Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring
M.D./Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular Genetics & Microbiology
Rebecca Gibson is an M.D./Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Biology as a pre-medical student at Columbia University in 2014. Her current thesis work provides preclinical data for the first minimally invasive, long-term definitive therapy for Liver Glycogen Storage Disease type IX. Gibson has submitted her work at seven national and international conferences, co-authored a literature review, published a textbook chapter, and published a first-author primary research paper.
Gibson has been a leader in critical programs that provide scientific mentoring for underrepresented minorities in Durham. She first joined the Duke School of Medicine’s BOOST program as a coach to underrepresented and financially disadvantaged students in the Durham Public Schools system. Throughout her entire graduate career, she has met with her mentees weekly to expose them to opportunities in science, technology, and medicine, and to provide them with resources to succeed in these fields.
Gibson also founded the BOOST Beyond program, which has extended BOOST to facilitate the success of BOOST mentees in achieving their post-high school goals, most notably in their applications to college. In BOOST’s first year, 100% of mentees were accepted to college and many received impressive scholarships. The program has since expanded, with a current cohort of 17 mentees supported by 38 mentors.
Gibson has also been a one-on-one mentor to both high school and undergraduate students in her lab. She has worked to actively recruit students, focusing on women, first-generation students, and those from underrepresented backgrounds. She helps her mentees become independent researchers and empowers them to ask questions. As one illustration of her commitment, when her students could not come into lab during the pandemic, she set up a weekly journal club to help them continue learning about their research topics and practice reading scientific literature.
What is something you have done as a mentor that you are really proud of?
I am most proud of my mentorship through the BOOST program at Duke University. BOOST (Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology) is a multidimensional pathway program to excite underrepresented minority students in the Durham Public School system about science. I have been a mentor in the program for 5 years. I have watched several students grow up, mentoring them from middle school all the way to college.
Through my involvement in BOOST, I co-founded a BOOST extension program called BOOST Beyond. After working with one of my mentees on the college application process, we realized that more students needed guidance in how to navigate life after high school. BOOST Beyond pairs Duke graduate and medical students with BOOST high school mentees to provide individualized guidance on navigating the post-secondary school process. In our first year, 100% of mentees were accepted to college and many received impressive scholarships recognizing their academic excellence. After a very successful first cohort, we have expanded to our current cohort of 17 mentees supported by 38 mentors. I am so humbled by the program that I helped develop and cannot wait to see how it continues to grow.
How do graduate students benefit from serving as mentors?
Graduate students are the future of academia. Allowing graduate students to take on mentorship experiences during their training nurtures the development of future academic faculty capable of providing high-quality and effective mentorship. Mentoring is a skill that needs to be learned and practiced and if graduate students wait until they’re professors to start this practice, they will miss out on years of experience and opportunities to develop their mentorship.
Who are some good mentors you have had, and are there mentoring practices or traits from them that you have tried to incorporate into your own approach to mentoring?
My M.D./Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Priya Kishnani, has an incredible ability to make everyone around her feel valued and cared for. She puts an immense amount of energy into her students, which encourages me to put the same amount of energy back into my research. Dr. Kishnani’s students know that she cares about them and that she will go above and beyond to help us succeed. As an example, Dr. Kishnani brought me homecooked meals when I had Covid because she knew my family lives far away. One day, I hope to provide the kindness and consideration that Dr. Kishnani has shown me to my own students, patients, and their families.
IN THEIR WORDS
Excerpts from Gibson’s nomination
“As a naive first year, new to undergraduate-level research, I gratefully welcomed Rebecca’s kind heart, sage mentorship, and enduring patience. She has provided constant encouragement and simultaneously worked to amplify my strengths and identify areas of improvement through all of my work with her.”
“She is an ideal mentor who has demonstrated a commitment to all those with whom she works. She has shown an unwavering dedication to ensuring that disadvantaged and underrepresented students in the Durham area have access to opportunities in science, technology, and medicine.”
“When it comes to mentoring, Rebecca is downright inspiring. She has given me advice about the medical field, research, and everything in between. I have enjoyed our walks from one part of the lab to another, because I know that I will get some great advice about an internship that I am interested in or learn about some amazing program that she thinks I would love.”