Biomechanics researcher thrives as mentor, advocate
January 24, 2020
Robin Queen, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, will be awarded the Orthopaedic Research Society’s Adele L. Boskey, Ph.D. Award at the society’s annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona.
The award recognizes Queen’s pioneering research contributions, commitment to mentorship, and the legacy of researchers and leaders that Boskey helped inspire and elevate in musculoskeletal research.
Queen, the second recipient of the award since its inception, has distinguished herself as a leader and mentor to students, fellow faculty members, and women in science by providing mentorship and support.
“I made the conscious decision to stay in academia to show others that it is possible,” said Queen. “There aren’t a lot of people who look like me in engineering. If you don’t see someone who looks like you who has been successful, it’s easy to think, ‘How am I going to break into that world, is it even possible?’”
She served as co-chair of the Virginia Tech Women’s Alliance from 2016 to 2018 along with Kimberly Carlson, assistant professor of practice and business leadership center director at Virginia Tech. Queen’s interest in serving as co-chair stemmed from a desire to lead institutional change as it relates to gender equity and the advancement of women in the academy. She recognized the importance of having a place in the governance process. During Queen’s time as co-chair, the alliance has focused on driving policy change related to mentorship, work-life balance, and the development and launch of Gender@VT.
“I personally have a huge interest in increasing the number of women in engineering,” Queen said. “The goal is really to improve diversity and inclusion not just in our own labs, but throughout the department, college and the university. I tell those I mentor that the goal is not to become me and that my path may not be the best path for them. I try to help them develop the skills to be the best they can be and to achieve the goals they have set for themselves.”
Queen is also spearheading a mentor-training pilot program at Virginia Tech in collaboration with the College of Engineering Dean’s Office to foster inclusion and diversity and to work with faculty to improve their mentoring practices. This program, Advancing Faculty Involvement in Research Mentoring, aligns with the college’s mission of improving mentor/mentee relationships. Queen, along with Trey Waller and Debbie Carlier, led facilitated sessions in January 2020 with a pilot cohort of New Horizon Graduate Scholar advisors to improve communication skills and learn strategies for aligning expectations in mentor-mentee relationships. The future goal of this work is to expand the pilot program throughout the College of Engineering.
Queen joined Virginia Tech’s biomedical engineering and mechanics department in 2015 as an associate professor and the director of the Kevin P. Granata Biomechanics Lab. She is also an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, an adjunct faculty member at the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, and an affiliate of the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment.
Queen conducts research in the Kevin P. Granata Biomechanics Lab on lower extremity biomechanics. The goal of her research is to understand overall function as it relates to injury and recovery with the goal of developing patient-centered care models for injury prevention and rehabilitation and improve long-term physical function.
“Her passion for research is driven by her desire to improve people’s lives and to improve the wellbeing of patients with musculoskeletal pathologies. She has tremendous vision and is always thinking about next steps. She is forward-thinking, always striving to move beyond the current state of knowledge,” said Alex Peebles, a biomedical engineering and mechanics graduate student who has been working alongside Queen in exploring recovery and rehabilitation in athletes following anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction. “Working with her has been an incredible experience. She balances the art of pushing her students to unveil their potential, while making sure their load is manageable and expectations are realistic.”
“Having Dr. Queen as a mentor has empowered me as a researcher and as a student at Virginia Tech,” said Cherice Hughes-Oliver, a graduate student in biomedical engineering and mechanics. “She consistently shows me that the sky is the limit.”
Together, Queen and Hughes-Oliver received the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellowship award in 2018 in support of their collaborative work as a doctoral student/advisor pair to increase diversity among scientists who are prepared to assume leadership roles in the biomedical sciences.
“You can’t succeed on your own. You need strong advocates and mentors at every step along the way,” said Hughes-Oliver. “Queen has experienced some of the difficulties associated with being a minority in engineering and has used those experiences to be a voice for diversity and equity. As a double minority myself, she has been vital to helping me develop confidence and a feeling of belonging in academia. She has led by example and has encouraged me to bravely follow my own interests throughout my career.”
In addition to research, Queen serves on multiple committees. She serves on the Foot and Ankle International Editorial Board. From 2013 to 2018, she served on the Orthopaedic Research Society’s women’s leadership forum committee.
Queen received her bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
— Written by Laura Weatherford