News from the chair

 

Hello everyone!

 

This past academic year, 2018-2019 has seen a record number of graduate students joining us. These thirty ambitious and talented students are coming to us from the great state of Alabama as well as the rest of the US and other countries. Our success in recruiting this large cohort of talented students builds on the hard work in the department over the past several years, work that was spearheaded by Dr. Janis O’Donnell during her tenure as the Department Chair. Janis, a neurogenetics, joined the department in 1989, became a full professor in 1995, and served as Department Chair from August 2014 until her retirement this past July. Throughout her tenure at UA, she was recognized for her commitment to teaching, research, and service. She initiated a weeklong Biology Bootcamp during the summer for freshmen who desired to come. These students work in small groups and have graduate and undergraduate student mentors. Interspersed with lectures and exams, the Bootcamp teaches students how to study effectively and efficiently, how to develop successful study groups, and how to manage their time. This past August Janis oversaw the implementation of the second round of Bootcamp, which had nearly twice as many students as the first year. The skills learned in Bootcamp enable students to earn higher grades—in biology and in other courses—and we are committed to continuing and growing the Bootcamp for Biologists. Janis had a stellar 30 year career at UA and has left an everlasting impact on the department. On behalf of the department I thank Janis for her dedication and service and wish her happy retirement years.

 

As the new Chair I look forward to working with the amazing group of dedicated faculty and staff. I came to UA in 2008 and established a research group focused on nutrient cycling at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, my group has been collaborating with others on campus and elsewhere to look at the environmental impact of the spill. I am delighted to have relocated to Tuscaloosa. As I continue to work with the faculty and staff to map out and implement a strategy to further increase our research productivity and provide greater opportunities for our students, and be the department’s voice in all universities matters, I will keep up my research at the coast.

 

Our faculty are working on issues that span systematics, population genetics, conservation and management, evolutionary issues at the level of organisms in their environment to the molecular and cellular level, and we work in freshwater and marine systems. We doubled in external funding this past year compared to the prior year, a testament to the strong research clusters we have formed in Botanical Sciences, Computational & Quantitative Biology & Bioinformatics, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology & Conservation Biology, Integrative Organismal Biology, and Molecular & Cellular Biology & Biochemistry. We continue to actively collaborate with colleagues throughout the world. At the last count, our faculty had ongoing collaboration with 115 entities, from state to federal agencies, to non-profits and research institutes to numerous universities in the US and at least 15 other countries. Our undergraduate curriculum continues to emphasize active learning approaches, and we engage nearly 300 undergraduates each year in research in our labs. By offering new courses and research opportunities, our graduate education curriculum also keeps evolving to prepare our students for productive careers in their chosen fields.

 

This past year was full of successes and accomplishments. I want to highlight a few. Drs. Staudhammer & Hatoum-Aslan received the President’s Award for Faculty Research in the senior and junior faculty categories, respectively, of the Division of Natural Science, Math & Engineering. Dr. Gregory Starr received a Fulbright Research Fellowship for a project entitled “Trading Water for Food” in Lusignan, France. He also was named the Jean d’Alembert Research Chair at the AgroParis Technology Institute from January 1, 2018–December 31, 2019. Dr. Laura Reed was named Director of the Genomics Education Partnership. This program engages approximately 2000 students per year at 126 different colleges and universities in genomics research, starting with raw DNA sequence data and culminating in research publications. Dr. Kevin Kocot won the American Microscopical Society Buchsbaum Prize for Excellence in Photomicrography. Dr. Asma Hatoum-Aslan received a National Science Foundation CAREER award for her project “Mechanisms of defense and counter-defense in the battle between bacteria and their viruses.” Dr. Carol Duffy was named a College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Teaching Fellow. Jeana Yates’s Biology Outreach activities this past year alone engaged over 1,000 students in the local schools. We are also delighted to have Drs. Andy Chaudhuri, Nathan Correll, Kaleb Heinrich, Tyler Hodges, and Jason Pienaar join our department.

 

If you are exploring the idea of becoming an undergraduate or graduate student, are one of our esteemed alumni, or are interested in what we do, I am confident you will find our newsletter and website informative. We welcome the opportunity to share more about the department. If you are visiting Tuscaloosa, please do reach out to us. We would love to have you visit. If you are interested in exploring opportunities to become involved in the Department of Biological Sciences, give me a call or send me a note at bmortazavi@ua.edu. I would love to hear from you.