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Brandeis student and faculty pair receive 2022 Gilliam Fellowship


In July, Brandeis Ph.D. student Natasha Baas-Thomas and her thesis adviser, Donald Katz, were awarded the 2022 Gilliam Fellowship. The fellowship, which was created by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2004 to honor the late James H. Gilliam Jr, is awarded to students who are leaders in the scientific community and are “persons from populations historically excluded from and underrepresented in science,” according to the fellowship website. 

Baas-Thomas and Katz were awarded $53,000 for up to three years alongside 51 other pairs, the largest group of Gilliam Fellows to date. Baas-Thomas and Katz are the second-ever pair of individuals from Brandeis University to be awarded the fellowship. Previously, student Andrea Guerrero and her adviser Gina Turrigiano were awarded the fellowship in 2020. 

The Gilliam Fellowship is meant to help prepare students to become leaders in the field of science through providing “high-quality mentoring, financial support, an inclusive lab environment, and a supportive community,” stated HHMI senior director for science education, David Asai, in an article on the 2022 Gilliam Fellowship.  “Diversity in science should be the norm,” mentions Asai in the article. The Gilliam Fellowship is working to encourage students from diverse backgrounds to become scientific leaders of the future. 

Alongside financial assistance, Gilliam Fellowship advisers are given the opportunity to complete a course on culturally aware mentorship through the Center for the Improvement of Mentored Experiences in Research in order to “make the academic environment more inclusive so that students see themselves in science,” explains HHMI’s article. 

Baas-Thomas told the Brandeis Blog on the topic, “I am honored to be selected as a 2022 Gilliam Fellow. I hope to use the award to advance my leadership abilities as I work towards a professorship position. I am also excited by the mentorship focus of this award, which I can implement to improve diversity and inclusivity at Brandeis.”

Katz is looking forward to utilizing the mentorship tools that the Gilliam Fellowship curates for advisers, telling the Brandeis Blog​​, ​​“…I’m excited to learn from the expert mentorship training team that HHMI has put together. The Gilliam program is quite unlike anything that has come before, in the multi-pronged approach that it takes to promoting diversity and opportunity in science.” 

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