Through their hard work and impressive research goals, fourth-year grad student Felix Baier of the Hoekstra Lab and third-year grad student Alyson Ramirez of the Mango Lab and the Schier Lab have both won fellowships from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
Ramirez has won a Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study, which offers tuition support and stipends for up to three years to doctoral students from underrepresented communities. The Gilliam program is aimed at increasing diversity in the sciences, and of the 34 Gilliam Fellowships awarded this year, four of them went to Harvard students.
Ramirez is an alumna of HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), which provides minority students with summer research opportunities. The goal of the program, like that of the Gilliam Fellowship, is to promote diversity in science.
“This program changed my trajectory drastically,” said Ramirez. “I worked at Harvard that summer, and it was my experience through that program that convinced me to apply and attend Harvard for graduate school and provided the opportunity to apply for the Gilliam Fellowship. I’m especially excited to be part of the Gilliam community because of the two annual conferences we have with Gilliam Fellows and their advisors from other institutions; these meetings will help me develop a diverse and supportive network of colleagues from a variety of scientific backgrounds, which I think is essential for my development as a scientist.”
“I’m delighted that Alyson has received a Gilliam fellowship!” said one of Ramirez’s advisors, Professor Susan Mango. “Alyson lights up the room, she is full of energy and enthusiasm. Her work using electron microscopy will allow her to test models of heterochromatin formation. I’m excited and curious to see how it turns out.”
Ramirez’s research on nuclear architecture during embryogenesis focuses on chromatin compaction and how the three-dimensional organization of the genome contributes to cellular differentiation.
“Most studies in the field have focused on smaller scale chromatin interactions, at the local level,” said Ramirez.” “I’m working to determine how chromatin compacts into larger scale domains at the compartment level, and the factors required for their formation, which is a question that remains relatively unexplored.”
“I hope to identify a discrete number of factors that are involved in the compaction process, and determine how their expression during development leads to large-scale reorganization of genomic structure.”
Baier, who came to Harvard from Germany, has won an International Student Research Fellowship from HHMI. The fellowship awards tuition and stipends to 20 international students studying science in the U.S. for their third through fifth graduate years.
“This is really an exciting honor for Felix, and recognizes both his past record as well as his future potential,” said Baier’s advisor, Professor Hopi Hoekstra.
Baier’s research is in behavioral ecology, focusing on the molecular, genetic, and neurobiological basis for differences in evolved behavior in wild deer mice populations. He is currently pursuing two lines of inquiry, and is working to narrow his focus while he decides on a topic for his dissertation.
Using deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus) collected from mainland and island populations in Canada, Baier is studying the genetic differences between aggressive behavior in the two populations. He is also studying the differences between the defensive responses of wild and laboratory-bred mice to visual looming stimuli.
Baier was one of ten students from Harvard who were nominated for the International Student Fellowship, and was entered in a pool of 344 applicants from other U.S. institutions. He was the only HHMI International Fellowship winner from Harvard for 2016.