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Chancellor's Doctoral Fellowships bringing top scholars to KU

Monday, November 10, 2014

LAWRENCE — Keely Brown was an outstanding undergraduate scholar at the University of Arizona, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry in 2014. Not surprisingly, when she began applying to graduate programs, she was accepted to a number of the nation’s top universities, including the University of Virginia, Georgia Tech and the University of Wisconsin.

But Brown chose to attend University of Kansas — and receiving a prestigious KU fellowship was a big reason why.

“The Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowship played a huge role in my decision to come to KU,” said Brown, who is now in her first semester in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology. “It was humbling. It meant someone really wanted to have me here.”

Brown is one of 12 current graduate students to receive the new Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowships, which provide a stipend of $25,000 per year and reduce recipients’ work responsibilities during their first year and dissertation year, freeing up time for research. The fellowships were first announced in 2013 as a tool to help KU help recruit and support doctoral students, a key goal of KU’s Bold Aspirations strategic plan.

“When you apply to graduate programs, you spend a lot of energy proving you should be accepted,” said Brown, whose research focuses on the mechanisms by which evolution occurs in flowering plants, microbial communities and their intersection. “But with this fellowship, it was the opposite. It was like KU was proving to me that they wanted me.”

The Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowships are awarded to schools on a rotating basis in line with the distribution of doctoral students at the university. The Office of Graduate Studies administers the program.

“One of our unique missions as a flagship research university is to provide advanced education to students in a range of fields, said Michael Roberts, dean of Graduate Studies. “Providing this support to doctoral students not only helps them complete their degrees on time, but it also makes KU more competitive when recruiting the next generation of scholars.”

Doctoral student Allison Meder was originally offered a graduate teaching position through the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing. But just a few weeks later, she was awarded a Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowship, which has changed the trajectory of her first year here.

“As a research assistant, I have the opportunity to focus on reviewing the literature and designing a study to develop my conceptual framework,” said Meder, who was working as a public school speech-language pathologist before starting her doctorate this semester. “These experiences will inform my work as a teaching assistant in the next few years, and I think that will help me become a more knowledgeable and effective teacher.”

Overland Park native Max Murphy graduated from Stanford University in 2011 before returning to Kansas to take a job with IdentiGEN, a leading provider of DNA-based solutions to the agri-food industry. After a few years, Murphy began looking at graduate programs in bioengineering and in 2013 was offered a Chancellor’s Doctoral Fellowship.

“I happened to be looking at bioengineering programs right around the time of the Boston Marathon bombings,” he said. “My wife is a runner, and I couldn’t help but think, ‘What if she were there?,’ so it piqued my interest in prosthetic devices. That’s when I started learning about Dr. Ralph Nudo at the KU Medical Center and his work on neuroprosthetic devices, and I decided KU would be a great fit.”

Murphy is developing a model to describe how electrical microstimulation can be used to reprogram the brain in an anesthetized rat model. Ultimately, he hopes to use this model to facilitate the commercialization of an implantable brain-machine-brain device that functionally restores motor deficits of patients suffering from stroke or traumatic brain injury.

Murphy said his fellowship enables him to devote all his time to research.

“I commute to KU every day from Kansas City,” he said. “That would be really tough to do – both in terms of time and workload – without this fellowship.”