the NIEHS Ion Channel Physiology Group.)