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Meet Outstanding Master’s Mentor Dr. Karen Smith

UL Grad School -- 04/26/2021

Dr. Karen Smith is one of our 2021 Outstanding Master’s Mentor Award recipients. This award is presented by the Graduate School to members of the graduate faculty with an exceptional record of fostering the academic and professional development of graduate students, particularly for graduate students in our master’s degree programs.

Smith is an associate professor in the Department of Biology. Her research focuses on how genes orchestrate brain development before and after birth, and how developmental events affect neuropsychiatric disorders.

Expanding research offerings

Smith has been awarded over $1 million in grant funding for her research in neuroscience, supporting both her research program and many of our graduate students.

“The research of Dr. Smith’s master’s students are typically at the forefront of her field, employing new techniques and novel ways of conceptualizing developmental contributions to psychiatric disease,” notes Dr. Paul Leberg, professor and department head.

She has been “critical to our attempts to expand our graduate program into biomedical fields,” Dr. Leberg adds. “Through her courses, research, and work with the New Iberia Research Center, she has provided avenues for our students to become involved in medically relevant research.”

Smith has published ten papers in the last four years, including six with graduate students as coauthors. She and her students have given more than fifteen conference presentations over the last three years, with graduate students serving as authors or coauthors.

“My goals are to provide an in-depth education on the theoretical and technical basis of our work in Neurobiology and for the graduate student to grow and gain experiences that will help prepare him, or her, for their future career, whether the goal of that career is in medicine, academia, or industry.”

At the graduate level, she is the major advisor for nine graduate students, four pursuing the M.S. degree and five working toward the Ph.D. degree. She also has been a committee member for another 12 students pursuing the M.S. degree and eight additional Ph.D. students. Four of her M.S. students and one of her Ph.D. students have graduated, with another student having recently defended her thesis.

Personal and professional support

While learning, students should feel comfortable “asking questions and challenging the status quo,” Smith says. “I want to be there to support them and answer questions, but also help them gain independence as a research team member.”

“Above all, I want my students to feel like they are respected as part of the team.”

“Dr. Smith is one of our strongest colleagues in supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion among students and faculty,” notes Dr. Brad Moon, South Louisiana Mid-Winter Fair/BORSF Professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Biology.

“The diversity of her students at all levels shows how effective she is in maintaining an inclusive lab,” he says.

Smith commits to the mental health of her students with the same enthusiasm she brings to her research, encouraging them “to have at least one outside interest or hobby to promote relaxation, an outlet for the stress of graduate school.”

“Graduate school can be hard and stressful,” she notes. “My students are, above all, people.”

Learn more about gaining research experience that fits your passions and ambitions through our Master of Science in biology degree. →