Angela John Thurman, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has been honored with the highly competitive Early Career Award from the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD).
The award, given to just one person annually, recognizes contributions to or achievements in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities by an individual in the early stages of their career, according to the AAIDD.
“There are many researchers who are doing great science, so to be honest, I was very surprised,” said Thurman, who is also a MIND Institute faculty member.
Thurman’s coworkers are not the least bit surprised.
They know her as a rising star since she published her first paper as an undergraduate in 2005. Thurman, whose research is broadly focused on the development of language, cognition and behavior, has authored or coauthored 34 peer-reviewed journal articles and 11 chapters in edited volumes. She’s also made over 100 presentations at scientific and professional meetings, and has an extraordinary record of securing funding from the National Institutes of Health.
“Dr. Thurman is a leader in the behavioral science of intellectual and developmental disabilities, with achievements and contributions exceeding any scholar of her generation,” said Leonard Abbeduto, who nominated Thurman for the award and is the director of the MIND Institute.
“Her research is advancing knowledge, improving treatments, and changing the course of scientific inquiry,” he said.
A ‘happy accident’ leads to a life’s passion
Thurman was working at the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Clinic of JFK Partners at the University of Colorado Medical Center as an 18-year-old sophomore when she found her life’s passion. She was sorting mail and making photocopies when she met Sally Rogers (now a UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences emeritus faculty member), who welcomed her into her lab. And there she stayed, until leaving for graduate school a few years later.
— Angela John Thurman
“I was sort of raised in this field,” Thurman said. “That early experience, and the mentorship I received throughout my training, really helped me see my interest and passion for this area.”
Thurman’s research has spanned numerous conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, fragile X syndrome and Down syndrome.
She describes the main thread of her work as understanding development across different neurodevelopmental disorders. “I’ve focused my intention on trying to help clarify similarities and differences in development within and across multiple conditions, with the hope that it will help us understand when – and for whom – different interventions are useful,” she explained.
As for the award, Thurman said she shares it with the many families who give of their time by participating in research.
“It’s motivation to continue doing what we’re doing, and I appreciate the acknowledgement that the work we’re doing is meaningful. I hope our families feel that their efforts and interests are being supported and validated as well,” she said.
“I’m also lucky to be at a supportive university like UC Davis, and the MIND Institute is an amazing place to be a junior scientist because we have such a collaborative atmosphere.”
Since 1876, the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) has been providing worldwide leadership in the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities. AAIDD is the oldest and largest interdisciplinary organization of professionals and others concerned about intellectual and developmental disabilities, with over 5,000 members in 55 countries.
The UC Davis MIND Institute in Sacramento, Calif. was founded in 1998 as a unique interdisciplinary research center where families, community leaders, researchers, clinicians and volunteers work together toward a common goal: researching causes, treatments and potential prevention of neurodevelopmental disorders. The institute has major research efforts in autism, fragile X syndrome, chromosome 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Down syndrome. More information about the institute and its Distinguished Lecturer Series, including previous presentations in this series, is available on the Web at mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu.