Melinda Novak Honored as ‘Educator of the Year’ by Medical Research Society

Melinda NovakThe Massachusetts Society for Medical Research (MSMR) honored Melinda Novak, professor of psychological and brain sciences, with its 2019 Educator of the Year award at a lunch on Friday, Oct. 25 at the Union Club in Boston.

James O’Reilly, president of the society, says, “MSMR is very pleased to honor Dr. Novak in the category of Educator during this year’s Biomedical Research Day program. In addition to her groundbreaking research work in using animal models to identify and design treatments for abnormal behaviors, she’s been a mentor to countless students during her years at UMass Amherst. She leads by example, showing the value of having such a respected researcher as an instructor.”

Novak says of the recognition, “It came as a total surprise but I am very thankful. I am truly honored to receive the Educator of the Year award,” she adds, because she especially admires the society’s goals and mission – to promote biomedical and biological research involving the humane care of research animals which in turn advances scientific discovery as related to the health and wellbeing of both humans and animals. “It is a mission that I firmly believe in and I have tried to live by over the course of my career,” she says.

“As a teacher, I have tried to convey both my passion for research and an abiding respect for the animals with which we work, to activate self-discovery in students, and to provide an understanding of scientific discovery,” she adds. For her recent retirement party, Novak reports that 40 former students attended, a testament to the fact that “I love what I do and even after 45 years that has not changed a whit,” she says. “They tried to make me seem like some kind of saint, but everything I have become I owe to my students. I’ve learned so much from them. Each year, I see new students and it invigorates me to think that I can excite them about research.”

Novak is professor and former chair of her department, where she established the UMass Primate Laboratory, a small primate facility in which students receive training in handling and managing captive primates, performing behavioral and health assessments, and conducting research. Her research on both nonhuman primates and rodents has focused recently on identifying the factors that lead to the development of abnormal behavior and designing effective treatments, an objective that has involved four national primate research centers across the United States.

Novak has received numerous awards and honors, among them the Distinguished Primatologist Award and later the President’s Award for Outstanding Service to Primatology from the American Society of Primatologists. She is also a past president of the society. From UMass Amherst she has received the College Outstanding Teacher Award, the Chancellor’s Medal, the Distinguished Faculty Alumni Award, the University Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Research, the University Conti Faculty Fellowship and the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, the highest honor bestowed on faculty for exemplary research and service contributions.

President Clinton declared Oct. 21, 1993 as the first Biomedical Research Day and many states have followed with their own annual designations. MSMR states that on this day each year, the society “recognizes the life-saving, life-changing work of everyone involved in biomedical and life science research and education,” as well as recognizing “outstanding contributors” to the field.