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Nominees Announced for Inaugural Postdoc Pack Service & Outstanding Postdoc Mentorship Awards

Honoring Postdocs & Faculty Mentors

After a difficult 2020-2021 academic year for faculty, staff, postdoctoral scholars, and students at NC State, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, Postdoctoral Association, and Graduate School have worked together to honor NC State postdocs who have given back to the community this year in addition to spotlighting faculty mentors who have gone above and beyond to support their postdoctoral scholar(s) this year.

One postdoc and faculty member will be awarded a $250 cash prize, announced as part of NC State’s 2021 Virtual Postdoctoral Research Symposium (PRS) taking place May 17-20.

The award ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, May 19, 12:30 – 1 PM and will also recognize outstanding postdoctoral research talks that will be hosted on the Graduate School’s YouTube Channel. In total, over $800 in prizes will be awarded to postdoctoral research presenters this year.

Postdoc Pack Service Award

This award recognizes NC State postdoctoral research or teaching scholars who have made significant contributions to their field as well as the NC State University community during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Awardees will be selected based on meeting one or more of the following criteria:

  • Engages in mentorship of the next generation of researchers (undergraduate & graduate students) in their field
  • Provides outstanding support to other postdoctoral scholars, their teaching or research community, and/or the NC State University community in the face of COVID-19 pandemic challenges
  • Makes unique contributions to scholarship (e.g., presentations, grants, publications) or pedagogy (e.g., shifting teaching online) in their field despite setbacks related to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Service to the postdoctoral community at large, including advocating for postdoctoral scholars and including postdoctoral voices in key decision making or other endeavors

Members of the Postdoc Pack Service Award review committee include Jon Horowitz, Ph.D., Associate Vice Chancellor for Research; Melvin (Jai) Jackson, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement with the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity; Alexa Carter, MS, Interim Lead Librarian for Engineering and Sciences with NC State Libraries; and Chris Smith, Ph.D., Postdoc Program Manager at NC State.

The Postdoc Nominees Are…

  • Maricar Aguilos, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
    • From her nominator and faculty mentor, John King, Ph.D.: Dr. Aguilos provides leadership in adapting a complex research program to challenges imposed by COVID-19. She ensures we meet funding agency responsibilities of providing long-term data on forest responses to climate change, while complying with safety protocols related to travel, lab work, and office social distancing. She offers workshops to postdocs & graduate students on advanced methods in forest carbon cycling and big data analysis. She spearheaded a new educational program between NCSU and Mindanao State University in the Philippines (partially supported by a Postdoctoral Professional Development Award from OPA and the Graduate School). This new exchange program, formally approved by both institutions (our Office of International Affairs is very pleased), provides the framework for international exchange of faculty, postdocs, and students.
  • Edwin Dickinson, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences
    • From his nominator and faculty mentor, Adam Hartstone-Rose, Ph.D.: Mentorship is Dr. Dickinson’s strength. Although he is an outstanding researcher in his own right, his passion is teaching our NCSU students how to work collaboratively to produce publication-quality research. Edwin’s mentees have produced 15 peer-reviewed publications with nearly two dozen student authors. Edwin is currently supervising 5 teams of undergrads that are all working on projects that will be submitted for peer-reviewed publication in the coming months. While many of these students are heading toward top medical, veterinary and dental schools, many of Edwin’s undergraduate mentees have gone onto prestigious graduate programs and the graduate students that he has worked with have gotten tenure-track jobs.
  • James Dodds, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Chemistry
    • From his nominator and faculty mentor, Erin Baker, Ph.D.: I was so amazingly lucky that James accepted my offer to work with me at NCSU. He makes all the undergraduate and graduate students feel important. He is always willing to lend a hand, and I do not know how I would have made it through this last year without him. James’ unselfishness, amazing science skills and calming personality are the main reason our research group is still able to thrive even during these extremely difficult times.
  • Nadine Kotlarz, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Biological Sciences
    • From her nominator and faculty mentor, Jane Hoppin, Ph.D.: For the past 2 years, Dr. Kotlarz has organized the NC State PFAS group, a diverse group of researchers across the NC State campus who are working on topics related to PFAS. This group includes researchers in disciplines as diverse as Biology, Chemistry, Engineering, Crop and Soil Science, and Communication. Each month a different research group presents, and Dr. Kotlarz encourages post-docs and trainees to present work in this setting. In response to COVID shut downs, she ensured that this meeting moved to zoom where it continues to engage 20-30 participants monthly. By creating a safe space to present preliminary data, Dr. Kotlarz has helped other post-docs with critical feedback on their work in a friendly and forgiving setting.
  • Yiyan Li, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
    • From his nominator and faculty mentor, Ning Lu, Ph.D.: During the pandemic, although the nominee works from home, he managed to organize online gatherings with PhD students and outdoor activities for the research group to keep the morale. He assisted Dr. Lu on preparing online courses, homework, and give online guest lectures for multiple classes. Dr. Li coordinated the DOE ASSIST project team meetings on weekly basis. He worked closely with researcher groups from national labs and utilities online (there are 5 industry teams in the DOE project we are working on). He coordinated the postdoc in the HIL and national lab teams to summarize results for preparing the team quarterly report, peer-reviewed their publications, and actively involved in developing NSF/DOE/ARPA-E proposals.
  • Ender Ozturk, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
    • From his nominator and faculty mentor, Ismail Guvenc, Ph.D.: Dr. Ozturk taught the ECE 301 Linear Systems course in Fall 2020 which is one of the core undergrad courses in our curriculum. It was at a time where one of our faculty could not teach the course, and Ender gladly took on the challenge. The course first started with in-class instruction, but then had to move to online based on NC State’s decision to tackle COVID-19. Ender adapted well to the changes and finished teaching the course successfully. Earlier in Spring 2021, we had an urgent development need in our NSF AERPAW project. Ender was flexible to take on another challenge and developed three wireless equipment prototypes on campus during the pandemic, handling all the necessary tasks including design, ordering, assembly, and testing.
  • Qingyang Wang, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences
    • From her nominator and faculty mentor, Deepti Salvi, Ph.D.: Dr. Wang has been engaged in the mentorship of 5 graduate students (2 Master students and 3 Ph.D. students) and 4 undergraduates, guiding their research projects, writing, and advising on their academic course work. She is very approachable to students and provides hands-on training and troubleshooting advice to mentees which are valuable in their research. She has help students identify their research problems, plan research, and prepare presentations and manuscripts.
  • Melissa Whatley, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Belk Center for Community College Leadership and Research
    • From her nominator and faculty mentor, Audrey Jaeger, Ph.D.: In the face of COVID-19 pandemic challenges, Dr. Whatley has provided support for the research community in several ways. Given the difficulty in finding peer reviewers for academic manuscripts and conference proposals during this time, she has taken on more than her typical load of review requests and has also taken on additional mentorship roles for graduate students finishing up their degrees during the pandemic. Regarding teaching, she adapted the courses she teaches in the Ed.D. in Community College Leadership program to the virtual environment, sharing materials both at NC State and at other institutions to facilitation the transition to virtual teaching.
  • Jason Whitham, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
    • From one of his THREE nominators and faculty mentor, Carlos Goller, Ph.D.: Jason has extensive experience as a researcher focusing on microbial community analysis. His energy & creativity to share knowledge was evident from our first interaction. Jason actively sought teaching and outreach experiences. He was instrumental in the re-design of the BIT (Biotechnology Program) 477/577 Metagenomics course (fall 2020) to allow us to pivot to an asynchronous online course while still updating content. Jason brought his expertise to develop activities and mentor the next (and current!) generation of researchers in metagenomics. His work led to training undergraduate and grad students, two metagenomic case studies, and collaborations.

Outstanding Postdoc Mentorship Award

This award recognizes faculty mentors who have gone above and beyond to support NC State University postdoctoral scholars during the 2020-2021 academic year.

Awardees will be selected based on meeting one or more of the following criteria.

  • Empowers mentee to reach their career goals
  • Supports mentee through collaborative scholarship (e.g., grant writing, publications, presentations) and teaching, where relevant
  • Offers constructive feedback and expertise in support of their mentee
  • Provides outstanding support for mentee through research and scholarly setbacks related to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Service to the postdoctoral community at large, including advocating for postdoctoral scholars and including postdoctoral voices

Members of the Outstanding Postdoc Mentorship Award review committee include Nikki Price, MS, Assistant Dean for Culture, Talent, and Human Resources in the College of Sciences; Melvin (Jai) Jackson, Ph.D., Assistant Vice Provost for Faculty Engagement with the Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity; Alexa Carter, MS, Interim Lead Librarian for Engineering and Sciences with NC State Libraries; and Chris Smith, Ph.D., Postdoc Program Manager at NC State.

The Faculty Nominees Are…

  • Carlos Goller, Ph.D., Associate Teaching Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
    • From his nominator, Jason Whitham, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: Research was massively slowed by the pandemic. Progress was limited by reagent availability, personnel availability, and travel restrictions for site sampling. In addition to research, teaching was an important component of my postdoctoral experience that could have also been impeded if it wasn’t for Dr. Carlos Goller. He taught me the word “asynchronous” and how to teach online. Together we met the challenge of migrating an in-person course, and making the content accessible to students 24/7, and interactive between students for many of the assignments.
  • Adam Harstone-Rose, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences
    • From his nominator, Edwin Dickinson, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: As a colleague, a mentor, and a PI, Dr. Hartstone-Rose has been an example of strong and positive leadership, embracing the ideals of collegiality and collaboration. In the 3 years for which I have worked in his lab, he has always encouraged and supported my professional development and I am proud to recommend him for this award. His mentorship and friendship have enabled me to advance my own career, and I am sincerely grateful for his commitment.
  • Jessica Matthews, Ph.D., Research Scholar at the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies in Asheville, NC
    • From her nominator, Yuhan (Douglas) Rao, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: Since the beginning of the pandemic in China, Jessica has been very mindful of the situation and talked with me regularly to check about my family. I really appreciate her support and understanding when I can’t focus because of the pandemic. When we all started to telework in March, she started checking in with me on Slack and video meetings twice a week to make sure I was okay. This is even more impressive as she has to care for two young children at home, supervise ten other institute staff, and navigate the remote operation of the institute. She has always been there for me when I have questions or want to talk about research, career, or challenges. She is more than just a mentor but also a supportive friend.
  • Natalie Nelson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering
    • From her nominator, Sheila Saia, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: There are several reasons why Dr. Nelson empowers me to reach my career goals. First, she regularly checks in with me regarding my career goals, which I initially outlined in a professional development/mentoring plan when I joined her lab. Second, she’s always on the lookout for job opportunities for me and encourages me to apply and reiterates that I meet the qualifications (even when I lack the confidence to say so). Third, she’s open to me attending workshops, conferences, hackathons, and events that are non-traditional for academics yet may help me build connections and skills to meet my career goals.
  • Jennifer Richmond-Bryant, Ph.D., Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources
    • From her nominator, Chuqi Guo, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: Since the first day that I became a postdoc, Dr. Richmond-Bryant helped me to think of myself as a one of her colleagues instead of a student. She respects all her mentees’ work and expertise. She regards all of us as her colleagues. She is never stingy when it comes to praising her students and postdocs.
  • Deepti Salvi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Food, Bioprocessing, and Nutrition Sciences
    • From her nominator, Qingyang Wang Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: During the difficult times, Dr. Salvi has been actively providing support to her mentees in both an educational setting and for general wellness. She guided us to explore tasks that we could do such as reading, writing, workshops, and networking opportunities when the data collection was not possible. For example, she provided me an opportunity to help develop online courses for graduate students while my research project was on pause. She also carefully managed the lab to make sure it a safe place to work in. Most of all, she prioritized our health above anything else. She gave us regular supportive communications and provided us a huge amount of openness and flexibility to fit our work around our life during the pandemic.
  • Coby Schal, Ph.D., Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professor, Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology
    • From one of his TWO nominators, Aaron Ashbrook, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: Dr. Schal supports a culture of collaborative scholarship by the creation of my position, where I am co-mentored by another faculty member (Aram Mikaelyan, Ph.D.). As a part of this project, we collaborate on experimental design as well as the publication process. Currently, we are writing two papers for publication as a part of this collaborative project. Additional collaborative efforts occur in the lab in the form of teaching students. Dr. Schal introduced me to different people that I would otherwise not have an opportunity to meet. Additionally, these collaborations with others make me feel like a valuable member of the lab and that I am being recognized for my efforts.
  • Rosangela (Ross) Sozzani, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology
    • From one of her TWO nominators, Srikumar Krishnamoorthy, Ph.D., postdoctoral research scholar: Dr. Sozzani is very understanding of the challenges that are associated with postdoctoral positions, and has always prioritized our well-being. Specifically, she has helped with informing us about relevant career advancing opportunities and gives us a great deal of autonomy pertaining to our research. She is extremely helpful, understanding, and a good example of what every PI should strive to be.

Register to Attend PRS 2021, Including the Award Ceremony

Begun in 2012, the NC State Postdoctoral Research Symposium (PRS) is an annual event that seeks to provide a platform for postdoctoral scholars from NC State University and across the state to share their research, network, and learn about navigating the next steps in their careers.

This year’s virtual event will feature discussions on pre-submitted postdoctoral research videos (that will be available for viewing on the Graduate School’s YouTube Channel) and NC State postdoc-led workshops on increasing research impact and managing mentoring relationships. The keynote presentation and workshop: Defining success on your own terms, led by Shalini Nag, Ph.D., of EvidaSolve, will take place Monday, May 17, immediately following the PRS welcome and logistics session at 10:30 AM Eastern.

In addition, special add-on programming taking place on Thursday, May 20th, is open to all NC State postdocs and graduate students and will feature a LinkedIn workshop from CALS Career Services and a special workshop and presentation on Navigating Career Challenges as an International Trainee, led by Sina Safayi, DVM, Ph.D., of Rush University.

View the Schedule at a Glance and register for Thursday’s add-on events.

Postdocs will have priority for Monday’s keynote session should we reach capacity. We do not anticipate having to limit other sessions during the week.

This post was originally published in The Graduate School News.