For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

Biomedical Sciences graduate student Kaitlyn Gura selected for prestigious NSF-GRFP fellowship

Kaitlyn Gura, a doctoral student in the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences (SMHS) biomedical sciences graduate program, has been selected to receive an award from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF GRFP) for 2024. The highly competitive NSF-GRFP is among the oldest graduate fellowships of its kind and was first awarded in 1952.

“I was extremely excited to share the news with both my advisors, particularly Dr. Dhasarathy, who made me revise my research statement for the award around 15 times,” said Gura with a grin. “She and her husband (Dr. Sergei Nechaev) constantly pushed me to start writing for this fellowship in the first place.”

That advisor is Archana Dhasarathy, associate professor in the SMHS Department of Biomedical Sciences whose research focuses on epigenetics and cancer.

“It’s truly a privilege to be a teacher and mentor to Kaitlyn,” said Dhasarathy. “She is a remarkable student, who embodies persistence and determination. Kaitlyn is a friendly colleague, and her commitment to mentoring and helping her peers underscores her desire to make a positive difference in the world. Her willingness to explore new questions and resolve to find answers underscore her potential as a researcher, and as a future leader in the field of epigenetics.”

A second-year doctoral student who serves as a Company Commander with the North Dakota Army National Guard, Gura graduated magna cum laude from North Dakota State University with an undergraduate degree in life sciences. At UND, Gura’s doctoral project involves a collaborative venture between the laboratories of Dr. Dhasarathy and Dr. Catherine Brissette, professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences who studies Lyme disease.

“As a first-generation college student, Kaitlyn managed to graduate with honors from NDSU while serving in the North Dakota National Guard, working as a certified nursing assistant, and pursuing undergraduate research experiences,” added Brissette. “She is an incredibly hard worker, and as one of the first female Recruitment Sustainment Program Company Commanders with the Guard, Kaitlyn is an excellent role model for other young women. She is a delight to have in the lab.”

The NSF program helps fund outstanding undergraduate and graduate students in the United States who are pursuing graduate degrees in STEM disciplines supported by the Foundation. Gura’s award extends over a three-year period, including an annual stipend of $37,000, support for her tuition and fees of $16,000, and access to multiple professional development activities sponsored by the NSF.

Through the fellowship, Gura will investigate epigenetic mechanisms that enable cells to memorize prior exposure and respond robustly when they re-encounter the stimulus in the future. This ability of cells to remember and respond to a previously encountered stimulus is an important adaptive response in animals and plants termed “transcriptional memory.” The proposed research will advance our understanding of how cells respond and remember exposures to stimuli in the environment, which is a fundamental concept in the biological sciences.

This work is expected to be of general interest to molecular biologists, microbiologists, and ecologists.

According to the NSF, many former recipients of the award are luminaries in the STEM fields, including Nobel Prize laureates, former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and Freakonomics co-author Steven Levitt.

“This fellowship is a truly huge deal: only about 16 percent of applicants across the U.S. receive this award,” Dhasarathy concluded. “In addition to the research funding, Kaitlyn will have the opportunity to take advantage of some unique professional development programs offered by the NSF that are specifically tailored to GRFP recipients. These programs will help her network with other award winners and will help immensely with her future career prospects.”