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Headshot of Joseph Heitman.

Joseph Heitman

Dean's Award for Excellence in Mentoring

James B. Duke Professor and Chair
Molecular Genetics and Microbiology


Joseph Heitman was named a James B. Duke Professor in 2004 and subsequently appointed chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in 2009. Since joining the faculty at the School of Medicine in 1992, Heitman has trained 53 fellows and 21 graduate students. Over the past 25 years, he has also trained 43 undergraduates, many of whom authored or co-authored publications and then went on to M.D., Ph.D., or M.D./Ph.D. training programs.

In his personal research, Heitman focuses on the evolution of sex in fungi and the roles of sexual reproduction in microbial pathogens; how cells sense and respond to nutrients and the environment; the targets and mechanisms of action of immunosuppressive and antimicrobial drugs, including the discovery of TOR as a globally conserved nutrient sensor inhibited by the antiproliferative drug rapamycin; and the genetic and molecular basis of microbial pathogenesis and development. Heitman received the Burroughs-Wellcome Scholar in Molecular Pathogenic Mycology Award (1998-2005) and the Korsmeyer Award from the American Society for Clinical Investigation (2018). Additionally, he received the AMGEN and Squibb awards from the ASBMB and IDSA societies for significant contributions using molecular biology to understand human disease and infectious disease. Heitman is an elected fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America (2003), American Society for Clinical Investigation (2003), the American Academy of Microbiology (2004), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2004), and the Association of American Physicians (2006).


Excerpts from Heitman's Nomination

“I always tell the people training with me that my commitment to them is not just for the time that they are in my lab, it’s for their entire career, and I like them to have a lot of freedom, including after they leave the lab. … It’s good to reach out periodically to them and encourage them, and we like to invite them back to campus.”

On Collaboration 
On the Role of a Mentor After Graduation 


“Joe’s energy and creativity is infectious and he encouraged us to develop our own ideas, devoting resources to allow us to pursue our passions. More important than the specific directions we took was the process we learned. How to ask the right questions. How to design a project. How to communicate our findings effectively.  Such are the seeds from which independent academic careers grow.”

“Some mentor-trainee relationships effectively end the day you leave the building for the last time.  Joe has maintained his advocacy for us to this day; he is still promoting our careers, offering advice, writing letters, nearly two decades after we left his lab”

“A strong work ethic and passion for discovery are taken for granted, and Joe has always led by enthusiastic example. One of us remembers arriving at the lab at increasingly earlier hours, in order to beat Joe to the incubator to pull out the petri dishes and reveal the latest exciting experimental result.”

“Joe’s attention to teaching and collaboration permeates our day-to-day interactions in the lab. He has fostered a laboratory culture based not on hierarchy, but on the spirit of scientific teamwork.”