Genetics PhD Candidate Wins Prestigious NIH Awards

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Genetics PhD candidate Alex Bott is ready to take his place in the front ranks of the fight against cancer, and he has the grants to prove it.

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Genetics PhD candidate Alex Bott

This past year, Bott was recognized with two prestigious and highly competitive awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): the F31 (Predoctoral Individual National Research Service Award) and the newly-established F99/K00 — the Predoctoral to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award, which is designed to encourage and retain outstanding graduate students who have demonstrated potential to pursue careers as independent cancer researchers.

Bott’s research focuses on Myc, a regulator gene amplified in a wide range of cancers, particularly breast cancer. Since Myc is known to contribute to the genesis of many human cancers, scientists hope that understanding the gene could lead to breakthrough therapies aimed at inhibiting tumor growth.

Alex works in the lab of Dr. Wei-Xing Zong, who recently transitioned from SBU to Rutgers University, where he is a Professor of Chemical Biology.

Bott’s early success is fueled not only by his enthusiasm for research and innovation, but also by a commitment to effective science communication. In order to improve his skills in this area, he worked with Stony Brook’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which coaches scientists to talk about their research in a clear, vivid, and engaging way.

“Writing grants isn’t easy,” Bott said. “The act of sitting down, thinking, and explaining why your research matters is absolutely essential, even if you don’t want to make your career in academia. If every student could talk about their work in the simplest terms, without jargon, we’d have a tremendous effect in promoting scientific literacy.”

Bott also received help and advice from the Integration of Research, Education, and Professional Development (IREP) Office. According to Jennifer Green, IREP’s External Fellowships Advisor, her office seeks to create a culture where SBU students and postdocs consider applying for nationally competitive fellowships early in their careers.

“There is a great deal of support for students pursuing external awards, particularly those offered by the NIH,” Green said.

“Examples include the ‘Writing to Win’ workshops offered by IREP and the Center for Inclusive Education (CIE), as well as the application incentives offered periodically by the SUNY Research Foundation,” she said.

Green said prospective applicants should contact the IREP Office at irep@stonybrook.edu for more information.

Asked his advice for other graduate students pursuing awards of this caliber, Bott emphasized the importance of learning to think critically about one’s own work, for instance by asking questions like: “Why is this important and who can it help?”

Bott also stressed the importance of persistence. His initial attempt at the F31 was unsuccessful, but then he went on to receive the award on his second attempt and utilized the feedback to tailor his successful F99/K00 application.

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