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2010 Dean’s Award: Mohamed Noor

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Mohamed Noor received his B.S. in Biology with highest honors from the College of William and Mary in 1992. He continued his studies at the University of Chicago in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, earning the Ph.D. in 1996. From Chicago he went to Cornell University to do postdoctoral research in its Section of Genetics and Development for two years before joining the Louisiana State University (LSU) faculty in 1998 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. He remained at LSU through 2005, adding an adjunct appointment in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2000 and rising to the rank of Associate Professor in 2002. In 2005, Dr. Noor joined the faculty in the Duke University Department of Biology as Associate Professor. He is currently Professor and Chair of the biology department, holding adjunct appointments in the University Program in Genetics and Genomics, the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy, and in Computational Biology and Bioinformatics. Professor Noor’s honors and awards are noteworthy. In 1998 he received the American Society of Naturalists Young Investigator Prize, in 1999, the Sigma Xi Regional Young Investigator Prize, and in 2008, the prestigious Darwin-Wallace Medal from the Linnean Society of London, which elected him a fellow in 2009. Professor Noor’s current research projects include patterns of fine-scale crossover rate variation in Drosophila and genomic patterns of nucleotide diversity and divergence. 

In spite of his impressive accomplishments and multiple commitments, Professor Noor’s students find him to be an infinitely approachable and dedicated mentor and advocate. He is described as an “excellent, caring, mentor, committing valuable time to his students and lab members.” He also is regarded as exceptional among advisors.

Those of us who have had more than one academic advisor know just how unique Professor Noor is. Not all academic advisors are mentors to their students, but he has been a mentor to me even when he wasn’t my advisor, and I anticipate this will not change once I leave Duke.

Professor Noor’s mentorship style is both hands-on and well-considered.

Upon entering the lab, Professor Noor sits down with his students to discuss clearly his expectations of himself and you as you enter into a mentoring relationship. In case you forget the details of these expectations, he keeps a backup in GoogleDocs available to all members of the lab. . . .

Transparency in his expectations is also evidence of his style in other interactions with students.

Open lines of communication are clearly important to Professor Noor as each member of the lab has a weekly 1-on-1 appointment with him to discuss his or her weekly progress and we all meet weekly as a lab to discuss progress and current literature. . . . He recognizes that being open to change is crucial to scientific success both in and out of the lab. He is open to feedback and criticism of his approach constantly and is quick to accept improvements in lab protocols as well as his mentoring style.

This ability to establish an open, trusting environment makes Professor Noor an excellent advocate, one keenly aware of his students’ abilities and interests, who actively facilitates their professional development.

Professor Noor is an advocate for his students, pushing us to the limits of our capabilities and allowing us to reach academic freedom and success. . . .When accompanying us to academic conferences, he introduces us to all of his contacts . . . . He keeps us well informed of upcoming seminars and encourages us to meet with seminar speakers to discuss our experiments. . . . As an outstanding researcher in his field he is often invited for seminars and routinely incorporates students’ results into his discussions with faculty and his presentations.

Professor Noor’s concern for graduate students extends beyond those in his lab, and the fact that “he is very open about the rungs of academic success, and how to climb them,” is evident in the Biology 307-Biology 308 year-long course that he both developed and teaches. This course is geared in the first semester (“Graduate School 101”) toward the novice graduate student, offering practical advice and information on topics such as “What to do in your first year, ” “Picking an advisor and a topic,” as well as on publishing and funding. The second semester, “Succeeding Beyond Graduate School,” addresses “What to do a year before you want to graduate,” “Alternative careers to academia,” “Preparing a CV,” and “Applying for academic jobs,” among other considerations. Aside from being a virtual one-stop FAQ for graduate students at different points in their careers, this course also fulfills the Responsible Conduct of Research credit required by the Graduate School.

Another example of educational outreach beyond his department is Professor Noor’s active involvement outside the University, where he conducts a guest laboratory on “DNA Necklaces” with 5th graders at Hillandale Elementary School, and has developed and executed a laboratory exercise and presented a guest lecture on speciation to Riverside High School seniors.

Within his department, within the University, and within his community, Professor Noor embraces a powerful educator-mentor model that demonstrates his passion to educate and guide others broadly, investing countless hours, and, in so doing, instilling in those he mentors a grateful admiration.