Congratulations Caitlin and Kathy on being selected as NSF Graduate Fellows!

Caitlin Karniski

Unlike most graduate students in the department, Georgetown is also Caitlin’s undergraduate alma mater, C’11. She majored in Biology and although the Environmental Biology major wasn’t initiated until the following class, she tailored her curriculum to mirror this major as closely as possible. It was the mentors that she met through these courses, particularly Tim Beach, Heidi Elmendorf, and Gina Wimp, who really sparked her interest in pursuing science for my graduate career.

She worked with Tim Beach’s lab on a project looking at human and natural environmental changes in Mayan agricultural lands, and her first brush with field research in Belize had her hooked. Also, being a part of the Howard Hughes Teaching Scholars Program and having Heidi and Gina as her mentors for her thesis was one of the most invaluable experiences of her time at Georgetown and really instilled her love for teaching and pedagogy.

She joined Janet Mann’s lab after graduation and worked as a field research assistant in Australia for two field seasons in 2011 and 2012 (and joined the lab as a full-time Research Associate in 2013). Immediately upon learning more about the dolphins and how they age, did she find the field of evolutionary questions she wanted to ask for my graduate work (and this is the project that she proposed to the NSF for my GRFP):

Delphinids (the Dolphin family) are unique because they contain the only species to definitely exhibit menopause outside of humans: killer whales and short-finned pilot whales. While bottlenose dolphins do not undergo menopause, they do show evidence of reproductive aging, and are closely related to these species that do. She’s hoping to investigate the dolphins’ reproduction, behavior, and social structure to learn more about how menopause has evolved in this family, and learn more about this perplexing life history trait as a whole.

Because Janet’s lab has been studying this population of bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, Western Australia for over 30 years, this is an ideal study system to investigate these types of questions, and Janet has provided a really great support system for her research.


Kathryn Sanchez

As a teenager growing up in Grants, New Mexico, Kathryn Sanchez never thought she was good at STEM subjects. However, her father’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and a local science fair competition that led to an international fair changed her mind.

Now the New Mexico State University graduate is pursuing her Ph.D. at Georgetown University as a 2016 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. The NSF Graduate Research Fellow Program (GRFP) provides three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period ($34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution).

“When my father was diagnosed with MS, he showed my sister and I literature about the disease and I saw the types of things that were done in a clinical setting,” said Sanchez. “I knew I wanted to help people with this illness but I wasn’t sure how I could do that.”

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at NMSU, Sanchez discovered her path to research through two programs funded by the National Institutes of Health and supervised by Regents Professor in biology Elba Serrano: the Blueprint Program for Enhancing Neuroscience Diversity through Undergraduate Research Education Experiences (NIH-BP-ENDURE) and the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (NIH-RISE) – both within NMSU’s College of Arts and Sciences.

In her first year at Georgetown, she has rotated through three labs and will soon narrow her research focus.

“I was unsure if I wanted to pursue neuroscience research specifically,” Sanchez said. “However after working with Dr. Serrano, I knew that I wanted to study the central nervous system. Dr. Serrano also encouraged me to design my project. As an undergraduate, this was a great opportunity to learn experimental design and how to problem solve.”