IPN Continues Tradition of Producing NSF Fellows

Posted in GUMC Stories

Two Interdisciplinary Program for Neuroscience (IPN) students at Georgetown have been named graduate fellows by the National Science Foundation. They are among 15 percent of applicants who received awards in 2013.

This year’s recipients are Erika Raven and Scott Miles, both first-year students in the IPN, a University-wide comprehensive PhD program in neuroscience including cellular, molecular and systems approaches. Six IPN students in the last six years have received the prestigious designation.

This Year’s Winners

Raven’s research focuses on how dietary iron, essential to healthy development, contributes to structural and functional changes in the brain during adolescence.  She says the award is still sinking in, but is very excited about the fellowship’s potential impact on her academic career.

“This is a huge honor and lends a lot of flexibility to future thesis work at Georgetown,” Raven says.  

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) has a long history of selecting recipients who achieve high levels of success — a fact not lost on Miles.

“It is indeed a great honor to be an NSF fellow,” says Miles, who is investigating the relationship between music and language expertise acquisition. “It means sharing a distinction with 40 Nobel laureates, as well as continuing in a strong tradition of recognition by the NSF among Georgetown’s IPN students.”

Fellows receive a three-year annual stipend of $30,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance, in addition to opportunities for international research, professional development and the freedom to conduct their own research.

Fellowship Opens Doors

Sonya Dumanis says her fellowship awarded in 2009 opened many doors. 

“Because of my NSF funding, I had more freedom to explore various research projects than I might have had otherwise,” she says. “It also gave me time to fully develop ideas that I could then use to apply for an NIH predoctoral fellowship.”

Dumanis is completing her last year in the IPN mentored by G. William Rebeck, PhD, a professor of neuroscience and director of the IPN. She recently received a Humboldt Research Fellowship, which supports postdoctoral work at a selected institution in Germany.

“I am certain that having the NSF on my CV as well as exposure to the many grant writing opportunities it afforded greatly aided me in getting the Humboldt,” she says.

Clara Scholl, a 2008 NSF fellow mentored by Max Riesenhuber, PhD, also has leveraged her opportunities.

“The fellowship served as a springboard to eventually secure major grant funding from the NSF that covers neuroimaging costs and several salaries for my collaborators on a large-scale project,” Scholl explains.

“The Georgetown IPN is unique: we have both dedicated, driven students and accessible, encouraging faculty members,” says Laura Erickson, who received a fellowship in 2012. She is mentored by Josef Rauschecker, PhD, a professor of neuroscience, and Peter Turkeltaub, MD, PhD, an assistant professor in neurology.

The IPN is also home to many who received an honorable mention from the NSF including Nancy Cowdin (2008), Sheeva Azma (2009), Brandon Martin (2009), Teal Connor (2010), Megan Allen (2012), Amanda Battista (2012), Andrew Breeden (2012), Carissa Winland (2012), and Benson Stevens (2013). (In 2010, Justyna Mach received a fellowship, but is no longer at Georgetown.)

Fellows Contribute to Society

The NSF website says fellows are anticipated to contribute significantly to research, teaching and innovations in science and engineering. “These individuals are crucial to maintaining and advancing the nation’s technological infrastructure and national security as well as contributing to the economic well-being of society at large.”

“The NSF is clearly skilled at picking extraordinary student scientists,” says Rebeck.  “It is a pleasure to work with the NSF fellows and watch as they develop into strong researchers.”

Rebeck credits Karen Gale, PhD, a professor of pharmacology, for encouraging students to apply for the fellowships and working closely with them through the application process.

“It is remarkable that as one of more than 300 neuroscience PhD programs in the U.S., we received two of only 77 fellowships awarded in neuroscience this year,” Gale says. “This achievement reflects not only the exceptional scholarship and research creativity of our students, but their deep commitment to benefit society through science education.” 

By Karen Mallet, GUMC Communications

(Published April 10, 2013)