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Postdoc Excellence Awards recognize outstanding UW–Madison postdocs and faculty

April 27, 2021 By Mark Zierden

Nine University of Wisconsin–Madison postdoctoral researchers have been recognized with the inaugural Postdoc Excellence Awards for their teaching, service and mentoring. The UW–Madison Postdoctoral Association, a volunteer-led advocacy group for postdocs supported by the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, launched the awards to honor postdocs for their outstanding efforts in these areas.

The recipients of the teaching award are judged on course development and techniques, student outcomes and student learning experience. The winners of the service award are judged on leadership, their work to identify unmet needs, and for engagement. Those honored with the mentoring award are judged on their investment in the mentoring relationship, contribution to mentee scholarly and professional development, and their long-term positive impact on the mentee.

The association also recognized three UW–Madison faculty members with Distinguished Faculty Postdoc Mentoring Awards for outstanding mentorship of postdoctoral trainees on campus. These awards were established in 2015 by the UW–Madison Postdoctoral Association to encourage and acknowledge excellence, innovation and effectiveness in mentoring.

Postdocs were nominated for the Excellence Awards with letters of support from their students, mentees, mentors and colleagues, detailing how they exemplified exceptional teaching, service or mentorship. Faculty members were nominated with letters of support from current or former postdocs describing how the faculty have exemplified exceptional mentorship.

An association committee then selected from among dozens of nominations those nominees who have gone above and beyond in contributing their time, knowledge, energy and enthusiasm. These postdocs and faculty embody the ideals of the association and UW–Madison and their dedication is inspiring and worthy of recognition, representatives from the association say.

They add that while only a few nominations could be selected to receive the awards, “the association is grateful for all of the postdocs and faculty members who make UW–Madison an outstanding place for postdocs to train.”

The awardees were honored at the association’s virtual Celebration of Postdoc Excellence in March and will receive a personalized plaque.

Below are the award recipients and a quote from one of each of their nomination letters that exemplifies their contributions.

Postdoc Excellence Award in Teaching

Anna Kowalkowski — Biology Core Curriculum

“Anna is endlessly creative in solving problems, thinking about learning goals first, but balancing that with flexibility based on in-the-moment formative feedback on student learning.”

Cooper Rosin — Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

“Cooper puts in the extra effort to ensure the success of all of his students, with genuine care for student participation, enjoyment, and growth.”

Postdoc Excellence Award in Service

Anahid Ebrahimi — Mechanical Engineering

“Anna has … been instrumental in developing educational initiatives for the committee, such as an anti-racism learning group for postdocs. She co-hosted several social and networking events to connect and support postdocs from historically underrepresented groups, most recently for members of the LGBTQIA+ Community and women in STEM.”

Nell Maltman — Waisman Center

“At her own expense, Nell flew to D.C. to participate in a two-day event in which families and researchers connect with members of Congress and their staff to raise awareness of fragile X syndrome and to ask for research funding and policies that increase quality of life for those living with FXS.”

Daniel Z. Radecki — Comparative Biosciences

“The defining feature of Dan’s work with the (UW–Madison Postdoctoral Association) and others is his commitment to bettering the lives of all postdocs. He envisions how each event and initiative can best impact the individual, through the lenses of diversity and inclusion, immigration status, postdocs’ personal lives (e.g. childcare considerations), department/discipline, and more.”

Postdoc Excellence Award in Mentoring

Liza Chang — WISCIENCE

“I can wholeheartedly say my UW–Madison experience was impacted most positively by every interaction I have had with Dr. Liza Chang. She is a constant source of inspiration, support, and opportunity, without which I would not be the leader that I am able to be today in many facets of my life.”

Anna J. Finley — Center for Healthy Minds

“Anna has proved to me to be an outstanding, attentive, responsible, assertive, caring, empathic, and kind mentor. She helped me not only as a researcher, but also to grow as a person, to build my confidence and to always strive to be a better academic, regardless of my language or my background.”

Natascha Merten — Population Health Sciences

“Students often approach her for individual meetings for advice on their graduate program progress, scientific conduct and questions about career development. We find it easy to approach her and appreciate her time and constructive feedback.”

Cara Moravec — Laboratory of Genetics

“Cara mitigated my doubts as an early career researcher by maintaining that not all knowledge is easily gained and reminding me that it takes many years and practice to become an expert in a field. Cara’s feedback was honest, yet encouraging, and made me feel optimistic that I will develop into a successful scientist if I keep working hard and follow her example.”

Distinguished Faculty Postdoc Mentoring Awards

Samuel Pazicni — assistant professor of chemistry

“Professor Pazicni’s inclusive, caring approach to group mentorship have also profoundly shifted my own perspective on inclusive mentoring, my thoughts about how to support mentees, and my ability to accept my own need for self-care.”

Stacey Schaefer — associate scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds

“Her mentorship has been phenomenal, and her support during the tumultuous shifts in research throughout 2020 has been critical in my development as a scientist. I leave every meeting with her excited about my work and the research we are conducting together, and look forward to her continued mentorship.”

Paul Stoy — associate professor of biological systems engineering

“He motivates me to find my voice in situations where it was initially repressed, which also inspires me to become a similar role model for other people whose voices may be muted or individuals who may not yet believe in their own abilities. He has always encouraged me to be my best and to reach for larger goals.”

Learn more about the winners

List of Distinguished Faculty Postdoc Mentoring awardees since 2015

To learn more about the UW–Madison Postdoctoral Association, visit or send an email to

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