POSTDOC OF THE YEAR
The Postdoc of the Year Award recognizes a postdoctoral scholar who demonstrates excellence in research and scholarship. The nominee must demonstrate excellence in several criteria, including publications, presentations, awards/honors, service and mentoring. The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs solicited nominations from faculty in each school, and the Postdoctoral Fellow Advisory Committee reviewed and voted on all nominations.
This year’s recipient is Siru Liu, Ph.D., mentored by Adam Wright, Ph.D.
Liu has an interdisciplinary background in artificial intelligence and machine learning, biomedical and behavioral research, and clinical decision support that is integral to the Wright Lab’s research goals of developing interventions in the electronic health record system to improve health care quality. In the past year, Liu has published 10 articles and has four current articles in submission status, and she presented at top academic conferences including the AMIA Annual Symposium and NeurIPS. Additionally, she has contributed to science internationally by co-authoring two Chinese textbooks on biomedical informatics.
Liu is funded by an NIH National Libraries of Medicine K99/R00, the only to be awarded in the last year. She additionally received nine other awards and honors in 2022, including the American Association of University Women International Fellowship, Google Cloud Research Innovator, and the NCI Multilevel Intervention Training Institute Scholar.
At VUMC, Liu developed an interpretable AI-based clinical decision support tool to predict ICU delirium. The tool has received positive feedback from clinicians and was completed in only one year.
POSTDOCTORAL MENTOR OF THE YEAR
Recipients of the Postdoctoral Mentor of the Year Award must demonstrate a willingness to share expertise and advice; service to the community at large, including other mentoring activities; and scholarship within the mentor’s own career, including publications, awards, presentations and honors. The Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association solicits nominations from all Vanderbilt postdocs, and the VPA Executive Board reviews and votes.
This year’s recipient is Jacob Feldman, Ph.D., mentored by Tiffany Woynaroski, Ph.D., and Mark Wallace, Ph.D.
Feldman is described as “not only a great all-around mentor, but he understands how to individualize his expertise and guidance for certain individuals and situations.” During his postdoc, Feldman has directly mentored three undergraduate students. Two completed honors theses during their senior years; one graduated with honors and went on to medical school at the University of Alabama; and the other was offered admission to multiple graduate programs this spring.
In addition to mentoring, Feldman’s scholarly achievements as a clinician-scientist are exceptional. He has 22 articles in peer-reviewed journals and 76 conference presentations. He received the Warren Lambert Memorial Award for Best Poster Presentation in the Systems Neuroscience Category by a Postdoc at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center Science Day, and he was recognized as an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Distinguished Early Career Professional.
POSTDOC SERVICE AWARD
The Postdoc Service Award goes to a postdoctoral scholar who has demonstrated sustained service to Vanderbilt through service to the community at large—through professional societies, scholarly work outside regular lab responsibilities, or by leading within and promoting the postdoc experience at Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt Postdoc Association solicits nominations from all postdocs, and the VPA Executive Board reviews and votes.
The first recipient is Elvira Aballí Morell, Ph.D., mentored by Jane Landers, Ph.D.
Aballí Morell is a National Endowment for the Humanities Global Scholar as part of the Collaborative Humanities postdoctoral fellowship program. During her time as a Humanities Global Scholar, she has engaged with both the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities. Along with other members of her cohort, she organized the Global Humanities Symposium. She also has collaborated with the Vanderbilt Digital Humanities Center’s Digital Collections Group and the Curb Center. In the Nashville community, Aballí Morell translates tours and has lectured for exhibits at the Frist Art Museum.
In addition to her service, Aballí Morell has gained multiple competitive research and travel grants. She has published her research in peer-reviewed journals and an edited book. She has also published her own book of short stories, poetry and illustration titled Soledades: La Isla de Promoteo. She is also a guest lecturer for several courses and received awards for distinction in teaching. She regularly presents her work in both English and Spanish.
The second recipient is Daniel Fehrenbach, Ph.D., mentored by Meena Madhur, M.D., Ph.D.
Fehrenbach is the current president of the Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association. He began working with the VPA in 2021 as junior co-chair and helped create new initiatives as postdocs were returning to on-campus activities following the COVID-19 pandemic. His main goal has been to increase engagement to create a more vibrant postdoctoral community on campus.
Fehrenbach serves as chair of the Water and Electrolyte Section of the American Physiological Society Trainee Advisory Committee, where he connects undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and early career investigators across a wide variety of fields. In the community, he teaches at Southern Irish Dance as a mentor and confidant. His dance students perform and compete locally, nationally and internationally.
FACULTY MENTOR OF THE YEAR
Recipients of the Faculty Mentor of the Year Award must demonstrate a willingness to share expertise and advice; service to the community at large, including other mentoring activities; and scholarship within the mentor’s own career, including publications, awards, presentations and honors. The Vanderbilt Postdoctoral Association solicits nominations from all Vanderbilt postdocs, and the VPA Executive Board reviews and votes.
This year’s recipient is Eric Skaar, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Infection, Immunology and Inflammation; director of the Division of Molecular Pathogenesis; Ernest W. Goodpasture Professor and professor in pathology; vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology; and a University Distinguished Professor of Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology.
Skaar and Valeria Reyes-Ruiz, one of his postdoctoral fellows, are the founding members of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee in the Vanderbilt Institute for Infection, Immunology and Inflammation, also known as VI4. Reyes-Ruiz notes that Skaar’s mentorship has allowed her to achieve things in her career that she did not think were possible.
The nomination for Skaar included many statements from former and current postdoctoral fellows speaking about the impact he has had on their careers. One mentee said, “I am confident to say that choosing Dr. Skaar as my postdoctoral mentor was the best decision for my career as it has positively impacted my decision to continue in academia and has given me an amazing postdoctoral experience.”
Another said, “While in his lab, he provided a very personalized mentoring experience tailored to the individual goals of every lab member, and he never considers his mentoring duties completely done once we leave. To this day, I still feel that I can turn to him for support when I need guidance.”
For more information on past winners, please visit the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs website.
Vanderbilt postdoctoral fellows, commonly known as postdocs, are professionals who have earned doctoral degrees and are pursuing additional scholarly training, experience and research progress necessary for a wide range of career paths. Postdocs play an important role in Vanderbilt’s research enterprise and are integral to the discovery and learning mission of Vanderbilt University and Medical Center. At any given time, Vanderbilt has 450 postdocs across both VU and VUMC.