(Oct. 30, 2014) -- The South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) has awarded its annual $23,000 STCEID doctoral scholarship to Julie Tudyk. The scholarship will help the Canadian native advance her doctoral research on Erk2 signaling in lymphocytes and autoimmunity.
Tudyk is particularly interested in understanding mechanisms of disease and developing treatments. While completing her Chemical and Biosciences Technology requirements at Red River College in Canada, she excelled and was named a gold-medalist as the highest-ranked student in her graduating class. That education provided her with the foundation for her job as a senior microbiology technician in the National Microbiology Laboratory of Canada, an organization likened to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She spent eight years at the Canadian laboratory, identifying unknown pathogens with the Foodborne and Enteric Diseases Program.
While at the National Microbiology Laboratory, Tudyk developed a longing to conduct research and make new discoveries. To prepare for entry into the Ph.D. program at UTSA, she started her education again upon moving to the United States – first taking some courses at the Alamo Colleges then transferring to UTSA to earn her bachelor's degree in Biology. As an undergraduate, she conducted research under the guidance of Karl Klose, focusing on a pathogenicity island of the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia. She also enrolled in some courses through the UTSA Honors College and completed her honors thesis.
In 2011, five days after graduating with her bachelor's degree, Tudyk began her doctoral study. As a graduate student, she is conducting immunology research under the guidance of Thomas Forsthuber, who holds the UTSA Jesse H. and Mary Gibbs Jones Endowed Chair in Biotechnology. Her focus is on Erk2 signaling and its role in B cell immune functions. As scientists gain a better understanding of the signaling pathway, they will better understand the development of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, she says.
"Immune cells must communicate with each other all the time, like a symphony," Tudyk explains. "These are highly coordinated interactions. If the cells don't coordinate and respond correctly, it breaks down the whole system."
The research has kept Tudyk on her toes. "We've discovered new things that we didn't expect, and we've had some technical obstacles that we needed to overcome."
Despite those challenges, Tudyk enjoys working in UTSA's dynamic scientific environment.
"I think that humans are built to want to pursue things -- to try to achieve things," says Tudyk. "I have career ambitions and I enjoy my work, and that's the most important lesson. It's worth going and doing something that you really want to be doing. It's about quality of life."
Tudyk says she's grateful to the STCEID for the scholarship she will receive.
"This is my salary for a year. It opens new conversations. It enhances my CV. This means that some of my funding won't have to come from the laboratory this year."
Forsthuber commended Tudyk for her accomplishments.
"Julie is an outstanding student, eager to learn, hard-working and always cheerful no matter how many problems in her research she had to tackle that day. She has not been given the easiest projects in the lab, yet she has attacked them from day one with full speed. Students like Julie make scholarship and mentoring meaningful and a pleasure to be part of. I would also like to express my gratitude to the STCEID for providing our students great opportunities like these fellowships."
The STCEID was established to support UTSA's research and teaching initiatives in immunology, molecular microbiology, medical mycology, virology, microbial genomics, biodefense and vaccine development. Researchers at the center study the pathogenesis of emerging infectious diseases such as cholera, Lyme disease, chlamydia, tularemia, valley fever and several others.
"The STCEID doctoral scholarship was created to support high achieving doctoral candidates," said Bernard Arulanandam, Jane and Roland Blumberg Professor of Biology, associate vice president of research support and director of the UTSA center. "Students like Julie who are savvy, critical thinkers need to focus on their research rather than the cost of a doctoral degree. It is our hope that this scholarship eliminates that burden so they can focus on the reason they're here -- to build successful careers."
This is the sixth year the center has awarded its scholarship to a promising doctoral candidate.
Learn more about the UTSA doctoral program in biology at the Department of Biology website.
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