Popescu works to empower faculty and foster inclusivity as chair of national group

Gabriela Popescu, standing in lab.

A bench scientist, she will lead the Council of Faculty and Academic Societies of the AAMC

Release Date: December 4, 2019

“Today, bipartisan legislatures support predictable and sustainable funding for the NIH and many scientists at the Jacobs School and across the country receive federal funds to push the boundaries of knowledge. ”
Gabriela K. Popescu, PhD, Professor, Department of Biochemistry
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. ­– Gabriela K. Popescu, PhD, professor of biochemistry in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, has been elected chair of the Council of Faculty and Academic Societies (CFAS) of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC).

Popescu, a UB faculty member since 2006 and a UB alumna, began her two-year term as CFAS chair on Nov. 13 and will serve until Nov. 9, 2021, when she will become immediate past chair. As CFAS chair, she will serve as a member of the AAMC’s board of directors until November 2021.

The AAMC represents the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals and is dedicated to transforming health care through innovative medical education, cutting-edge patient care and groundbreaking medical research.

“I am honored to step into this new role,” said Popescu.

This year, she plans to engage and lead the CFAS Administrative Board in an overall evaluation of current activities, to identify areas of success and to find ways to more effectively serve as a voice for the faculty members the group represents.

CFAS formed in 2013 at the request of faculty who had formerly been active in the AAMC’s Council of Academic Societies, with the goal of more directly engaging and representing faculty views and issues and voicing them to the AAMC to help shape the development and implementation of its programs and policies.

As the largest of the AAMC Councils CFAS represents more than 173,000 full-time faculty, with 350 faculty members, two representatives from each AAMC member school and society.

Popescu initially served on the Administrative Board, representing the Jacobs School. In 2017, she was named chair-elect and her primary responsibility was to chair the committee that organizes the annual CFAS spring meeting.

Plenary on sexual harassment

Last spring, she and colleagues on CFAS organized what she called “a tremendously effective plenary session on sexual harassment in academic medicine” and one of a few pioneering sessions held at national meetings on the subject. The session included opportunities for participants to learn and practice new skills designed to disrupt unconscious bias and to foster a more inclusive climate for women.

She said: “As CFAS chair for the next two years, it will be important to continue to chisel the identity of this relatively new council, to engage and empower faculty representatives to speak loudly and effectively to the most critical issues facing academic medicine and to foster a culture of inclusivity and appreciation.”

Popescu believes that her experiences as a bench scientist, as a woman in academic medicine and as an immigrant serve her well in this leadership position.

“Specifically, I feel that at this particular juncture, when the gender composition of our student body, for the first time in history, matches that of our nation’s population, it is important to commit ourselves to advancing and achieving equity along the entire career span of scientists and physicians, and across the spectrum of disciplines and specialties,” she said.

Speaking up for bench science

As a bench scientist, Popescu noted that she is a representative of what is arguably the smallest of the three traditional tracks in academic medicine, the others being educators and clinicians.

“Scientists here in the Jacobs School, like many others in academic medicine, have felt the specter of reduced National Institutes of Health funding and budgetary cuts for research, amid talk of the high ‘cost’ that basic research imposes on medical schools,” she said.

“My CFAS colleagues have mobilized under this threat and have been instrumental in demonstrating the value that science brings to the mission of medical schools,” she continued. “With this ‘evidence from the trenches,’ the AAMC partnered with many others to make a successful case for the profitable investment that scientific discoveries represent for medicine. Today, bipartisan legislatures support predictable and sustainable funding for the NIH and many scientists at the Jacobs School and across the country receive federal funds to push the boundaries of knowledge.”

Popescu currently directs research funded by three NIH awards totaling more than $3.5 million. She has invested much of her career studying a family of brain receptors — called NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors — that are critical to learning and memory. Her research on these receptors may lead to more effective strategies to treat a range of neurological and neurodegenerative conditions from stroke, chronic pain and addiction, to disorders such as schizophrenia and epilepsy. 

She lives in Amherst.

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