FRI Students Selected for the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program


Two FRI students were selected to participate in the Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) for summer 2015.

EXROP is sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), a long term supporter of the FRI. The program allows student researchers to do ten weeks of full-time research with one of approximately 125 HHMI scientists over the summer, for a stipend of $5,000.

The main aim of EXROP is to provide opportunities for diverse, disadvantaged and underrepresented students to participate in cutting edge research over the summer. The HHMI hopes to inspire students even after their summer experience to “pursue careers in academic science” and form a “highly trained workforce” in the sciences. Like the FRI, the HHMI is helping to develop the next generation of scientists and leaders.Lindsey Wilson

Lindsey Wilson, a second year Cell and Molecular Biology major, worked with her Research Educator Dr. Tony Gonzalez in the Epidermal Cell Fates and Pathways stream, led by Dr. Alan Lloyd, where she was a student and currently mentors under a Tejas Club Scholarship.

Wilson will be working with Dr. Keiko Torii at the University of Washington in Seattle, who researches intercellular communication between plant cells undergoing organ morphogenesis. As a student and mentor in her stream Wilson did independent research on pigment gene regulation in Arabidopsis, a small flowering plant, by looking at the TTG2 transcription factor. She’ll be presenting her research at the Undergraduate Research Forum this April. After earning her undergraduate degree, Wilson intends to pursue a graduate degree and career in genetics and developmental molecular biology.

Aliyah EncarnacionAliyah Encarnacion is a sophomore Neuroscience major who works with Research Educators Dr. Grace Choy and Dr. Soo-Hyun Yang in the Biobricks for Molecular Machines stream, headed by Dr. Karen Browning and Dr. Ilya Finkelstein.

Encarnation started her research career at UTSA, testing the effects of anti-depressants on rodents. She’s also worked with the labs of Dr. Mauk and Dr. Drew from the center for learning and memory departments, with in vivo cerebellar eyelid conditioning in rabbits and acquisition and extinction of fear conditioning in mice, respectively. The Biobricks stream is focused on cloning specific DNA templates and protein expression for the Plant Biology lab of Dr. Browning.

Aliyah will work with Dr. Karel Svoboda at the Janelia research campus in Virginia over the summer of 2015. Dr. Svoboda specializes neuroscience, researching intercellular communication in the brain as a memory is being transferred from short to long-term memory. Dr. Svoboda won the European Brain Research Foundation Brain prize for helping to develop two-photon microscopy, which allows better imaging of neural anatomy and communication.

Both students will attend a meeting in Chevy Chase, Maryland this May to meet their instructors and former EXROP participants.


Kate Thackrey

UT Journalism Student


FRI Hosts First Biotech Career Panel

On Thursday, February 19th , the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) hosted its first Biotech Career Panel. The panel featured six members of the Austin biotechnology community who talked to the students about their career choices and answered questions about the field. The event was sponsored by Thermofisher Scientific, Inc and BioAustin and organized by FRI Research Educators Dr. Josh Beckham and Dr. Gwen Stovall.

The panelists represent a diverse selection of the biotech industry, with varying levels of degrees, expertise, and scientific and business involvement. Together they answered questions posed by students with regard to the balance between science and business, finding the right internships, and the differences between academia and industry.

From left to right: Jeannette Hill, Nick Kosa, Jose Cienfuegos, Rob Burgess, Hillary Graham
From left to right: Jeannette Hill, Nick Kosa, Jose Cienfuegos, Rob Burgess and Hillary Graham

Dr. Rob Burgess, Vice President in Global Business Development at RayBiotech, discussed the scientific and business sides of the biotech industry by relating to his own experience. After starting out working on gene therapy in graduate school, Dr. Burgess moved into business by forming a start-up, Lexicon Genetics. Burgess stated that he “transitioned into a business development role over time,” and told attendees that “at some point you’ve got to take a risk in life, and see if it works out.”

When it comes to finding an internship, Dr. Jeannette Hill said that in her experience “the people we do end up hiring have really contacted us, really shown a specific interest.” She added that interested students should “show [they’re] willing to go a step above,” and joked that “a good intern will only take you twice as much work. A bad intern will take out a wall.” Dr. Hill is a founder of Spot On Sciences, an Austin start up that created the HemaSpot™, which can collect and store blood and other fluids for lab testing in practically any environment.

Dr. Hill explains her company's new device, the HemaSpot
Dr. Hill explains her company’s device, the HemaSpot

In deciding whether to go into academia or industry, Jose Cienfuegos, a technical scientist at Thermofisher Scientific, compared science to the real estate business. According to Cienfuegos, academia is “like you’re looking to buy a house; there’s all of these different options.” On the other hand, in industry “we have one house that we’re trying to sell to as many people as possible.”

Dr. Nick Kosa, a staff scientist at Bioo Scientific who received his PhD from UC San Diego, added that “it’s a completely different question when you’re approaching a product that uses scientific components than when you’re working with academic research.”

Hilary Graham is the Associate Director for Business Development at INC Research; her career has grown out of medical writing for universities and companies. She advised students to “interact as much as you can” and to “be bold and find mentors.”

After listening to the panelists, freshman Chemistry major Joshua McCauley said that “coming here gave me a good perspective on what there is to do past school.”

With access to the FRI program many UT students are becoming inspired to go into industries like biotechnology, and to change the world through their work.


Kate Thackrey

UT Journalism Student