Alumni Profiles Series: Beth Winkelstein
Beth Winkelstein, Ph.D. received her B.S.E. cum laude in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1993. She completed her Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke in 1999. After a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Dartmouth, Dr. Winkelstein returned to UPenn in 2002 as a faculty member. She current serves as Interim Provost of the University of Pennsylvania.
Tell us about your career path.
After completing my undergraduate degree at University of Pennsylvania, I went to Duke for my Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering working in the lab of Dr. Barry Myers. I was also a recipient of the NSF GRFP fellowship. My thesis focused on the mechanics of whiplash injury in the cervical spine.
While at Duke I realized my desire to be an independent researcher; at the time that meant pursuing a career in academia, as the startup scene had not yet truly emerged. In searching for post-doctoral opportunities, I knew that I wanted to pursue research that complemented my mechanics knowledge, with a specific emphasis on physiology. I was faced with a decision in terms of topic: do I want to focus my work on spinal cord injuries or on pain? I chose to focus on studying pain. I did my post-doctoral training in Anesthesiology at Dartmouth for two and a half years before being recruited as a tenure-track faculty member to Penn under a grant from the Whitaker Foundation. My background made me a good fit as Penn was specifically looking for faculty who could work in the up-and-coming field of cell mechanics.
In starting my lab, I focused on mechanotransduction of pain, which is the conversion of a physical force of into a biochemical or electrical signal that results in cellular responses, spinal cord regulation of pain, and the mechanisms of chronic pain.
What has your career path looked like since you graduated?
While today I serve as the Interim Provost of the University of Pennsylvania, I also prioritize my research, keeping an active lab. I remain highly passionate about my current students and trainees and their training.
My title has changed over the years as I have become increasingly involved in university administration at Penn. While serving as graduate group chair, I was asked to serve as an Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In these roles I realized my interest in pedagogy and improving the quality of teaching in STEM. I co-authored grants with the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, applying to the Association of American Universities to pioneer development of the pedagogical concept of active learning at Penn. A key component of this effort was the development of online courses, specifically Massive Online Open Courses or MOOCs.
This effort, advocating for online courses to increase accessibility of learning and collaborating across schools at Penn was a reason I was excited to work with University of Pennsylvania’s then-Provost Vincent Price, now President of Duke University, in the Vice Provost for Education role. Since then, I’ve stepped into the Interim Provost position, serving as the University of Pennsylvania’s Chief Academic Officer.
Tell me more about your current job. What is your favorite thing about what you do?
It’s a huge opportunity to have an insider view of the many ideas that the university’s phenomenal researchers, students and faculty are pursuing. Given my love of research, this bird’s-eye view from the Provost’s position is an even more exciting vantage point to observe the pursuit of knowledge.
Any advice you’d like to share with current graduate students at Duke?
There is a concept in engineering that Barry Myers, my Ph.D. advisor, used to tout—stress in your life is like high-frequency noise: the short-term oscillations from high to low, good times to bad, will always be there, but what matters is the overall trendline. Basically, I focus on the trajectory, it’s likely a positive one if you filter the noise. I also believe it is important not to compare yourself to others, and to make connections with other disciplines.
What is one of your favorite memories of Duke?
Campout for men’s basketball tickets was always a lot of fun. The engineering students always had the best tent setups likely due to their structural skills.
Ph.D. Student, Biomedical Engineering
Anna Knight is a Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. student in the Nightingale Lab. She joined the lab as a graduate student in 2016 after receiving her B.S.E. in Biomedical Engineering at Duke in 2015. She served as a Young Trustee on Duke’s Board of Trustees from 2015-2018. Her current dissertation project focuses on using ultrasonic 3D shear wave elasticity imaging to measure mechanical properties of muscle tissue in vivo. Outside of lab her interests include Duke basketball, crochet, and running.