Skip to content
Rebecca Gibson (left) and Bijan Abar (right) pose together.

M.D./Ph.D. candidates Bijan Abar and Rebecca Gibson met on their first day of medical school in 2016. After years of playing frisbee between classes, bonding through the Duke Med Interfaith club, and bringing food to each other during clinical rotations, the two are now engaged. 

“I feel like we’re kind of like puzzle pieces,” Gibson said. “Our differences complement each other and fit together because we have the same values and goals. We both clearly value education, and we put a lot of effort into our relationships and trying to help other people. Another shared value we have is mentoring.” 

Their shared emphasis on mentoring will be in the spotlight this week when they both receive The Graduate School’s Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring. They are among 13 recipients of the Dean’s Awards, which recognize outstanding efforts by graduate students, faculty, and departments in mentoring, teaching, and creating inclusive spaces for graduate education.

Both Gibson and Abar had good mentors that helped them get to where they are today. They decided to pay it forward by making mentoring a priority throughout their academic careers.

“Mentoring is not always something that’s encouraged, but it should be,” said Gibson, who recently defended her Ph.D. in molecular genetics and microbiology. “But I think more and more people are starting to recognize how important mentoring is.” 

Bijan Abar proposing to Rebecca Gibson in the Duke Gardens.
Bijan Abar's proposal to Rebecca Gibson at Duke Gardens (Photo courtesy of Abar and Gibson)

Gibson and Abar both have mentees from the BOOST Beyond program. BOOST (Building Opportunities and Overtures in Science and Technology) is a School of Medicine program that engages underrepresented minority students in Durham Public Schools about science. Gibson founded BOOST Beyond to aid BOOST mentees in achieving their post-high school goals, especially relating to their college applications. 

Abar also serves as BOOST Beyond’s outreach team lead and coordinates and builds relationships with community partners to strengthen the program’s resources on the technical aspects of college applications. The program is in its third year, and so far 100% of its mentees have been accepted to college, many of them receiving scholarships. 

Abar and Gibson have helped motivate one another to thrive as mentors and have shared advice with one another on how to improve their mentorship.

“We spend a lot of time talking about things like what’s the best way to mentor our students, and what are pros and cons we both have, and how can we be better for each of our students individually,” said Abar, who also just defended his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and materials science.

The two said they have grown as mentors by learning from one another’s strengths.

“Rebecca’s strength is she really takes the time to get to know all her mentees and what their lives are outside of whatever academic context that they’re working in, and really takes the time to celebrate their accomplishments.” Abar said. 

“Bijan’s really good at being patient with his students and understanding that they have lives outside of science,” Gibson said. “And he’s really good at being efficient with making sure to give his students opportunities. Pretty much every student who comes out of Bijan’s mentorship has something to put on their CV. So, I like to try to emulate that with my students.” 

Beyond sharing tips on mentorship, they are also often directly involved in each other’s relationship with their mentees. For instance, when one of Gibson mentees took his MCAT, the two held a celebration in their backyard. Additionally, one of Bijan’s first mentees will be a groomsman for their wedding. 

Abar and Gibson plan to continue working together to help the next generation of researchers, and they hope to one day have a lab together. 

“Our strengths and weaknesses really complement each other,” Gibson said. “I think we’re better mentors together than apart.”

Rebecca Gibson (left) and Bijan Abar (right) smile for a photo.