Research Communications

For Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, meet three OHIO fellows 

Sept. 19, 2013

It's national Postdoctoral Appreciation Week, a time when universities across the country recognize the contributions that postdoctoral fellows make to the research enterprise.

What is a postdoc? After earning a doctoral degree, researchers may pursue these positions to boost their experience and help them become more competitive for academic or industry positions. In some fields, completing a postdoctoral fellowship is an absolute necessity.

The positions benefit universities, as postdocs can help faculty members make progress on research projects, mentor students, maintain equipment and facilities and help secure funding.

In honor of postdoc week, we spotlight three fellows on the Ohio University campus.

Photo credit: John Sattler, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Postdoc: Sofia Ocaña-Mayorga, Tropical Disease Institute, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine
Faculty Advisor: Mario Grijalva

Ocaña worked for Grijalva as a postdoc in Ecuador for two years before joining him for a second postdoctoral fellowship in Athens last year. Her first position was funded by the National Institutes of Health; the current position is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. She's been involved in tropical disease studies in Ecuador since 2001 when Ohio University's Tropical Disease Institute supported the launch of the Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research at Catholic University.

She has extensive experience in coordinating and implementing biosafety level 2 field research, as well as parasite isolation from mammals, vectors and humans, which is the cornerstone of the team's current research endeavors. In addition, she has experience in parasite cloning and propagation in vitro and received training in techniques that can help scientists determine relationships among parasites under study.
Postdocs can help develop the research capabilities of an academic laboratory, Grijalva noted. They can train new members of the scientific team and help it secure external funding.

"(Ocaña) will assist me in achieving efficiency and productivity my lab in Athens and will further strengthen the seamless integration of my research groups in Ecuador and Athens," he said.
Photo credit: Mark Dawson for Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Postdoc: Damilola Daramola, Center for Electrochemical Engineering Research, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Russ College of Engineering and Technology
Faculty Advisor: Gerardine Botte

Daramola's research examines the conversion of waste products to useful energy sources as an alternative to current sources including oil, natural gas and coal. He builds models that predict the factors involved and the steps that occur during this conversion. Some of the reactions he's studied so far are the conversion of ammonia and urea to hydrogen using platinum and nickel, respectively. These studies were instrumental in furthering knowledge about how these reactions occur at an atomic scale and provided guidelines for improving the overall technology, he said.

His position is funded by the Ohio Supercomputer Center and the U.S. Department of Defense through the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory.

Postdoctoral positions can help researchers translate the research and soft skills gained during their doctoral studies to other areas of global interest, as a doctoral dissertation is usually focused on one area, Daramola said. In his group, they also assist undergraduate and graduate research, write research proposals and develop nascent ideas of their own, he continued.

"These activities are essential to the university's growth and brand, as success in each of these activities brings prestige to the school and makes the postdoc an ambassador in their future occupation," he said.
 de Paula-Souza
Photo courtesy of Juliana de Paula-Souza.

Postdoc: Juliana de Paula-Souza, Department of Environmental and Plant Biology, College of Arts and Sciences

Faculty Advisor: Harvey Ballard

De Paula-Souza has been working with neotropical violets since she was a graduate student in Brazil. She's been collaborating on research with Ballard for the past 15 years. Her postdoc research deals with a genus of Violaceae called Hybanthus, which is widely spread all over the world. Although recent molecular studies have revealed nine distinct lineages, de Paula-Souza is seeking to find equally consistent morphological and/or anatomical characteristics to help recognize these plants, focusing primarily on the species growing in South America and Central America, where most of the lineages are found.

The postdoc is funded through a Brazilian "Science Without Borders" scholarship. A grant from the Baker Fund to Ballard will help the duo travel to dried plant collections in the United States and Mexico to further their work on violets.

"Postdocs are able – they are expected – to fully dedicate themselves to the activities required by a certain investigation that otherwise would be impossible for their supervisors to accomplish. … International cooperation in a postdoc is even more valuable, as it allows a unique exchange of experience and expertise that is very advantageous for both sides," she said.