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2013 Dean’s Award: Cameron R. "Dale" Bass

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring

Cameron R. "Dale" Bass, Associate Research Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Director of the Injury and Orthopaedic Biomechanics Laboratory, earned a Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Virginia. He joined the Duke faculty in 2008 after working in a variety of research capacities at the University of Virginia, including in Military Programs, Center for Applied Biomechanics, and the Automobile Safety Laboratory. A major research focus of Dr. Bass is the study of blast-related brain injury and injury mechanisms.

Dr. Bass' students agree that his mentorship is notable for its "commitment to the professional development of his students, his passion for academic and intellectual advancement, and the inquisitive atmosphere that he nurtures." This commitment is demonstrated in the context of an environment that is egalitarian and nurturing, as one nominator states "He constantly displays respect for all his staff, creates a supportive environment for research and scholarship, and demonstrates sincere and active interest in all the projects in the lab." The creation of this environment is due in large part to what another nominator describes as one of Dr. Bass' most notable strengths, "One of Dr. Bass' strongest characteristics as a mentor is his communication skills. He has a welcoming attitude and an open-door policy for every member of his large research group. He encourages students to question the merit of scientific ideas, and he does not intimidate or talk-down to students who disagree with what he says. Dr. Bass' students are very comfortable around him."  This sense of comfort is also evident in the remarks of another nominator, "He treats his students not so much as subordinates to direct but as young colleagues, and strikes the perfect balance between giving us enough freedom to learn and the guidance to succeed. He has created an atmosphere where his students are truly happy, collaborate and support each other, and are productive."

Students also find Dr. Bass to be extremely accessible and involved in their work; in fact, one student says that "He is incredibly accessible. He maintains an open-door policy and has a constant stream of graduate students and staff members in his office throughout the day. I have never felt the least bit of hesitation in bringing him my frustrations or roadblocks in the laboratory." He also guides students in a collaborative fashion; according to one nominator, "Dr. Bass and I have worked together on around a dozen projects. We speak on a daily basis about my progress, during which time we critically assess my work and collaboratively develop a plan to move forward." Another notes that "He is regularly involved in my research progress, offering honest feedback and constructive criticism. He avails himself of open and direct lines of communication and makes himself available when I need and seek his help, even if it's simple data handling."

Dr. Bass' mentoring style is infused with enthusiasm for both teaching and research, which has a profound effect on those who work with him. A student describes this experience, explaining that "Our conversations always leave me really excited to dig further into my research. He loves talking about the science and getting his hands dirty in the lab, and his passion for the work and for discovery are infectious." Another student agrees with this observation, saying "His enthusiasm for research and teaching is obvious to every student in the room."

The professional development of his students is very important to Dr. Bass. According to one such student,  "Dr. Bass is constantly engaged in our development. He personally discusses our coursework and helps to identify potential gaps in our knowledge. He reviews and critiques students' work ardently, providing key insights that propel them towards successful completion of graduate study." Another comments that "He is committed to advancing his students' long-term professional development by encouraging publishing peer-reviewed articles and travel to academic conferences  and workgroup meetings. He integrates his students into the broader community by recognizing potential collaborators and introducing us to his colleagues." Dr. Bass consciously promotes his students' involvement in the larger research community from the earliest stage of their scholarship, as one nominator states "Dr. Bass strongly encourages his students to integrate into the broader scientific community starting at the very beginning of their graduate careers. After I'd been at Duke only a month or two, he was already inviting me to attend working group meetings and present my work. Dr. Bass has enabled me to form some valuable working relationships with the leaders in our field on an international level. Dr. Bass has taken an active role in helping me create a reputation for myself and my work in these circles and form a strong network of potential collaborators and future employers." Dr. Bass also does not hesitate to promote his students to others in the scientific community, according to another student "He highlights my accomplishments to colleagues in our field during conferences, meetings, phone conversations, and email communications."

Professional development also includes presentation and writing skills, both of which Dr. Bass emphasizes as important in building professional networks and developing students' identities as members of the field. This year alone, says one student, "He has directed his students in publishing 17 peer-reviewed journal articles while also authoring four of his own." He encourages students "to write and review articles while critically evaluating the current literature" when they are working on projects as part of the process of creating their own publications. The benefits of attending conferences are strongly emphasized from an early stage, and students are quick to appreciate the benefits, as one student describes them, "These experiences were invaluable in that they expanded my research interests, broadened my pool of potential collaborators, and increased my post-graduation career opportunities."

Dr. Bass' students feel fortunate that they have a mentor who is "so fostering of his students' progress, professional development, and long-term success." "Because of the commitment he makes to his students and the excellent example he sets, one student says, "he has fostered my love of research and supported my continued professional development towards a career in academia." Simply put, a student states that "I have felt overwhelmingly lucky to have an advisor as enthusiastic, engaged, and caring as Dr. Bass."