Deborah Murphy

Deb Murphy


Deborah Murphy

Catherine Ryan

When the COVID-19 crisis sent Brown University’s staff, faculty and students home to facilitate social distancing, Deborah Murphy fired up her sewing machine and stitched more than 100 protective masks for family, friends and members of the Carney Institute for Brain Science community. 

Murphy, an administrative assistant at the Carney Institute, has worked at Brown for 22 years. She started in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior before joining the Carney Institute in 2012. She is the first person visitors see when they enter the Carney Institute administrative area on the fourth floor of 164 Angell St.  

“Deb makes everyone feel at ease and welcome,” said Diane Lipscombe, Reliance Dhirubhai Ambani Director of the Carney Institute. “I receive many comments from the Carney community about the professionalism, helpfulness and dedication of the institute’s team, and Deb is a major reason for the high praise.”  

Sewing for the public good

Murphy's sewing station. Courtesy photo

Sewing has long been a hobby of Murphy’s — she picked up the skill when she was just a teenager — so when safety measures for the COVID-19 pandemic called for homemade face masks, she jumped into action.  

“I started making masks for my son, who is an essential worker in a grocery store, and for family members in health services,” Murphy said, adding that she then decided to make masks for the Carney Institute team.  

On April 16, Murphy visited the Carney Institute to pick up essential items to facilitate her remote work. But, before leaving the fourth floor of 164 Angell St., she placed homemade face masks on office door handles and vacant desks. One week later, on April 24, she returned to the Carney Institute to drop off additional masks. 

"We were overwhelmed by her thoughtfulness — but not surprised,” said Lipscombe. “Deb is a wonderful member of the Carney community. She always thinks about others, and we are fortunate that she is on the Carney team.”   

Transitioning to remote work

The Carney Institute was about to launch candidate interviews for a new faculty position when the Brown shutdown occurred. The institute’s administrative team had already arranged in-person interviews and the first candidate was scheduled to visit one day after the travel ban was instituted. The institute’s administrative team, including Murphy, scrambled to turn the in-person interview into a virtual interview in 24 hours. 

Murphy helped schedule virtual interviews for seven candidates. These included seminars, chalk talks, meetings with the search committee and the Carney Institute’s Executive Committee, and one-on-one meetings with multiple faculty members.

“We utilized many of the Zoom features and linked all the helpful information for the candidates and the interviewers,” Murphy said. “It was a great learning experience for me.” 

John Davenport, managing director of the Carney Institute, said the interviews went without a hitch. “Deb’s hard work and nimbleness ensured that the Carney community was strongly engaged in these interviews and represented the Brown and Carney communities in the best possible light,” Davenport said. “Virtual interviews are by no means ideal, but thanks to Deb and everyone on the Carney team, the interviews went even better than we could have hoped.” 

According to Lipscombe, Murphy is in the background of many Carney initiatives and activities. “She smooths the bumps in the road before we even reach them," Lipscombe said.  

Now, Murphy relies on Zoom and other forms of virtual communication to help manage the institute’s many meetings, purchasing orders and complex schedules from home.  

“We've been able to continue facilitating meetings, and my team connects on a regular basis to go over our projects,” Murphy said. “With no in-person meetings taking place, I have more opportunities to help my coworkers with their projects.”

She added: “I miss seeing all the people at 164 Angell St. I look forward to working at my desk and seeing everyone again.