A handful of UNC scientists have been honored with election to the American Association for the Advancement of Science — an award that came as a genuine surprise to most of them.
"I really don't even know the process. I was just asked to be nominated, and I said, 'Sure.' I know there must be a committee that decides this, but I don't really know the process," said T. Kendall Harden, professor emeritus in the Department of Pharmacology, who was one of the faculty members to be honored.
Harden said he had no real indication that he would ever become a fellow.
Six UNC faculty members were elected to the association, the world's largest general scientific society, at the end of November. They are among 401 new fellows from around the country, all of whom have been recognized by their peers for making major contributions to the study and application of science in their careers.
Nancy Allbritton, Rosann Farber, Dale Hutchinson, Karen Mohlke and Nancy Thompson were also recognized from UNC. They will join 65 other UNC faculty members who are currently AAAS fellows.
Allbritton, chairwoman of UNC's joint department of biomedical engineering with N.C. State University, said she knew about the fellowship but didn't expect anything to come from her nomination.
"I had heard about it, but I didn't know if it was actually gonna happen," she said. "I knew I was being nominated, but I had no clue whether I was in the running or not. So it was quite a bit of a surprise."
Some of this year's honorees haven't been actively involved in research for years. Farber, associate chairwoman for academic affairs in the UNC School of Medicine, said she didn't expect to be named a fellow because it's been quite a while since she's worked in a lab.
"I'm in kind of an unusual situation, and I was actually very surprised to get this award now because I no longer do research. I sort of shut down my research lab about five years ago," she said. "I'm actually at retirement age, and I'm not retiring, but almost all my time is spent on service and administrative activities.
"This is the first award of any kind like this that I've gotten, and I didn't know they would recognize somebody who's no longer actually active in research."
Farber was also surprised because she was nominated by someone she's never met.
"The person who nominated me is actually someone I don't know. I know who she is; she's at the University of Chicago, where I was for 11 years, but we didn't overlap. I don't know whether her having decided to nominate me had anything to do with someone there saying something," Farber said.
Hutchinson, a professor in the Department of Anthropology, said he's honored to have been awarded a fellowship held in such high esteem.
"I am thrilled to have been named a fellow of the AAAS. I could not have imagined that would happen in my career, and I am grateful that my colleagues feel my scientific contributions merit that honor," he said.
Harden said the award comes at a fitting time in his scientific career.
"I'm still involved in research and still teaching, but I'm officially with emeritus status. It's a nice cap on my career to be named a fellow of AAAS," he said.
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