Molecular Biologist Shirley Luckhart Receives Outstanding Mentor Award from Consortium for Women and Research
May 15, 2012
DAVIS-- UC Davis molecular biologist Shirley Luckhart, professor of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (MMI) and a graduate student advisor with the UC Davis Department of Entomology, has just received a 2012 Outstanding Mentor Award from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research.
Shirley Luckhart in her lab. (Photo courtesy of UC Davis Health System)
Luckhart and three other mentor award recipients Sheri Zidenberg-Cherr, Nutrition (she works closely with distinguished professor Bruce Hammock of the Department of Entomology); James Adams, Political Science; and Seeta Chaganti, English were honored at the consortium's annual spring reception Thursday, May 10 in the Rec Pool Lodge.
The mentoring awards are designed to honor faculty who engage in sustained and successful mentoring of women at UC Davis. The award includes a $500 research-fund prize.
Luckhart, an international authority on malaria, was nominated through a joint effort of her 15-member lab, and supported by former students, postdocs and faculty colleagues. Writing letters of support were doctoral candidates Anna Drexler and Elizabeth Glennon; postdoctoral scholar Nazzy Pakpour; and MMI associate professor Maria Mudryj.
In her letter of support, Drexler described Luckhart as "an exceptional mentor" who "cares deeply about the people she mentors and has regular meeting times scheduled with each individual in the lab and with the lab as a whole. In her weekly lab meetings, she fosters a collaborative environment where people can practice presentation skills, brainstorm new ideas and gain help troubleshooting research problems. Additionally, I have found her door is always open to myself and other students, regardless of her very busy schedule."
Drexler pointed out that Luckhart "works very hard to secure funding for students that she takes on and has, to date, been successful in this for every student in her lab. She strongly encourages each of her protégés to present independent research at one major research conference per year and provides funding for these events. I also appreciate that she is purposefully transparent about the work she does from grant writing to class preparation. This has given me a good understanding of what is entailed in professorship at a top-level research university."
Luckhart is "truly one of the most exceptional people I have worked with," Drexler wrote. "What makes her so exceptional is her ability to recognize innate potential in an individual and really commit to bringing this potential to fruition. She maintains very high standards for herself and for those she works with..."
Shirley Luckhart at meeting of UC Malaria and Research Control Group. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Within two years of joining the Luckhart lab, Drexler completed her qualifying examinations, published a review article; co-first-authored a research publication ("for which we were awarded first place in Time Magazine's 50 Best Inventions of 2010 in the Health and Medicine Category") and secured funding for the duration of her Ph.D.
Drexler wrote: " I have the opportunity to form productive collaborations leading to publications in-progress with scientists at two additional universities and presented my work at three national research conferences, several local conferences and interdepartmental seminars. I would not have been able to accomplish any of this without the unparalleled mentoring of Shirley Luckhart, who set a very high bar and challenged me to think critically, helped me apply for fellowships, financially supported travel to research conferences, introduced me to her colleagues, and generally cheered me on."
In her letter of nomination, Glennon praised "the cohesive and collaborative nature of her lab" and "the quality of training that her students receive."
"Shirley has struck the perfect balance as a mentor," Glennon wrote. "She expects a great deal from her students and pushes them to work and think independently but also supports them unflaggingly in their efforts to do original research and form themselves as professionals." Luckhart also "ensures funding for all students joining the lab but encourages us to apply for external funding, both by forwarding scholarships she comes across and reading our applications," Glennon wrote.
Pakpour lauded Luckhart's "incredible intellect" and wrote that if it were not for her mentorship and support, "I would not have continued my career in science. Since joining the laboratory four years ago, I have had the opportunity to witness and experience her mentorship first hand."
"Despite the fact that our lab is large and diverse, Dr. Luckhart still manages to meet with each of us individually ever week and as a group in our lab meetings," Pakpour wrote.
"Recently we became aware of a fellowship just as the deadline was approaching and she did not want me to miss the opportunity, so she cancelled her social engagements and worked with me over the entire weekend to complete the application. Her dedication to her mentees is amazing."
"As I am nearing the end of my post-doctoral position in her lab, she was worked tirelessly with me on preparing my academic job application, revising my research and teaching statements, coaching me during the interview process and keeping up my spirits throughout," Pakpour wrote.
All the nominators praised Luckhart for not only celebrating their successes in their lab but also in their personal lives. "She believes in us and supports us so wholeheartedly that it is almost impossible to fail," wrote Pakpour, adding that "I am exceptionally lucky to be working for her and hope one day to be half the mentor and scientist that she is."
An internationally known malaria expert, Luckhart is involved with research involving the molecular cell biology and biochemistry of malaria parasite transmission, the functional characterization of the immunological crosstalk and cell signaling that occurs between the mosquito and the mammalian host during bloodfeeding, and the impact of endemic co-infections on malaria parasite development and transmission.
Specific research projects include the conserved signal transduction pathways involved in anti-parasite host innate immunity; systems biology and function of immune factors and cell signaling pathways that are activated between mosquitoes and their mammalian hosts at the interface of bloodfeeding; identification and functional analyses of naturally occurring genetic polymorphisms associated with malaria parasite infection; mechanistic studies of enhanced pathology of HIV and non-typhoidal Salmonella co-infection with malaria.
Luckhart is a member of the graduate groups of Microbiology, Immunology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Genetics, as well as Entomology. Luckhart received her doctorate from Rutgers in entomology.
According to its website, the Consortium (CWR) is "dedicated to the support of research by and on women and on gender in its multiple intersections with race, class, sexual identity, and other categories of identity and analysis. The CWR is funded as a special program by the Office of Research."
--Kathy Keatley Garvey
UC Davis Department of Entomology