Two graduate student-adviser pairs at Princeton awarded 2021 HHMI Gilliam Fellowships for inclusion in science

Tuesday, Jul 27, 2021
by Jonathan Garaffa

Two Princeton graduate students, Micah Burton and Lisset Duran, have been awarded Gilliam Fellowships from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. These fellowships are awarded to graduate students conducting outstanding research in their respective fields, and their advisers, who are dedicated to creating a more inclusive academic environment through their mentorship. Burton’s adviser is Martin Jonikas in the Department of Molecular Biology, and Duran’s advisers are José Avalos and Daniel J. Cohen in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering and the Department of Molecular Biology, respectively. For up to three years, each adviser-student pair in the program will receive an award totaling $50,000 per year.

Since its inception in 2004, HHMI’s Gilliam Program has worked to ensure that students from populations historically excluded and underrepresented in science are prepared to become scientific leaders. In collaboration with the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research (CIMER), the program trains mentors on how to create an environment that helps students of all backgrounds feel like they belong in science.

“Diversity in science should be the norm,” said HHMI senior director for science education David Asai in the award announcement. “We should expect to see talented students and scientists from underrepresented groups on college campuses and across all of science.”

Burton graduated from Harrisburg University with a B.S. in biochemistry and biology, joining Princeton for his Ph.D. in 2019 and the Jonikas Lab in 2020. His research focuses on the Chlamydomonas reinhardtii algae and the pyrenoid protein bodies found in its chloroplasts, which are responsible for carbon-dioxide fixation. This research will contribute to efforts to adapt a carbon concentrating mechanism into other plant species to increase crop plant yields. Burton is an American Chemical Society Scholar.

Duran received her B.S. in molecular biology from John Jay College at CUNY, where she studied DNA methylation in breast cancer. She joined Princeton for her Ph.D. in 2018. Her research involves understanding the molecular mechanisms that lead to resistance and stress tolerance in different extremophilesorganisms that thrive in environmental conditions considered extreme, such as waterbears. Duran received a Jonas Salk Scholarship from CUNY, one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon a City University graduate.

To be eligible for a Gilliam Fellowship, students must be enrolled in their second or third year of a Ph.D. program in biomedical or life sciences disciplines, but not in an M.D./Ph.D. program. Students must be from racial, ethnic, or other underrepresented groups in the sciences, or alumni of the HHMI EXROP program. Students must aspire to careers in academic science and demonstrate a commitment to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

Learn more about the 2021 Gilliam Fellows at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website.