PERA Recipients

Established in 2016 with support from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation, the Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award is annually given to two exceptional Postdoctoral Researchers for their contributions to MSU and the greater research community.

2020

Dr. Philipp Grete received a B.Sc. in Computer Science in 2008 from the University of Cooperative Education in Stuttgart, Germany, and then worked for Hewlett-Packard before studying Physics (B.Sc.) and Computer Science (M.Sc.) at the University of Göttingen, Germany, from 2010 to 2013. In his Ph.D. thesis (2014-2016, University of Göttingen, Germany) he developed a model for small scale magnetized turbulence that was recognized by the German Astronomical Society with the annual Best Dissertation Award. Since October 2016, he is a postdoctoral research associate at Michigan State University working across the Departments of Physics & Astronomy and Computational Mathematics, Science and Engineering. His current research interests include fundamental processes involving magnetic fields in (astrophysical) fluids, numerical methods in computational fluid dynamics, and high-performance computing with an emphasis on performance portability. His most notable achievements at MSU include the development of a framework to study detailed scale-by-scale energy dynamics in compressible magnetized turbulence (which was featured in the Physics of Plasma journal) and the development of the performance portable K-Athena code that he demonstrated to run efficiently using 24576 GPUs in parallel on Summit – currently the fastest supercomputer in the world.

Dr. Grete authored 11 publications (of those 10 as first or second author and 7 during his time at MSU) in various disciplines (astrophysics, plasma physics, and computer science), and he presented his MSU research in 27 talks. As a strong advocate of open science and open scientific software Dr. Grete developed and contributed to multiple open source community software projects. His research is driven by large scale simulations that are enabled by multiple computing time grants he successfully obtained as PI or Co-PI. Most recently he obtained a Leadership Resource Allocation on NSF’s latest flagship supercomputer Frontera.

Dr. Grete is also committed to support the next generation of scientists. He has mentored four students of whom two presented their work at international conferences and meetings. Moreover, he developed and implemented two different inquiry-based teaching activities with specific focus on equity and inclusion in STEM as part of a professional development program. Finally, he is also supporting outreach activities, such as the local Astronomy on Tap chapter, and built an interactive supercomputer model that has been showcased multiple times, for example, at MSU’s Science Festival Expo.

Dr. Dafna Groeneveld discovered her passion for blood clotting research during her bachelor internships. She received her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Chemistry in 2005 from Saxion Hogeschool (Deventer, The Netherlands). After working as a research technician and obtaining her master’s degree in Forensic Science from the University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands), she pursued her PhD in Medicine at the University Medical Center Leiden (The Netherlands). Her PhD studies focused on the blood clotting protein von Willebrand factor (VWF). In 2012, she received an award for scientific excellence from the Dutch Association for Thrombosis and Hemostasis for her work on the clearance mechanisms of VWF.

After obtaining her PhD in 2015, Dr. Groeneveld started her postdoctoral career in laboratory of Dr. Ton Lisman (Groningen, The Netherlands). Her research focused on the interphase between blood clotting and liver disease in a more clinical setting. During her postdoc work, she successfully obtained two research grants as co-applicant. In direct alignment with these research interests, she accepted a position as postdoctoral research associate in the laboratory of Dr. James Luyendyk in fall 2017 after securing a prestigious non-clinical junior research grant from the European Hematology Association. Her work focuses on how the blood clotting system contributes to liver injury and repair using advanced in vivo and in vitro approaches.

Dr. Groeneveld has published 16 peer-reviewed publications, 5 during her time at MSU. Since 2015, her work has been cited over 250 times. During her first two years at MSU, she has presented her work at multiple invited platforms and won several awards including the MSU PDA travel award. Her work on the role of the blood clotting system in liver regeneration is published in the number one hematology journal Blood (impact factor 16.6). Her most recent work on the role of VWF in liver injury and repair has been published in number one journal in hepatology Journal of Hepatology (impact factor 19). In addition, Dr. Groeneveld has mentored many students during her postdoctoral career and is an active reviewer for several peer-reviewed journals within her field.

2019

Dr. Ana Sofia Mendes Leal earned her PharmD from the University of Coimbra in Portugal in 2007. During that time, she volunteered in a pharmacognosy laboratory of where she studied the effects of wild strawberry leaf extract in oxidation. After working as a general pharmacist for six months, she pursued her PhD in Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Coimbra in Portugal, obtaining her degree in 2013. During this time, she synthesized more than 100 new compounds derived from ursolic and oleanolic acids, and while a Visiting Research Scholar at Mount Sinai Hospital evaluated these compounds for anti-tumor activity in pancreatic cancer cells. Currently, Dr. Leal works in the lab of Dr. Karen Liby in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at MSU. Her work focuses on the use of small molecules, such as rexinoids, to manipulate the tumor microenvironment of breast, pancreatic and lung cancers.

Dr. Leal has authored 15 publications, including 9 during her time at MSU. She recently received a travel award to attend and present at the AACR-Targeting RAS-Driven Cancers meeting, and has received a Sponsored Research grant from Incyte Corporation to evaluate new drugs in mouse models of pancreatic cancer. An accomplished scholar, Dr. Leal looks forward to one day having her own research laboratory.

Her PI, Dr. Karen Liby, writes that “Dr. Leal is a productive, intelligent, creative, and committed Research Associate who has already made significant contributions to the field of cancer research”. We are proud to award Dr. Ana Sofia Mendes Leal with the 2018-2019 Postdoctoral Excellent in Research Award. Congratulations!

Dr. Nathan M. Good received his bachelor’s degrees in biology and zoology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003. He obtained his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Washington in 2014. Dr. Good currently works as a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University, where he investigates lanthanide biochemistry and methylotrophy. Lanthanide metals are critical components of many modern technologies, and they have recently been discovered to be “New Life Metals” for methylotrophic bacteria. Understanding how these metals are utilized in biology provides insight for the development of green technologies to address global economic challenges such as accumulation of electronic waste and food shortages.

Dr. Good has authored 9 publications, 4 during his time at MSU, one of which was a featured as a Spotlight article in the Journal of Bacteriology. He received an MSU Postdoctoral Association Travel Award in 2017, as well as a travel award to attend the Wind River Conference in Prokaryotic Biology. Additionally, Dr. Good has proven himself as an effective mentor of undergraduate students, with 6 of his mentees having been accepted to competitive graduate programs upon leaving the lab.

His PI, Dr. N. Cecilia Martinez-Gomez, writes that “Nate’s creativity and rigorous science, coupled with a strong commitment to service and education, makes him outstanding”. We are proud to award Dr. Nathan M. Good with the 2018-2019 Postdoctoral Excellent in Research Award. Congratulations!

2018

Dr. Omayma Alshaarawy received her MBBS degree with specialization in Medicine and Surgery from School of Medicine in Cairo, Egypt. She worked as a primary care physician and a clinical pathologist until 2010 before moving to USA to pursue her doctoral studies in Epidemiology from West Virginia University. After earning her Epidemiology PhD in 2013, she began her postdoctoral training at the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in Michigan State University as a NIH/NIDA T32 postdoctoral scholar till 2015. She worked as a visiting scholar and taught fundamentals of epidemiology in Department of Epidemiology at Indiana University School of Public Health. Since, she has been a research associate in the MSU in the Epidemiology department, where she investigates the effects of cannabinoids on disease using pre-clinical biomarkers and epidemiological models.

Dr. Alshaarawy has authored 16 peer-reviewed articles, including 11 during her time at MSU. She was awarded K99 grants for her work in MSU and is a principal investigator (PI) of the project. The K99 training combines epidemiological studies, and pre-clinical rodent studies that she is currently conducting at the lab of Dr. L.Karl Olson, the co-sponsor of the K99 award at the department of Physiology. She has received NIDA Director’s and MSUPDA travel award. Dr. Alshaarawy also received American Diabetics Association young investigator travel grant and NIH cardiovascular and pulmonary disease training grant.

Dr. Alshaarawy is actively involved in teaching and mentoring many undergraduate students and helping them to pursue career in Epidemiology. She made sure that the student’s effort is credited appropriately by getting them published in reputed peer-reviewed journals of the field.

Her PI, Dr. James C. Anthony, said that “I place Dr. Alshaarawy in the very top tier of NIH postdoctoral fellows I have supervised since 1981. She brings her own creative and independent research ideas and puts them into action”. We are proud to award Dr. Omayma Alshaarawy with the 2017-2018 Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award. Congratulations.

Dr. Caleb Trujillo received his Bachelor’s Degree in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology from University of Colorado at Boulder in 2009. He completed his doctoral program in Biological Sciences at Purdue University in 2015. Now, Dr. Trujillo works as a postdoctoral research associate in the area of science education at Michigan State University, where he develops a cross-disciplinary framework for systems thinking in undergraduate biology students.

Dr. Trujillo has published 9 publications in total, including one in Science Advances in 2018. He has 4 invited talks and has more than 35 presentations in national and international conference and meetings. In addition, he has received 4 travel awards from different organizations and, while at Purdue, earned outstanding leadership and governance awards from Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science.

Dr. Trujillo has mentored 6 undergraduate students at MSU to help them organize their research ideas, analysis and presentation of data. Three of his students have been awarded first place in educational research poster at the University Undergraduate Research and Arts Forum. He has also worked with more than 110 middle school students to help them understand science and science writing.

His PI, Dr. Tammy Long, mentioned that “His approach revealed that much of what we knew about systems thinking was biased toward a small education research community that was, for the most part, relatively disconnected from other fields that were not only larger, but also better integrated with one another”. We are proud to award Dr. Caleb Trujillo with the 2017-2018 Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award. Congratulations.

2017

Dr. Sarah P. Saunders, postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Integrative Biology, believes that inspiration often comes when it is least expected. In her case, it came in the form of a pigeon.

“During college, I had a summer internship at World Bird Sanctuary outside of St. Louis, and one of my tasks was to clean the pigeon loft each week,” Saunders said. “On a particularly hot summer day in the pigeon loft, I watched a single bird search among a pile of sticks, retrieve a suitable specimen, and return it to his mate to construct her nest. He repeated this process for over an hour. This pigeon captured my curiosity that day, reminding me that every animal is a unique individual with a distinct personality. No matter how different pigeons and humans are evolutionarily, we are connected by our common basic behaviors, such as providing for our mates. Although I have always been interested in the biology of animal behavior, it was this realization that instigated my passion for conservation biology.”

Saunders received her bachelor’s degree in Biology from Washington University in St. Louis in May 2010. Following graduation, she began her PhD with Dr. Francesca Cuthbert at the University of Minnesota and completed her degree in March 2015. While a graduate student, Saunders also served as a conservation intern at the Minnesota Zoo for one year, studying tiger breeding success and cub survival. Saunders joined the lab of Dr. Elise Zipkin at MSU shortly thereafter, studying the dynamics of the eastern North American monarch butterfly population in the Department of Integrative Biology.

Since starting at MSU in the spring of 2015, Saunders has had five manuscripts published or in review, adding to her previous eight publications and six invited talks. Saunders successfully received independent funding from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Grant, and also was the co-author with her PI, Dr. Zipkin, on a major NSF grant that was recently awarded.

“Sarah is among the most talented, hardworking, and motivated young scientists I have ever met,” Zipkin said. “In addition to being highly productive, Sarah is extremely likeable, helpful to the graduate students in our lab, and a natural leader among her peers. She has an excellent future ahead of her.”

Her current research focuses on adapting cutting cutting-edge quantitative techniques for biological conservation. She is building integrative models which synthesize multiple data types and sources of uncertainty into a unified structure to assess future population viability and efficacy of potential management strategies for piping plovers – the birds she studied for her PhD at the University of Minnesota – and American woodcock, a game species of conservation concern. This research will provide a comprehensive framework for analyzing data on threatened populations and shaping conservation actions at regional to continental scales. Saunders said her research has helped shed light on ecological mysteries, aid in recovery of endangered populations, reveal mechanisms of species invasion, and address urgent conservation priorities.

“Effective species conservation depends upon understanding factors driving changes in population abundance and distribution through the advancement of statistical models, and developing and linking management approaches to empirical data to alleviate threats to species persistence,” Saunders said.  “This two-part research goal has been, and will continue to be, my motivation throughout my scientific career.  I plan to continue my development as a quantitative conservation biologist in a research agency.  I am interested in working in either a government or non-government organization where the mission is focused on advancing wildlife conservation through rigorous scientific monitoring and research.  I have really enjoyed working with long-term monitoring data and I hope to continue to do so to better understand the dynamics of threatened and declining populations.”

Outside of the lab, Saunders has been co-instructor for the graduate level Quantitative Methods in Ecology and Evolution course, developing course lectures, assignments, and in-class activities to enhance student learning.  She is currently supervising and mentoring several graduate students in the Zipkin lab on a project for the Reproducible Quantitative Methods course that seeks to model population dynamics of game species of conservation concern.

The MSU Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award is a $1,000 cash award.  Saunders said she plans to use her award to purchase a new laptop computer with more advanced computational abilities.

“I am very honored to receive a 2017 MSU Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award,” Saunders said.  “I am most passionate about being able to directly impact the recovery of endangered and declining populations, whether it is through statistical modeling, publications, or on-the-ground management actions.  Receiving this award means that others are just as excited about my research, and its importance to animal conservation, as I am.  I love being able to help solve pressing ecological problems and this award further encourages me to keep developing statistical models to better understand the dynamics of at-risk populations across the United States.”

Dr. Andrew L. Eagle, postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Physiology, has always been fascinated by abnormal behavior associated with mental illness, particularly in depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and drug addiction.

“I have both personal and professional interest in psychiatric disease,” Eagle said. “These disorders are serious problems and share many things in common, most notably we tend to see overlapping brain regions and circuits involved in these diseases. I find it fascinating that perturbation of similar brain networks can lead to very different outcomes. For example, susceptibility to depression in one case and addiction in another. I want to know why these diseases develop in certain individuals and the brain mechanisms that become dysfunctional after drugs and stress, both as an interested scientist and as a concerned citizen who sees a real problem in our society.”

Eagle began his academic career at Delta College and Central Michigan University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology, followed by a master’s degree in Experimental Psychology, and a PhD in Applied Experimental Psychology with Dr. Justin Oh-Lee in 2010. After completing his doctoral work, Eagle began his postdoctoral training at Wayne State University, studying behavioral neuroscience in the lab of Dr. Shane Perrine. He came to MSU in 2013, joining the lab of Dr. AJ Robison in the Physiology Department, where he studies the role of the transcription factor delta FosB in learning and memory.

Eagle has published 11 peer-reviewed articles, including eight during his time at MSU. He was awarded a position on the NIEHS Training Grant through the MSU Institute for Integrative Toxicology, and is currently competing for funding through K01 and R21 grants. Notably, Eagle won the prestigious National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, in total, receiving enough awards to completely cover his time at MSU.

“Andrew is the exact type of independent scientist and leader that enhances the positive image of the postdoctoral experience at MSU,” Robison said.

His current research focuses on the neurobiology of psychiatric disease. His work takes a multi-faceted approach to examine the physiological and molecular mechanisms that underlie behavior, using animal models of psychiatric disease. Treatments that target activity changes in individual neurons, or groups of neurons, within a brain network can be transformative for the development of therapies for psychiatric disease, and possibly provide cures to lifelong diseases such as addiction and depression.

“You would be hard-pressed to find a person in the U.S. who doesn’t know someone close to them, such as a family member, friend, or co-worker, that is struggling with addiction or depression,” Eagle said. “I have family members and friends who struggle with these diseases and some of my closest friends have died from their drug addiction. I think we can attribute this growing problem to the stigma associated with mental illnesses such as depression and addiction. Therefore, it is my wish that my contribution to understanding the mechanism for these diseases can lead to more efficacious treatments. While we are still far from a cure for these diseases, this research is critical to paving the way for future treatments.”

Eagle is actively involved in the MSU neuroscience program, presenting research and educational outreach both within the MSU community and the broader East Lansing area. He regularly teaches undergraduate courses in neuroscience and psychology, and has independently mentored four students at MSU.

The MSU Postdoctoral Excellence in Research Award is a $1,000 cash award. Eagle said he plans to use his award to help cover the cost of the 10-year wedding anniversary trip he has planned for him and his wife.

“Receiving this award means that my research is respected and valued by my collegial peers, namely other postdocs at MSU,” Eagle said. “Postdocs keenly understand the hard work and determination to complete high-impact research, so it was a pleasant surprise to learn my peers value my work. Additionally, in research we often tend to become very secluded from other areas outside our field. Although I find my own work fascinating, it felt great to hear that others thought it was interesting as well. Finally, receiving this award from the MSU Postdoctoral Association and the MSU Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies reinforces the idea that the university is committed to supporting their postdocs who make a substantial, but often underrepresented contribution to the success of the university.”

2016

Dr. Jason Gibbs earned his PhD in Biology from York University in Canada in 2009. He joined Michigan State University as a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Rufus Isaacs’ lab in the Department of Entomology in 2013, where he research has focused on understanding the diversity of wild pollinators and factors that affect their abundance. Since he arrived at MSU, Dr. Gibbs has published fifteen papers in a wide range of national and international journals, on subjects related to bee taxonomy, systematics, ecology, and pollination. This includes two in PNAS and one in The Proceedings of the Royal Society, both highly regarded journals. Dr. Gibbs is also involved in outreach activities, including the development of a pocket guide to the wild bees of Michigan and contributing to the annual MSU “BeePalooza” event.

His PI, Dr. Rufus Isaacs, stated “I consider Dr. Jason Gibbs to be a postdoc par excellence with all of the expertise that we needed to complement our core abilities, but bringing so much more. He has cemented MSU’s reputation for pollination research, has attracted funding and students to MSU, and he is blazing a trail with his publication activity. He is invited to give presentations in symposia at national and international conferences, he has a growing network of collaborators, and most importantly a series of research questions that will keep him engaged here in Michigan or wherever his career develops”.

Dr. Ugo Bussy earned his PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Nantes in France in 2013. Since November 2013, he has been working in Dr. Weiming Li’s laboratory in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University as a postdoctoral research associate, and in November 2015 was promoted to senior research associate. During these two years he has actively contributed as an analytical chemist to several projects dedicated to sea lamprey research, developed new research projects, and developed innovative methods for measuring neuropeptides and neurosteroids. Dr. Bussy’s work at MSU has already resulted in the publication of six first-authored papers and six co-authored papers, and he has received an MSU-PDA Travel Award to present his research.

His PI, Dr. Weiming Li, stated “Dr. Ugo Bussy has displayed a very high level of excellence in scientific research since starting his postdoctoral work here in MSU. Over the last two years, I have come to know Dr. Bussy as a highly motivated and innovative chemist, an effective communicator, a highly collaborative colleague, and an upcoming scholar with a tremendous promise for an academic career”.

Note: Prior to the establishment of the MSU-OPA, PERA awards were overseen by the MSU-PDA with support from the Office of the Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation.

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