Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences has announced that Associate Professor Abby Benninghoff has accepted the position of associate dean for research and graduate student services.
“It’s a pleasure to welcome Dr. Benninghoff to this very important position on the CAAS leadership team,” said CAAS Dean Ken White. “I look forward to working with Abby in this new role and to the excitement, energy and ideas she brings to this new assignment.”
Benninghoff is an associate professor in the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences (ADVS) and USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. In her new administrative position, she looks forward to developing ways to help new faculty accelerate the launch of their research programs and help them navigate aspects of running a research program that may be new to them.
“During graduate training, you are largely shielded from budgeting processes, environmental health and safety monitoring and reporting, doing university paperwork—what we lovingly sometimes call ‘red tape’—and you are able to be incredibly productive,” she said. “But when you start up a new lab, you are thrust into all of these new challenges, in addition to writing grants for funding. So, if you don’t get good mentoring at the start, the process for launching your research program can be inefficient. I want to help faculty overcome these barriers to quick success, to smooth their way, so that our faculty be as effective as they can be right out of the gate.”
Benninghoff has enjoyed a number of successes, including having twice been named the ADVS department’s Faculty Researcher of Year, the CAAS Graduate Mentor of the Year and USU’s Outstanding Graduate Mentor of the Year. She is also part of a USDA award-winning multi-state research group.
She is an advocate for interdisciplinary research. Her own academic and professional path has moved between disciplines beginning with dual bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and biology from the University of Tennessee, followed by doctoral research in marine science focused on endocrinology at the University of Texas at Austin, and post-doctoral research at Oregon State University in toxicology and carcinogenesis.
Since joining USU’s faculty in 2010, Benninghoff has built a research program that routinely collaborates with faculty in other departments and colleges. “My own training has had a lot of flex points in it that have allowed me to do different kinds of work with other scientists,” Benninghoff said. “Currently, I have three separate projects going in three different avenues that are independent, yet interconnected. I loved teaching a USU Honors course that looked at life sciences from the perspective of a single cell to whole ecosystems, and my background lets me examine things on those scales.”
Benninghoff’s current multidisciplinary research is in toxicology, cancer and epigenetics and the intersections of those topics. She also has an interest in science communication and teaches a course she developed for graduate students from all disciplines that was rooted in her thoughts about what she wishes she had known at the start of her career. In accepting the new administrative role, she negotiated to keep teaching that course biennially.
“The class fits with the priorities of my office, and it will keep me involved with graduate students in our college, and others, so I have a connection with them.” Benninghoff said. “Typically, if you are out of the classroom and in an administrative office, you don’t have reasons to regularly interact with students beyond those working in your own lab. I think the class will be an effective way to keep in touch with our students’ needs while also providing some structured training in important skills related to their professional development, such as writing, creating presentations, grant writing and communicating with the public.”
In addition, she plans to work with faculty, research staff and students to focus on effective grantsmanship.
“I want to help people understand how to target the right funding agency, make the best pitch they can in their proposals and make sure we address needs and opportunities specific to our college,” she said. “I also want to enhance communication about our research inside and outside the college. We often don’t know about a colleague’s new grant or publication and miss celebrating one another’s successes. Hearing about those things can produce new opportunities to collaborate, and those successes boost the reputation of the college.”
In addition to her research duties, Benninghoff will work with departments to develop graduate student opportunities and means of reaching more prospective graduate students. Her new appointment goes into effect on November 1, pending approval of the USU Board of Trustees.