Huck Dissertation Research Grant 2015 winners. Back row (left to right): Beng San Yeoh, Yafei Lyu, James Hester, William Barnes, Weile Chen. Front row (left to right): Siyang Hao, Yue Rui, Ningxiao Li. Not pictured: Wilfried Guiblet, Di Wu, and Lihua Wu. Credit: Carrie Lewis.


The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2015 Huck Dissertation Research Grants. This award provides students in the six Huck Institutes-supported graduate programs up to $5,000 towards their individual research projects. The intent of this award is for the students to propose a unique research project that represents their original synthesis and extends beyond the research in their adviser’s lab.

This year’s winners are:

  • William Barnes (Plant Biology), working with Dr. Charles Anderson
  • Weile Chen (Ecology), working with Dr. David Eissenstat
  • Wilfried Guiblet (Bioinformatics and Genomics), working with Dr. Kateryna Makova and Dr. Anton Nekrutenko
  • Siyang Hao (Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences), working with Dr. Robert Paulson and Dr. Zhi-Chun Lai
  • James Hester (Physiology), working with Dr. Francisco Diaz
  • Ningxiao Li (Plant Biology), working with Dr. Seogchan Kang
  • Yafei Lyu (Bioinformatics and Genomics), working with Dr. Qunhua Li
  • Yue Rui (Plant Biology), working with Dr. Charles Anderson
  • Di Wu (Bioinformatics and Genomics), working with Dr. John Carlson
  • Lihua Wu (Plant Biology), working with Dr. Teh-hui Kao
  • Beng San Yeoh (Immunology and Infectious Disease), working with Dr. Matam Vijay Kumar

As part of the application, students submit a three-page research proposal written in the style of an NIH or NSF proposal with a budget and budget justification, which is then reviewed by three faculty members familiar with the research discipline. “This year, 18 faculty members kindly agreed to serve as evaluators, with each evaluator reading and scoring between 4-8 proposals (≤7 on average),” said Dr. Pam Mitchell, Associate Director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences and organizer of the proposal evaluation process. “We encourage all faculty who belong to Huck graduate programs to participate as Dissertation Award proposal evaluators as they provide an extremely important service that benefits the entire Penn State life science community.” Although thesis advisors of current applicants are ineligible to serve as evaluators, it’s hopeful that these faculty will be especially motivated to serve in subsequent years.

These grants are funded through the Huck Institutes Graduate Enrichment Fund as part of an endowment from J. Lloyd Huck, Penn State alumnus, philanthropist, and former chairman of Merck & Co. The annual award was created in 2013, and with a roughly 30% funding rate, it has allowed students in their second and third years of their Ph.D. program the opportunity and funding to support their own research.

One of the recipients, Weile Chen (Ecology), wanted to emphasize his appreciation that these funds are now available to support unique aspects of his research. “I am working on inter-specific competition of tree roots, and one of the challenges is to identify different species of the co-occurring similar-looking roots,” said Chen. “Using these funds, I’ll have the opportunity to use molecular techniques to solve this problem by sequencing the root DNA at the genomic core facility here at Penn State.” Chen also added that the process of applying for the grant and writing the proposal was a great learning process.

William Barnes (Plant Biology) noted that receiving this award for a proposal on a high-risk, high-reward project encourages the path of research he plans to take and is also motivating for his personal efforts. “Using this support, I have the opportunity to develop a tool critical to our understanding of plant cell wall biology with the experts of the field,” said Barnes. “I look forward to being able to use this generous support to the fullest while advancing my personal training and the field that I work for so passionately.”

James Hester (Physiology) commented on what an honor it is to receive this award and how it will provide funding for travel and publication costs, which will allow him to focus more on his project rather than worry about how he and his lab will support these efforts. Hester also added, “One of the great benefits of this award is that it will allow me to try some new reagents and techniques that might not have been in the budget otherwise.”

Lihua Wu (Plant Biology) said she plans to use her award money for buying new lab supplies as well as costs associated with maintaining the lab’s microscope, sequencing, and traveling to conferences. “I appreciate that the Huck Institutes are so supportive to graduate students!” said Wu. Wilfried Guiblet (Bioinformatics and Genomics) also added, “I just want to thank the Huck Institutes for all of the opportunities they are providing and their support overall. It is a pleasure to be a graduate student in such a place.”


This article cross-posted from: http://www.huck.psu.edu/content/about/news-archive/announcing-huck-dissertation-research-grant-2015-winners

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