Graduate Student Awards, Fellowships & Honors


The School of Molecular & Cellular Biology and its departments of Biochemistry, Cell & Developmental Biology, Microbiology, and Molecular & Integrative Physiology recognize outstanding students with several awards and fellowships. In addition to the internal awards listed here, graduate students also often receive fellowships and awards from the University of Illinois Graduate College, private organizations, and national agencies such as the National Institutes of Health.

For a comprehensive list of award winners, including a list of students graduating with honors and distinctions, please download the 2021 awards program.


School of Molecular & Cellular Biology Awards

John G. and Evelyn Hartman Heiligenstein Outstanding Teaching Assistant in Molecular & Cellular Biology

Established by Illinois alumnus John H. Heiligenstein (BS, ’67, zoology) and named after his parents, John G. and Evelyn Hartman Heiligenstein, this award recognizes outstanding teaching assistants.

Eligibility:

MCB graduate students

How to apply:

Students are nominated.

2021 Recipient:

Marinos Kalafatis

Outstanding Teaching Assistant in Molecular & Cellular Biology

Awarded annually in recognition of outstanding teaching assistants.

Eligibility:

MCB graduate students

How to apply:

Students are nominated.

2021 Recipients:

Mohd Tayyab Adil, Sonya Kumar Bharathkar, Roy Rodriguez Carrero, Angela Dean, Justin Miller, Chayanid Onpipattanakul

David and Julie Mead Graduate Fellowship

Created by Illinois alumni David and Julie Mead, the fellowship provides support to an outstanding PhD student in the School of MCB. As a graduate student and member of professor Byron Kemper’s lab, David Mead (PhD, ’86, physiology) developed rapid methods for molecular structure function analysis. Julie Mead earned her MS in education from Illinois, followed by a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. The Meads created the fellowship in 2018 to recognize the important role graduate students play in advancing science and technology on campus and to support the school’s efforts to recruit and retain outstanding graduate students.

2021 Recipient:

Lucy Chou Zheng


Department of Biochemistry Awards & Fellowships

Herbert E. Carter Fellowship in Biochemistry

The Carter fellowship honors the late Herbert E. Carter, a University of Illinois alumnus (PhD, ’34, chemistry) and faculty member who was hailed as the “Father of Sphingolipids.” He served as head of the Department of Chemistry, director of the School of Chemical Sciences, and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. Professor Carter’s pioneering work determined the structure of sphingosine, from which he coined the term “sphingolipids” to encompass the family of cerebrosides, sphingomyelins, and gangliosides that are associated with the brain and nervous system. He also made significant contributions to the structural knowledge of glycolipids and antibiotics. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1953.

2021 Recipient:

Darjan Duraki (Dr. David Shapiro)

Lowell P. Hager Fellowship

The late Lowell P. Hager received his PhD from the University of Illinois and was eventually recruited back to his alma mater, where he rose through the professorial ranks in the Department of Biochemistry. He served as head from 1969 to 1988, building a strong tradition of scientific excellence and collegiality in the department. His research program contributed immensely to the fields of biochemistry and biophysics, particularly in the area of metallo- and hemeproteins. He discovered the halogenating enzyme, chloroperoxidase. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1995. The Hager Fellowship provides support for biochemistry PhD students who demonstrate exceptional achievement, independence in research, and originality of thought.

2021 Recipient:

Sonya Kumar Barathkar (Dr. Beth Stadtmueller)

Charles F. Kade Fellowship in Biochemistry

The Charles F. Kade Fellowship is named after the late University of Illinois alumnus Charles Kade, who received a PhD in biochemistry in 1941. He was a research chemist who ultimately became a vice president of Johnson & Johnson.

2021 Recipient:

Huaxun Fan (Dr. Kai Zhang)

Robert L. Switzer Award for Teaching

Established by a former student of Professor Emeritus Robert Switzer, this award recognizes graduate student teaching assistants and faculty who have devoted themselves to delivering a high-quality education in the Department of Biochemistry. Throughout the course of his 40-year career at the university, Professor Switzer’s research focused on the regulation of bacterial metabolism by allosteric enzymes, the control of enzyme degradation and novel mechanisms for the regulation of gene expression, with an emphasis on transcriptional attenuation. A dedicated educator, he also co-authored the textbook, Experimental Biochemistry.

Eligibility:

Graduate student teaching assistants and faculty

How to apply:

Students are nominated by course coordinator, course instructor, or research advisor.

2021 Recipients:

Santanu Ghosh, Isaac Kim, Nikita Modi

Westcott Bioscience Fellows

Keith R. Westcott received his BA from the University of California, Berkeley, and his MS (1978) and PhD (1980) in biochemistry from the University of Illinois. At Amgen, a California biotechnology company, he was a protein chemistry scientist. He conducted protein science research supporting Amgen’s programs in wound healing, hematopoiesis, cancer and neuroscience. A longtime supporter of the university, he has received the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s Loyalty Award (2013) and College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Service Award (2010).

Eligibility:

Biochemistry PhD students, both first-year and continuing PhD students

How to apply:

Recipients for the first-year award are nominated by the admissions committee; continuing students are nominated by their advisor.

Recipients:

2020-2021 academic year, first year recipient: Kaylee Kuzelka (Dr. Satish Nair)
2021 calendar year, continuing student recipient: Christine Devlin (Dr. Erik Procko)


Cell & Developmental Biology
Awards & Fellowships

CDB Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award

2021 Recipient:

Surabhi Sonam (Dr. Jon Henry)

Tom and Cynthia Cycyota Research Scholarship

Tom Cycyota (BS, ’80, biology), is president and CEO of AlloSource, which preserves human tissue from generous donors to create transplantable allografts (human-to-human transplants). Under his leadership, AlloSource has become one of the largest and most respected tissue banks in the country. In addition to his Illinois degree, he has an MBA from Loyola University. In 2015, the College of LAS presented him with its Alumni Humanitarian Award. Cyndy Cycyota is a professor of management at the U.S. Air Force Academy and holds three degrees in business: a BS, MBA, and PhD. Prior to academia, she was a manager for two international accounting firms and a bank.

Eligibility:

All graduate students who are on track for graduating in six years or less are eligible.

How to apply:

Students are nominated by their principal investigator.

2021 Recipients:

Janhavi Kolhe (Dr. Brian Freeman)

Tunji Toogun Research Excellence Award

Named in honor of Tunji Toogun, a cell and developmental biology PhD student who passed away in 2007, this award recognizes CDB graduate students for their outstanding research accomplishments. Born in Nigeria, Toogun received his BS from the University of Illinois in 2001 and a posthumous PhD in 2007. Remembered as a bright and kind student, Toogun had boundless enthusiasm for research and learning. Friends, classmates, and faculty established the fund to honor his memory.

Eligibility:

The student judged by the CDB distinction committee to have had the most outstanding graduate career among those who graduated in the past year. This award is not necessarily given out each year and more than one award may be given in some years.

How to apply:

All students who graduated in the past year and submitted a current CV to the department are eligible.

2021 Recipients:

Xiaohe (John) Li (Dr. William Brieher), Yo-Chuen Lin (Dr. Supriya Prasanth)

Graduate Student Platform Presentation Award

This award is given to graduate students who deliver an oral presentation about their research at a national or international meeting.

Eligibility:

Delivery of a platform presentation talk at a national or international meeting.

How to apply:

Inform the chair of the CDB Distinction Committee. Include the name, date, and location of the national or international meeting and the title of the talk. All students who give a platform presentation receive the award.

2021 Recipients:

Omid Gholamalamdari (Dr. Andrew Belmont)


Microbiology Awards, Fellowships & Scholarships

James R. Beck Endowment for Microbiology Scholarship—Excellence

This scholarship is named after the late Illinois alumnus James Beck (PhD, ’61, chemistry), who was a researcher at Eli Lilly. He conducted research in synthetic organic chemistry related to herbicides, plant growth regulators, and chemical hybridizing agents.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD within the Department of Microbiology. One fellowship may be given to a 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-, or 5th-year graduate student based on the applicant's composite graduate record (i.e., research, course grades, teaching, service to department and professional organizations, awards, etc.).

How to apply:

Microbiology faculty and graduate students are notified annually of the award guidelines. Faculty advisors are to nominate the graduate students in their lab and are to submit the required documents in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipient:

Rouhallah Ramezanifard (Dr. James Slauch)

Professor Marie Chow Teaching Scholarship

The Professor Marie Chow Teaching Scholarship is named after Marie Chow, who completed her undergraduate, doctoral, and post-doctoral studies at Smith College, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. She was a professor at MIT, followed by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD within the Department of Microbiology and who have an excellent record as a teaching assistant.

How to apply:

Graduate students are nominated by their teaching supervisor. Students are then notified of the award guidelines and are to submit the required documents in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipient:

Stefanie Eben (Dr. James Imlay), Katie Frye (Dr. Thomas Kehl-Fie), Ami Seeger (Dr. Steven Blanke)

Francis M. and Harlie M. Clark Microbiology Scholarship—Teaching Award

The Clark Scholarship honors Dr. Francis M. Clark and his wife, Harlie M. Clark. Francis Clark joined the Department of Bacteriology, later the Department of Microbiology, as an instructor in 1933, after having completed his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Illinois. He had a distinguished career, teaching microbiology and conducting research in the microbiology of foods. He also was past president of the Illinois Society for Microbiology.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD within the Department of Microbiology and who have an excellent record as a teaching assistant.

How to apply:

The Department of Microbiology faculty and graduate students are notified annually of the award guidelines. The faculty advisors are to nominate the graduate students in their lab and are to submit the required documents in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipients:

Molly Crowder, Eliot Joya Sandoval, Rouhallah Ramezanifard

Mr. Chinoree T. and Mrs. Kimiyo Enta Fellowship

Established in 1994, this award is named for the late Chinoree “Ben” Enta and his wife, Kimiyo Enta. Ben Enta earned a BS in chemistry and bacteriology in 1951 from Illinois and spent much of his career as a chemist for the City of Chicago’s water department. Kimiyo worked in insurance, was a professional dancer, and taught Japanese folk dancing.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD within the Department of Microbiology. Typically awarded to more senior graduate students with demonstrated research accomplishments.

How to apply:

Microbiology faculty and graduate students are notified annually of the award guidelines. Faculty advisors are to nominate the graduate students in their lab and are to submit the required documents in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipient:

Yidan Zhou (Dr. James Imlay)

Chester W. and Nadine C. Houston Graduate Scholarship—Excellence

This scholarship is named after Illinois alumni Chester W. Houston (PhD, ’47, microbiology), who was a microbiology professor at the University of Rhode Island, and Nadine C. Houston (BS, ’43, library science; MS, ’46, microbiology), a librarian.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD within the Department of Microbiology. One fellowship may be given to a 2nd-, 3rd-, 4th-, or 5th-year graduate student based on the applicant's composite graduate record (i.e., research, course grades, teaching, service to the department and professional organizations, awards, etc.).

How to apply:

Microbiology faculty and graduate students are notified annually of the award guidelines. Faculty advisors are to nominate the graduate students in their lab and are to submit the required documents in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipient:

Matthew Georgiou (Dr. Douglas Mitchell)

Mame Shiao Debbie Endowment in Microbiology Award

The Mame Shiao Debbie Endowment in Microbiology Award is a gift from Jane Lin, a 1986 PhD graduate in microbiology. She met her husband, filmmaker Ang Lee, while they were students at UIUC. After graduating with a theatre degree from Illinois, Lee pursued his MFA at New York University while she completed her graduate studies at Illinois.

Eligibility:

Graduate students who are currently conducting research toward a PhD degree within the Department of Microbiology. Awarded to a graduate student with a child (or children). One of the following criteria must be satisfied:

  • A graduate student who is either a single parent or parent whose spouse is working/studying elsewhere;
  • A graduate student who is married to another graduate student enrolled in any program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign;
  • A graduate student who is married and has children.

How to apply:

Microbiology faculty and graduate students are notified annually of the award guidelines. Faculty advisors are to nominate the graduate students in their lab and submit their nomination letter in PDF format to the microbiology office by the requested due date.

2021 Recipient:

S. M. Nayeemul Bari (Dr. Asma Hatoum-Aslan)


Molecular & Integrative Physiology
Awards & Fellowships

Outstanding Thesis Award

Presented to a graduate student whose thesis is judged to be particularly meritorious, particularly if the results have been published.

Eligibility:

Must be a graduate student in the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology.

How to apply:

Students are nominated by their research advisor.

2021 Recipient:

Jiaren Zhang (Dr. Hee Jung Chung)

James E. Heath Award for Excellence in Teaching in Physiology

This award is named after James Heath, a former faculty member who researched temperature adaptation and neural physiology of animals. He was head of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics from 1977 to 1982. In recognition of those who have made exceptional contributions in the area of instruction.

Eligibility:

Must be a graduate student in the Department of Molecular & Integrative Physiology.

How to apply:

Students may be nominated for this award via the MCB nomination portal.

2021 Recipient:

Daphne Eagleman