2019 and 2020 Research Staff Award winners

Friday, April 2, 2021
Research Staff Award - view of shelter in Duke Garden in background

Both the 2019 and 2020 Research Staff Appreciation Award winners are listed here. The announcement of last year’s awardees was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While COVID-19 has delayed the celebration of these individuals, it has not diminished our gratitude and appreciation for their efforts.

The School of Medicine honors three staff members annually with the Research Staff Appreciation Award, in recognition of their exemplary support in the conduct of research projects.  This awards program was created in 2016 to show appreciation to staff that work in research and to highlight the importance of these individuals and their leadership.  Read the nomination statements about the most recent recipients’ outstanding contributions to research at Duke.

2019 Awardees

Tomasa Barrientos de Renshaw, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist, Orthopaedic Surgery

“Tomasa is a careful scientist, replicating her results and accurately documenting every step in each experiment. She has a background in iron metabolism, and has brought concepts from her previous work into our research. Most recently, she helped us develop a new research direction around Histone deacetylase activity in sarcoma based on her prior work in that field. In her role, she acts as the glue to keep the lab members working as a team, organizing group events, and collaborative work. Tomasa takes each new trainee under her wing and teaches them to be a safe careful researcher. She is understanding and patient in her mentorship, helping students regardless of their background. In addition to her stellar effort at work, she is an incredible caring individual, who goes out of her way to help others in the lab and outside the work environment.” – Ben Alman, MD, James Urbaniak Professor and Chair, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

Zhen Huang, Principal Biostatistician, Duke Clinical Research Institute

“I started working with Zhen in early 2016 on ADAPTABLE and quickly realized her abilities which include, technical expertise, listening skills, creativity in analysis and presentation of results. Her sense of doing what is right for science and the patients is right on target. This was evidenced by her ability to push back on senior faculty (including myself) when she felt we should sharpen our approach and messaging. And, she does this with an ever-present positive and supportive attitude. Zhen was assigned to take over management of the biostatistics deliverables for ISCHEMIA, a large, complex and expensive NIH study. Her leadership and dedication to the mission of delivering accurate and timely results and her leadership skills led to an almost immediate improvement in the team organization and morale and ultimately a noted increase in the confidence of a quality delivery in the eyes of the PI’s. In the end she led the team to deliver over 200 primary analysis tables and figures ahead of schedule.” – Frank Rockhold, PhD, Professor of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, DCRI

Colin Lickwar, Research Scientist, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

“Colin’s unique skillset in genome science have allowed my lab to establish a niche investigating the functional genomic mechanisms by which the microbiome and diet affect intestinal biology. This is evidenced by Colin’s publications, which include a first-author PLoS Biology paper in 2017, and several grants we would not have obtained without Colin’s expertise. Colin’s expertise in genome sciences has led to multiple new grants, papers, and collaborations for my lab. This has resulted in Colin being the central node in my lab, with him often being pulled in multiple directions at once. To manage that, Colin has developed strong communication skills with trainees and collaborators, managing their varied competencies and expectations, while producing high quality research in the end. Colin also has an exceptionally high personal ethic for how people should act and be treated by others, is able to effectively identify unhealthy interpersonal interactions quickly. Colin has my complete trust, and I have relied on to help me navigate several difficult situations in recent years.” – John Rawls, PhD, Director, Duke Microbiome Center.

2020 Awardees

Lynn Harrington, Research Practice Manager, DHVI

Lynn is a dedicated leader who is trusted by all those who work with her.  The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically increased the research volume for DHVI.  Lynn was on the frontlines, assisting with COVID-19 inpatient studies in addition to the routine work on seasonal influenza and other vaccine trials. One of her many nominators, Chip Walter, writes, “Lynn has the highest sense of research integrity and holds our research group to the highest ethical standards in the conduct of research.  She sets high expectations for herself and for our team of clinical research coordinators and clinical research specialists.  At the same time, she performs her work cheerfully making the workplace a fun place to be.  Lynn has been key to the successes of the DVTU Research program.  She is a highly respected clinical researcher in the Duke community and enjoys an excellent reputation within the national research networks to which our group belongs.  She is most deserving of this appreciation award as she makes extraordinary effort to enhance the Duke Research Mission.”

Robert (AJ) Overton, Biostatistician, DCRI

The breadth of AJ’s impact is quite remarkable, as he has worked on data science teams across SoM and beyond. Recently, AJ’s contributions have made possible the evolution of a telehealth research team into the Digital Health Learning Health Unit, with a publication and a funded grant. He also built a dashboard to track movement in SoM labs after COVID lockdown in March, enabling the opening of 400+ labs.  Lisa Wruck, director of the Center for Predictive Medicie at Duke, said, “AJ is the type of person we all aspire to be; always willing to help a teammate in need, smart, inquisitive, innovative and enthusiastic to embrace challenges. He brings humanity to all his relationships. He consistently collaborates well with team members and takes the time to communicate thoroughly and develop relationships. He does not seek out recognition as an individual and recognizes the achievements of his coworkers whenever possible. His positive attitude is infectious. It is a true pleasure to work with AJ, which is reflected by the respect he is afforded by his colleagues at DCRI, AI Health and across SoM."

Julie Underwood, Research Analyst, Department of Dermatology

Julie wears many hats in the lab. She is lab manager, in charge of ordering supplies, maintaining equipment, training undergraduates, ensuring compliance with all regulations, etc. She is also the mouse manager, and maintains our extensive colony (over 200 cage) and writes new mouse protocols. She has sought out ways to improve her abilities in this area and recently received her Research Animal Coordinator Certificate. She is also an experimentalist. Julie usually works in a capacity to help other people/projects in lab. Having acquitted a diverse skill set in molecular biology, cell biology and biochemical approaches, Julie is uniquely able to contribute to and lead many different projects. Finally, she is an educator. Julie trains all new undergraduates in techniques such asPCR, cryo-sectioning and staining, making solutions, etc. Julie is not exceptional at just one of these roles - she is exceptional at all of them. During this past year, Julie's optimism and grit have been especially vital to the lab, and she is a role model to all who meet her.

Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for an award, an individual must meet all of the following criteria:

  • Research Assistants, Research Specialists, Clinical Research Coordinators, Project Leaders, or any staff member employed by the School of Medicine, who provides exemplary support in the conduct of research. Not Eligible: Faculty or staff members who have primary investigator status; research fellows, postdoctoral fellows and graduate students; administrative professionals.
  • Current role provides technical expertise to support any research program (including translational, clinical, data sciences, or basic science research) in a manner which underpins the effective and efficient promotion of the research mission in the School of Medicine.
  • At least 5 years of continuous service in a research role in the School of Medicine.
  • Demonstrated record of excellent performance.

The call for nominations for occurs annually in the fall.