Gladfelter wins excellence award

by Sara McGahan | 8/6/15 7:26pm

The American Society of Cell Biology has awarded biology professor Amy Gladfelter with the Women in Cell Biology Mid-Career Award for Excellence in Research.

Gladfelter said that receiving this award was a “total surprise.”

“I think everybody is always questioning what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and you know it makes you feel better when you realize, ‘O.K., the world thinks that this is interesting,’” she said.

The Gladfelter lab studies the ways in which cells and cell processes are organized in time and space. Samantha Roberts, a graduate student who has worked in the Gladfelter lab since the spring of 2012, said that Gladfelter’s sustained focus on the “fundamentals of biology” is a testament to her skill.

“The push lately has been for more and more translational research and things that can be immediately applied to the clinic,” Roberts said, adding that research in basic science is receives increasingly less funding.

Gladfelter also noted that basic science does not always receive as much attention as translational research. She said that basic science gives a knowledge base to solve future problems.

“What I would argue is there is really an important place for basic science because we don’t understand everything about the natural world, and I think there are problems out there that we maybe don’t know about,” Gladfelter said. “It’s in basic science that we understand how things work.”

Postdoctoral researcher Huaiying Zhang, who has worked in Gladfelter’s lab for the past three years, wrote in an email that Gladfelter is particularly deserving of this honor because of her unique ability to integrate diverse techniques, such as advanced microscopy, to answer important cell biology questions.

The WICB Mid-Career Award for Excellence in Research is awarded annually to an individual who has worked for seven to 15 years in an independent research position and who has exhibited exceptional work in the field of cell biology and extraordinary scientific endeavors and leadership capabilities, according to WICB’s website.

The graduate students who work in Gladfelter’s lab all emphasized her skill as both a researcher and a mentor. This was also demonstrated in 2014, when Gladfelter won the Graduate Faculty Mentoring Award, which honors faculty members who are strongly committed to the professional and personal development of graduate students. Gladfelter was nominated for this award by the graduate students working in her lab, Roberts said.

Roberts also said that one of the reasons she joined Gladfelter’s lab was due to her focus on the graduate and undergraduates students working in her lab.

“One of the things that sets her apart is that she’s really interested in her students as full people,” Roberts said. “[Gladfelter] always wants to know about your science and also that everything is okay in your life, which is very nice, because she acknowledges that what is going on in your life influences the quality of your work and the kind of progress that you’re making.”

Andrew Bridges, who has worked in Gladfelter’s lab for four years, echoed Roberts.

“I think something that’s common for mentors like her is that they are so busy that they sort of neglect training the person, but [Gladfelter] is very good at training you as a person — aside from just learning the science and doing the science,” Bridges said. “That’s extremely valuable to people who are considering being professors.”

Zhang described Gladfelter as “exciting,” adding that Gladfelter is passionate about both science and life.

Gladfelter, who has been at Dartmouth for almost 10 years, said that there has been a “natural evolution” in research topics she has pursued.

“I honestly couldn’t have predicted that we’d be asking the questions we’re asking now,” she said, but added “the specific aspects of the problems are completely different. I think that’s one of the things that makes this an interesting job. It’s a really creative endeavor where you just don’t know where you’re going to go next.”

Michael Qian contributed reporting.

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