- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
“This is a wonderful surprise,” said Luckhart, professor with the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology and adjunct professor in the Department of Entomology and Nematology.
She will receive the award on April 8 at the annual Interdisciplinary Graduate and Professional Student Award Banquet.
Luckhart, whose expertise includes molecular cell biology and biochemistry of malaria parasite transmission, was singled out for creating a thriving lab environment and her drive to help her students succeed.
Lab member Elizabeth “Lizzy” Glennon, a doctoral candidate in entomology, said that Luckhart is “unique in her creation of a cohesive lab environment, the quality of training that her students receive, and the strength of her dedication to education and wellbeing of students.”
“The most effective way of studying disease transmission is a multi-disciplinary approach,” Glennon wrote. “This is precisely the environment Shirley has created in her lab and all of her students benefit from it. Members of her lab are from several different departments and are encouraged to use their background to broaden the scope of their research. Shirley expects students to work collaboratively both within and beyond the lab and has put an enormous amount of effort towards forming and maintaining the community of vector-borne disease researchers at UC Davis.”
“Shirley served as interim co-director of the Center for Vectorborne Disease, served as an advisor to all students who are part of the designated emphasis in vector-borne disease, and sought to expand the community by involving new faculty members and their students,” Glennon said. “She organized and promoted events to allow students to meet and interact with each other, UC Davis faculty, and distinguished visiting scholars in the field. All of this work builds a legacy of excellent research and collaboration in the field that is a service to all current and future students at UC Davis.”
Luckhart “expects a great deal from her students and pushes them to work and think independently but also supports them unflaggingly in their efforts to do original research and form themselves as professionals,” Glennon said. “She ensures funding for all students joining the lab but encourages us to apply for external funding, both by forwarding scholarships she comes across and reading our applications.”
“All students are expected to take part in writing grants, updates, and portions of collaborative papers and are always given credit for the work they do,” Glennon wrote. “Students in her lab receive an education in the nitty-gritty of conducting research, from forming collaborations to acquiring funding to overcoming administrative hurdles. This is invaluable, particularly for students such as myself who are considering a career in academia.”
“Perhaps her greatest strength as a mentor is the sense of cohesiveness that she has created within the lab,” Glennon pointed out. “There are currently 10 members in her lab, including undergraduates and technicians, and the projects of every individual are overlapping. Through lab lunches, weekly meetings, and practice presentations we receive not only feedback from our principal investigator, but also from our peers.”
Lab member Lattha Souvannaseng, a doctoral candidate in genetics, praised Luckhart for instilling skills for quality research and placing great importance on communicating effectively. “These are qualities that include writing and presenting information clearly, concisely, and intelligently, all competencies that can be applied in any field and for any audience.”
“She will make time to help anyone, from an inexperienced undergraduate student presenting for the first time at the Undergraduate Research Conference, linking a master's student to a connection in a biomedical company, to the seasoned senior scientist interviewing for a tenured faculty position,” wrote Souvannaseng, who plans a career in science education outreach. “I have now mentored four undergraduate students and looked to Shirley as an example of what a great mentor should be. She is always available to me when I need advice on how to guide my students, and as a result, the students are gaining valuable experiences in the lab.”
Maribel “Mimi” Portilla, a doctoral candidate in the Sharon Lawler lab, praised Luckhart's support and guidance. “Due to this positive and supportive experience, her name immediately came to mind as an academic adviser to the women in STEM support group I created, Sisters in Science. Her involvement in this group speaks to her ability to show support in a way that goes beyond her mentorship as a principal investigator.”
Luckhart earlier received the 2012 Outstanding Mentor Award from the UC Davis Consortium for Women and Research.
Luckhart, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2004 from Virginia Tech, received her master's degree in entomology from Auburn University, and her doctorate in entomology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey.