April 12, 2018 — From her formative years as a self-described “Army brat” and a first-generation college graduate, Barbara M. Bayer, PhD, has focused on showing up and doing her job. Now serving as professor and chair of the department of neuroscience and senior associate dean of biomedical graduate education, Bayer spoke about how showing up and doing her job opened doors in her career at this year’s Georgetown University Spring Faculty Convocation.
The convocation recognizes faculty members with more than 20 years of service to the university, as well as new members of the 1789 Society, which includes individuals, families and organizations who support the university’s academic endeavors and efforts to enact positive global change.
The keynote “Life of Learning” address at the convocation is delivered annually by a distinguished faculty member. “Thank you for three and a half decades of extraordinary teaching and research in our community,” President John J. DeGioia said in his introduction of Bayer.
A DISTINGUISHED CAREER
When Bayer was asked to give the Life of Learning address at the convocation, “I was speechless for the first time in my life,” she said. After reading previous convocation speeches, Bayer realized she had something in common with all of the speakers. “Regardless of our differences in abilities, knowledge and perspectives … we all showed up and did our jobs,” she said.
After serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health, Bayer became Special Assistant for Science to the FDA Commissioner during the Reagan administration when she received an NIH New Investigator Award. In 1983, she joined the faculty in department of pharmacology at Georgetown where she was one of the first researchers to identify a link between IV drug use and the risk of HIV infection.
Since 2005, Bayer has served as the chair of the department of neuroscience. During her time as a faculty member, Bayer has received uninterrupted NIH funding for a consecutive 26 years. Last fall, Bayer was recognized with the Outstanding Service Award at the Georgetown University Medical Center convocation.
SHAPED BY EARLY EXPERIENCES
As an “Army brat,” Bayer’s family moved frequently. Their travels took her to Japan, France, Texas, Washington state, Florida and Germany. “Throughout the experience I had some good teachers, some not-so-good and some in-between,” she said. “But one principle reigned true. It was my responsibility to show up, do what was asked of me, and to listen, and learn.”
During her junior year of college at the University of Texas at El Paso, Bayer signed up for an advanced biology course. Because not enough students registered, the course director gave her the opportunity to do a research project with Colonel Walter Decker, MD, PhD, an adjunct professor and physician at Beaumont General Hospital. “This single experience initiated by a chance occurrence, gave me the direction I needed and translated my interest in science to a passion for research,” Bayer said.
After earning her undergraduate degree in chemistry, Bayer pursued a PhD in pharmacology at Ohio State University, where she worked in the toxicology laboratory of Daniel Couri, PhD, a professor of pharmacology. She frequently slept on an air mattress in the lab while waiting for samples to be extracted. Even when she wasn't there, she would work on-call. All of this hard work led to Bayer becoming the first woman graduate student to receive the Ohio State Department of Pharmacology Chauncey D. Leake Award for outstanding academic performance.
IMPROVING CAREER SERVICES FOR STUDENTS
In her role as senior associate dean of biomedical graduate education, Bayer has ensured that students are in a better position to begin careers within their disciplines than ever before. The Office of Career Strategy and Professional Development, which was created within the last seven years, organizes workshops, career advising, seminars, job fairs, networking opportunities, alumni connections and other career-focused initiatives.
Bayer has also helped create new scholarships to attract the most talented and diverse groups of students. Moreover, BGE has developed training grant initiatives so that faculty would have the administrative support to respond quickly to announcements of new training grants for PhD students.
Bayer credited her colleagues for their role in these achievements. “Thank you all for your dedication and true commitment to the success of our students,” she said.
GEORGETOWN’S IMPACT ON HER LIFE
In recognizing her Georgetown family’s role in her professional success, Bayer also thanked them for helping her face challenges in her personal life. When she lost her first-born son to an aggressive and rare form of cancer, her colleagues unselfishly offered their support.
“I learned Georgetown is not only a place you work and learn,” she said. “It is a place of love and support.”