U-M Biosciences Initiative launches new award to recognize excellence among mid-career faculty

June 17, 2021
Contact: Jim Erickson ericksn@umich.edu

Three University of Michigan scientists have been selected as the first recipients of a new annual award, funded by President Mark Schlissel’s Biosciences Initiative, that recognizes exceptional mid-career faculty in the biosciences.

The award is called MBioFAR, for Mid-career Biosciences Faculty Achievement Recognition. It provides discretionary funds—$250,000 per year for two years for each awardee—to encourage innovative, high-risk research.

“The MBioFAR awards recognize some of U-M’s most outstanding faculty—the mid-career researchers who are at the forefront of our university’s leadership in the biosciences,” Schlissel said. “I commend the awardees for their academic accomplishments, professional achievements and exceptional ongoing promise for future discovery.”

The inaugural MBioFAR awardees are:

Dana Dolinoy of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Image credit: U-M School of Public Health.

Dana Dolinoy of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Image credit: U-M School of Public Health.

  • Dana Dolinoy, professor and NSF International Chair of Environmental Health Sciences, and professor of nutritional sciences, School of Public Health.

Dolinoy is a toxicologist who studies gene-environment interactions in development and in disease, focusing on the role of nutrition and toxicants on the epigenome. A recipient of the NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award, she has made leading contributions to our mechanistic understanding of the exposure levels and toxicity of both lead and the endocrine disrupter bisphenol A (BPA), and she is developing new technologies for targeted epigenome editing.

“I’d like to thank the University of Michigan for investing in biosciences and for
recognizing all of the important and cool work that’s being done across the
university in science,” Dolinoy said.

Aubree Gordon of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Image credit: U-M School of Public Health.

Aubree Gordon of the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Image credit: U-M School of Public Health.

  • Aubree Gordon, associate professor of epidemiology, School of Public Health.

Gordon is a world leader in influenza epidemiology, focused on the dynamics of viral transmission in tropical countries. An NAS Kavli Fellow, Gordon’s epidemiological studies helped provide the data needed to optimize the timing of vaccination in Nicaragua and identified novel immunological findings that impact the design and testing of next-generation influenza vaccines. She’s currently conducting studies on COVID-19 in children and across people’s lifespans, SARS-CoV-2 transmission, and immunity to SARS-CoV-2. She is an investigator with the Centers of Excellence for Influenza Research and Response.

“Giving these sorts of awards to mid-career faculty will really help them continue
to do cutting-edge science and to become leaders in their field,” Gordon said.

Daniel Rabosky of the University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Zoology. Image credit: Dale Austin, University of Michigan.

Daniel Rabosky of the University of Michigan Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Museum of Zoology. Image credit: Dale Austin, University of Michigan.

  • Daniel Rabosky, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and associate curator at the Museum of Zoology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

Rabosky is a highly influential ecologist and evolutionary biologist, focused on answering the question: What is responsible for the tremendous amount of biodiversity on Earth? To address that question, he develops novel statistical methods to understand the rates at which species form and go extinct. In the field, Rabosky studies snakes and lizards in some of the world’s most biodiverse regions, including South American rainforests and Australian deserts. He is also a great communicator of science: His research group’s YouTube video about Amazonian spiders has received about 2.7 million views.

“This award provides a genuine opportunity to try new things and to seek new
directions that we would not have been able to pursue otherwise. The MBioFar
program really drives home what a wonderfully supportive environment we have here as scientists at U-M,” Rabosky said.

Announcement of the MBioFAR program and the inaugural awardees was originally slated for 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.

To select the first group of awardees, members of the Biosciences Initiative’s MBioFAR review subcommittee evaluated the CVs of every bioscience faculty member promoted to associate or full professor in 2018 and 2019, focusing on academic excellence, achievement to date and promise for the future.

Three candidates were then recommended for the award and approved by Schlissel.

“We are excited to offer this opportunity to recognize a select group of outstanding faculty who are at this critical point in their careers,” said David Ginsburg, research professor at the Life Sciences Institute and chair of the MBioFAR review subcommittee. “This was a very difficult decision, given the many exceptionally strong candidates who were in the running.”

The MBioFAR program is designed to operate like an internal MacArthur “genius” award and aligns with the Biosciences Initiative’s goal of strengthening research and education in the biosciences across the university.

The award supports the type of high-risk, high-reward research that is often not funded by conventional granting agencies. It was created to help ensure continued extraordinary productivity and impact, and a high level of job satisfaction, from the university’s most outstanding biosciences faculty at the most productive phase of their career.

One to five awards will be made each year from the pool of U-M faculty members who were promoted to associate or full professor in the year the award is being offered, based on nominations and recommendations to the president by the MBioFAR committee.

Schlissel launched the Biosciences Initiative in 2015. Key elements of the multiyear endeavor include the hiring of 30 tenure-track faculty and a one-time investment of $150 million.