CAS Early Career Research Awards

Every year as part of our annual August faculty meeting tradition, the College of Arts and Sciences confers the Early Career Research Award (ECRA) to a select group of faculty members who are in the early stages of developing their research programs.

In recognition for their research achievements, each recipient of the ECRA receives $250 that can be applied toward research-related expenses, a plaque, and recognition at our August faculty meeting.

We are very pleased to announce that three faculty members are receiving an Early Career Research Award: Dr. Kristoffer S. Berlin, Department of Psychology; Dr. Duane D. McKenna, Department of Biological Sciences; and Dr. Somogy Varga, Department of Philosophy.

Dr. Kristoffer S. Berlin

Dr. Kristoffer S. Berlin, CAS Early Career Research Award 2014Dr. Kristoffer S. Berlin, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. He completed his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in 2007 from the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee and his predoctoral Clinical Internship and Postdoctoral Fellowship at Brown Medical School in Pediatric Psychology (2007-2009). Before joining the Department of Psychology faculty at the University of Memphis in 2012, he was an Assistant Research Professor at Ohio University and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. Since 2012 he has served as Clinical Supervisor, Psychological Services Clinic, The University of Memphis. He has already received a plethora of honors and awards in recognition of his scholarship, including the prestigious Routh Early Career Award in Pediatric Psychology, Society of Pediatric Psychology in 2013.

Dr. Berlin describes his research as focusing, in part, on applying "advanced statistical methodology to further understand the sociocultural, family, and behavioral factors that promote health and reduce morbidity in childhood chronic illness." In their letter of nomination Dr. Frank Andrasik, Chair of the Psychology Department, and Randy G. Floyd, Associate Professor, describe Dr. Berlin as "an exceptional researcher" and as developing "a very impressive record of scholarship during the early stages of his career." With his research appearing in several of the leading journals of the discipline, Dr. Berlin has published 38 peer reviewed journal articles in journals such as the Journal of Pediatric Psychology, with still others appearing in other venues. He has also be very active with respect to external funding, having submitted 12 grants since 2004, and receiving in this past year a University of Memphis Faculty Research Grant.

One of Dr. Berlin's departmental colleagues writes about the department's expectations around a broad array of criteria when he joined the department and notes that "we have been astonished at the extent to which he fits all of these criteria." "Colleagues from other universities have very glowing assessments regarding Dr. Berlin's research. One writes, "In his years since graduating, Kris has developed a career presence which many cannot top. And, Kris shows no signs of stopping of slowing down….I cannot think of a better person that Kris Berlin to be selected for the ECRA Award."

Dr. Duane D. McKenna

Dr. Duane D. McKenna, CAS Early Career Research Award 2014Dr. Duane D. McKenna, Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, completed his Ph.D. in Organismic & Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University in 2006 and a Postdoctoral Fellowship, also at Harvard University, 2006-2009. In 2010 he joined the faculty at the University of Memphis in Biological Sciences as well as becoming a Faculty Associate of the U of M Program in Bioinformatics and the Feinstone Center for Genomics and retaining a Research Associate Position at Harvard University's Museum of Comparative Zoology. His main research areas include molecular phylogenetics/genomics and evolution of insects (especially beetles), evolutionary ecology of insect-plant interactions, and insect diversity and conservation. Among other positions held at the University of Memphis, Dr. McKenna has served on the University of Memphis IT Research Advisory Committee and on the Standing Committee on Biological Safety, both since 2011.

In his letter of nomination Dr. Randall Bayer, Chair, Department of Biological Sciences, writes that "Dr. McKenna has fashioned his scholarly and creative activities such that he has established himself as an international expert in insect evolutionary biology. His expertise is evident from his outstanding publication record and exceptional grantsmanship….His research involves substantial collaboration….It is rare that I have had the opportunity to work with a faculty member of such high international reputation and ability."

Within the research areas of insect genomics, ecology, evolution, and biodiversity, Dr. McKenna identifies five major projects or recent outcomes from his lab, including the Asian Longhorned Beetle Genome Project - a collaboration with the Insect 5000 Genomes Project, and involvement in several other large and highly collaborative international projects in insect comparative genomics and phylogenomics. He has published over 27 journal articles and book chapters, most in very high profile journals such as Current Biology and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. He has been very successful in securing grants for his research, including a current NSF grant ($730,000) for which he is the PI and a FedEx Institute of Technology grant as PI in collaboration with University of Memphis Co-PIs Dr. Ramin Homayouni and Dr. Thomas Sutter.

Dr. McKenna's accomplishments as a scholar are widely recognized and lauded beyond the University of Memphis. One colleague writes, "Duane McKenna is as intrepid, driven, and thoughtful biologist as I have seen in 20 years of advising Ph.D. students. He was and is the most productive biologist I know….Duane is extremely organized and disciplined, and at the same time, a friendly and collaborative researcher. He is also an excellent entomologist and field botanist. Duane is very skilled in phylogenetic and comparative methods…."

Dr. Somogy Varga

Dr. Somogy Varga, CAS Early Career Research Award 2014Dr. Somogy Varga, Assistant Professor, Department of Philosophy, completed his Ph.D. in Philosophy in 2009 in the Department of Philosophy and Institute of Social Research at J.W.G. University of Frankfurt, Germany. He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück (2009-2012); and was Visiting Researcher, University of Copenhagen (2010-2011), and Visiting Researcher at the University of Central Florida Institute of Philos0phy (2009-2010). In 2012 He joined the faculty in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Memphis. He is also an affiliated faculty member in the Institute for Intelligent Systems. Dr. Varga's research focuses mainly on two areas of the discipline: the philosophy of psychiatry and critical social theory.

In his letter of nomination, Dr. Shaun Gallagher, the Lillian and Morrie Moss Professor of Excellence in Philosophy, cites the rich range of publications to date that make up his "impressive productivity." In addition to his book published by Routledge in 2011 entitled Authenticity as an Ethical Idea, Professor Gallagher notes that Dr. Varga has received contracts from two highly respected publishers for two books within the area of the philosophy of psychiatry: Naturalism, Hermeneutics and Mental Disorder (Oxford University Press) and Ruptured Selves (MIT Press). Additionally he has published fifty-five journal articles and book chapters. He is first or second editor on two other books.

Dr. Vargas received grant funding in support of his research from several European organizations, including the Oticon Foundation, the Danish National Research Foundation, the Ruhr University, and the University of Copenhagen, among others. Professor Gallagher observes, "I also know, from attending international conferences with Dr. Varga, that he has the respect of top researchers in his area of research and will be collaborating with a good number of them." Dr. Varga's impressive research agenda and accomplishments is a strong draw for graduate students considering the University of Memphis doctoral studies.