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Med school faculty receive graduate mentoring award

By SUE WUETCHER

Published January 7, 2016

UB medical school faculty members Margarita Dubocovich and Mark O’Brian are the recipients of the 2015-16 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award, presented by the Graduate School, to recognize UB faculty for their support and development of graduate students through their mentoring activities. 

The award, established in 2012, is given annually to a member of the graduate faculty who has demonstrated “truly outstanding and sustained support and development of graduate students from course completion through research and subsequent career placement.”

Margarita Dubocovich

Margarita Dubocovich

Michael Cain, vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, nominated both Dubocovich and O’Brian for the award. Dubocovich is SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; O’Brian is professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry.

It is Dubocovich’s excellence in research — she is the world’s foremost authority on the brain hormone melatonin and the regulation of melatonin receptors — “that draws graduate trainees to work in her laboratory,” Cain said. He called her a “generous and appreciative adviser who includes her trainees as co-authors on her published papers, book chapters and abstracts.”

Dubocovich’s work has significantly broadened the scientific understanding of melatonin’s impact on circadian rhythms, sleep disorders and depression. She is credited with discovering melatonin receptor subtypes, which revolutionized the field. Her discoveries, Cain said, “have laid the groundwork for developing therapeutic agents.”

The owner or co-owner of three patents related to agents developed through her research, Dubocovich has received continuous funding support since 1985 from the NIH, National Science Foundation and major pharmaceutical companies, among them Glaxo Inc., Eli Lilly and Co., and Takeda Pharmaceuticals North America.

Since being recruited to UB from Northwestern University in 2008, Dubocovich has served as primary thesis adviser to five PhD students and six master’s or combined BS/MS students, and has been sought out as a research mentor by 26 postdoctoral fellows. Cain noted Dubocovich “has been committed to graduate training throughout her career.”

“She is a faculty member who has consistently devoted her life to professional excellence,” Cain said, “sustained a high-caliber research program, been an excellent adviser and mentor to numerous graduate trainees, and created mentorship programs that will have an enduring legacy.”

Dubocovich developed the CLIMB (Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences) programs that provide mentoring experiences for biosciences students at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and junior faculty levels. In 2012, she was named inaugural senior associate dean for inclusion and cultural enhancement at the medical school. She is co-principal investigator of the Institute for Strategic Enhancement of Educational Diversity, a UB consortium dedicated to building a culturally diverse community of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty. She also is director for education and diversity for the Biology with X-ray Free Election Lasers (BioXFEL) consortium, an NSF-funded Science and Technology Center, headquartered at UB.

Mark O’Brian

Mark O’Brian

With a long record of graduate mentorship, including having served on doctoral thesis committees for more than 50 students, O’Brian “is certainly  among the best mentors in the (medical) school,” according to Cain. He noted that O’Brian not only received the Louis A. and Ruth Siegel Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997, but also has been honored with a Commendation for Excellence in Teaching by the Siegel Award Committee five times — starting in 2002 and most recently in 2014. Cain described the commendation as “a coveted award bestowed by student election for excellence in medical student teaching.” Testimonials of his graduate students, past and present, “highlight a professional, yet caring mentor who inspired them to be creative and productive.”

O’Brian’s extensive graduate training record includes mentorship of 13 PhD students, one master’s student and six postdoctoral associates since 1991.

“He is a generous mentor, who includes his trainees as co-author on many of his publications,” Cain said, noting that of O’Brian’s 63 peer-reviewed published papers, 31 have graduate students listed as first author and he shares authorship of one book chapter with graduate students. Many of these students, he said, “completed their degrees with distinction and/or were recipients of departmental and school awards, illustrating Mark’s excellent mentoring and research advising.”

O’Brian, who joined the UB faculty in 1988, studies the coordinated control of nutritional stress responses in bacteria. He identified a novel mechanism for control of iron-responsive gene expression in Bradyrhizobium japonicum, a bacterium that serves as a model organism for studying a large taxonomic group important to pathogenesis and symbiosis. His work has contributed to the understanding of this regulatory mechanism, including how it allows differential control of iron-responsive genes and how iron metabolism coordinates with other cellular processes.

His research is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Dubocovich and O’Brian will be recognized at the Graduate School’s spring awards ceremony and reception on April 1, and at the annual Celebration of Faculty/Staff Excellence to be held during the fall 2016 semester.