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McFayden receives Joanne Erwich Roberts Early Career Award

Tyler McFayden; woman with long blond hair stands in bright hallway

McFayden receives Joanne Erwich Roberts Early Career Award

February 10, 2024

The UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) is pleased to announce the 2023 awardee of the Joanne Erwich Roberts Early Career Award.

Congratulations to Tyler McFayden, a UNC Carolina Institute in Developmental Disabilities (CIDD) postdoctoral fellow and member of the Harrop Lab in the Department of Health Sciences at UNC.

In a letter of recommendation for the award, Clare Harrop, PhD, a research assistant professor in UNC’s Department of Allied Health Sciences, a faculty fellow at FPG, and McFayden’s primary mentor, stated that she is exceptionally worthy of the Joanne Erwich Roberts Early Career Award. Harrop also shared that McFayden possesses excellent analytical and methodological skills, which enable her to address important and ambitious questions across different populations.

The Joanne Erwich Roberts Early Career Award was created to support the early career development of researchers and honor Joanne Erwich Roberts, PhD, a distinguished researcher and professor with a long and dynamic career at UNC-Chapel Hill and FPG until her untimely death in 2008. With faculty appointments in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences and the Department of Pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine, and actively involved in the CIDD, Roberts worked across disciplines and cared deeply about supporting researchers in their career development.

To honor her memory, loved ones established the Joanne Erwich Roberts Memorial Fund in 2009 to sponsor an annual early career award. Funds may be used to support the recipient's professional development, such as travel to meetings or conferences, registration for workshops or short courses to improve statistical or technical skills, annual membership dues in professional organizations, or other activities to enhance the individual's career.

Upon being notified of the award, McFayden said, “I am thrilled to be named the 2023 awardee! As a current CIDD T32 Postdoctoral Fellow, my research strives to understand predictors of language development by studying groups with differences in verbal communication: Deaf signers, pre-verbal infants, and autistic youth.”

“I am thrilled to be named the 2023 awardee! As a current CIDD T32 Postdoctoral Fellow," said McFayden, "my research strives to understand predictors of language development by studying groups with differences in verbal communication: Deaf signers, pre-verbal infants, and autistic youth.”

McFayden continued, “In the spirit of Dr. Roberts' dedication to multidisciplinary research, I strive to combine expertise across and within disciplines to answer questions about neurodevelopment.”

McFayden says the award will further support her collaborations as she will use the funds to travel to the Gatlinburg Conference on Research and Theory in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, which takes place this year in Kansas City during April. At the conference, McFayden will be presenting:

  • work with Dr. Mike O'Shea's ELGAN group, investigating sex differences in the autism phenotype in their extremely low birthweight sample;
  • a symposium presentation, led by Harrop, evaluating predictors of eating differences in autistic youth from her Sex and Gender in Autism study; and
  • a mentored poster presentation by research coordinator Ms. Maia Karpinsky, evaluating the role of sensory differences in parent-child play.

Not only is Harrop confident in McFayden’s current work—she sees a bright future for the postdoc as well.

“Tyler is one of the most promising trainees I have ever encountered and someone who is clearly destined for an impactful career,” says Harrop.

“Tyler is one of the most promising trainees I have ever encountered and someone who is clearly destined for an impactful career,” says Harrop. “She is a thought provoking and committed researcher, who is a pleasure to mentor ... I have little doubt she will be a leader in our field in the near future.”