Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD.

Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD

Mark R. O’Brian, PhD.

Mark R. O’Brian, PhD

Dubocovich, O’Brian Honored for Graduate Student Mentoring Work

Published April 5, 2016 This content is archived.

story by dirk hoffman

Margarita L. Dubocovich, PhD, and Mark R. O’Brian, PhD, are recipients of the 2015-16 Excellence in Graduate Student Mentoring Award.

The award is given annually to a member of the graduate faculty who has demonstrated “truly outstanding and sustained support and development of graduate students from course completion through research and subsequent career placement.’’

Demonstrating ‘Truly Outstanding, Sustained Support’

They are two of three faculty members across the University at Buffalo to receive the Graduate School honor for 2015-2016.

The award, established in 2012, is given annually to members of the graduate faculty who have demonstrated “truly outstanding and sustained support and development of graduate students from course completion through research and subsequent career placement.”

Dubocovich is a SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology; O’Brian is professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry.

Dubocovich’s Excellence in Research Draws Trainees

Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, nominated both Dubocovich and O’Brian for the award.

He notes it is Dubocovich’s excellence in research — she is considered the world’s foremost authority on melatonin and the regulation of the hormone’s receptors in the brain and body — that “draws graduate trainees to work in her laboratory.”

Cain also notes Dubocovich is a “generous and appreciative adviser who includes her trainees as co-authors on her published papers, book chapters and abstracts.”

Dubocovich has served as the primary thesis adviser to five doctoral students and six master’s or combined BS/MS students, and she has been sought out as a mentor by 26 postdoctoral fellows since being recruited to UB from Northwestern University in 2008.

“She is a faculty member who has consistently devoted her life to professional excellence, sustained a high-caliber research program, been an excellent adviser and mentor to numerous graduate trainees and created mentorship programs that will have an enduring legacy,” Cain says.

Developed Programs to Provide Mentoring Experiences

Dubocovich developed the Collaborative Learning and Integrated Mentoring in the Biosciences (CLIMB) programs that provide mentoring experiences for biosciences students at the undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral and junior faculty levels.

Her work has significantly broadened the scientific understanding of melatonin’s impact on circadian rhythms, sleep disorders and depression. She is credited with discovering melatonin receptor subtypes, which revolutionized the field, as well as pioneering the pharmacology of melatonin receptors agonist and antagonist agents.

The owner or co-owner of three patents related to agents developed through her research, Dubocovich has received continuous funding support since 1985 from the NIH, National Science Foundation and major pharmaceutical companies, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Eli Lilly and Co.

She was named UB’s inaugural senior associate dean for inclusion and cultural enhancement in 2012 to lead the medical school’s diversity efforts.

O’Brian’s Advising Inspires Creativity, Productivity

O’Brian’s extensive graduate training record includes mentorship of 13 doctoral students, one master’s student and six postdoctoral associates since 1991.

O’Brian is “certainly among the best mentors in the school,” Cain says. Testimonials of his graduate students, both past and present, “highlight a professional, yet caring mentor who inspired them to be creative and productive.”

Of O’Brian’s 63 peer-reviewed published papers, 31 have graduate students listed as first author, and he shares authorship of one book chapter with graduate students.

“He is a generous mentor, who includes his trainees as co-author on many of his publications,” Cain says, noting “many of these students completed their degrees with distinction and/or were recipients of departmental and school awards, illustrating Mark’s excellent mentoring and research advising.”

O’Brian, who joined the UB faculty in 1988, studies the coordinated control of nutritional stress responses in bacteria. He identified a novel mechanism for control of iron-responsive gene expression in Bradyrhizobium japonicum, a bacterium that serves as a model organism for studying a large taxonomic group important to pathogenesis and symbiosis.

His research, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, has contributed to the understanding of this regulatory mechanism, including how it allows differential control of iron-responsive genes and how iron metabolism coordinates with other cellular processes.

The Graduate School honored Dubocovich and O’Brian at its awards ceremony April 1 in the Center for the Arts.