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Headshot of Mai-Anh T. Vu

Mai-Anh T. Vu

Dean's Award for Excellence in Teaching

Faculty Advisers: Alison Adcock and Kafui Dzirasa


Mai-Anh Vu is a Ph.D. candidate in her sixth year in the neurobiology program, earning graduate certificates in cognitive neuroscience and college teaching. Vu has been the teaching assistant for Brain & Behavior: Translating Neuroscience and for Cellular & Molecular Neurobiology, with 50 and 100 undergraduate students in each, respectively. In her role as a TA, Vu has worked to make students comfortable in her classroom and empowered them to push past hard topics. She has also served as a mentor for three high school students and nine undergraduate and graduate students at Duke. 

In her personal research, Vu is broadly interested in cross-species cognitive neuroscience. More specifically, she uses in-vivo electrophysiological recordings in rodents and fMRI in humans to investigate functional neural circuits underlying motivation and anticipation. Vu has earned several honors, including the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and the Duke Graduate School’s Katherine Goodman Stern Fellowship and Conference Travel Award.


“I found that to be the hardest … getting students past that frustrated or stuck point. My sort of go-to would be, ‘This is a really hard thing … let’s start at a point you feel comfortable with, tell me something you know anything about.’ And I would just help them build from there. Ok, so if you know this thing, what else do you know and sort of eventually you get to the point they don’t know and you can start edging into the unknown territory.”

On Her Approaches to Teaching 
On Lessons Learned from the Certificate in College Teaching Program 


Excerpts from Vu's Nomination

“A recurring theme is that she is the rare teacher who inspires confidence in students working to master challenging material. From my own experience in teaching over the past two decades here at Duke University, I realize that this is a major accomplishment.”

“Several of these students approached Mai-Anh after the first two classes/discussion sections and informed her that they did not feel comfortable speaking in front of the class… Mai-Anh shared her challenges with speaking in class when she was an undergraduate. She gently informed them how critical learning this skill would be for their future success, and she systematically coached them on how to overcome this barrier. Needless to say, I was shocked when these same students began raising their hands in class two weeks later.”

“Students since then have raved about her to me in passing, and I find it notable that these students do in fact span the range of abilities – from two of the top students in the course, to several who struggled with the material but ended the semester on a strong note. It is to her credit that Mai-Anh was able to accommodate such a range with equal success”

“After the first exam, I found myself struggling to keep up with the material in cell and molecular neurobiology (neuro 223)… Mai-Anh was not only welcoming to a new student in her section but was an incredible resource outside the classroom. I met with her on a regular basis to go over exams and discuss key concepts from class in preparation for the final exam. I was impressed not only by the depth of her knowledge on many topics, but by her patience and ability to diagnose errors on my exams.”