May 13, 2022
Whitney Walker, a UW Ph.D. candidate from Bethel, Alaska, and her lab adviser, Karen Mruk, a UW assistant professor of pharmaceutical science, are pictured in the School of Pharmacy’s zebrafish lab. The focus of Mruk’s research is on the zebrafishes’ ability to regenerate and heal from spinal cord injuries and to learn more about how that information can apply to humans. Walker has been accepted to the Marine Biological Laboratory summer program in neuroscience, excellence and success. (UW Photo)
A University of Wyoming biomedical sciences Ph.D. candidate has been accepted into the Marine Biological Laboratory summer program in neuroscience, excellence and success (SPINES), located in Woods Hole, Mass.
Whitney Walker, of Bethel, Alaska, is among 15-20 graduate and postdoctoral students selected nationally each summer for the exclusive program dedicated to creating and sustaining an outstanding and diverse academic workforce in neuroscience.
The goal of SPINES is to increase diversity in underrepresented ethnicities in neuroscience teaching and research careers.
Walker says she became interested in biomedical sciences at her high school, Mount Edgecumbe, located in Sitka, Alaska, where she was offered an advanced science course in research. That class led to her acceptance in a program offered through the University of Alaska called the Rural Alaska Honors Institute, which gave Walker the opportunity to participate in university-level research as a sophomore.
“These solidified my love of biological sciences. In my undergrad degree, I discovered my love of chemistry as well and sought a degree in the interface of biological sciences,” she says. “My goal for my graduate degree was to find a program where I could apply that knowledge, and I found that in the biomedical sciences program here at the University of Wyoming.”
Acceptance into the four-week SPINES — from mid-June to mid-July — is extremely competitive. The program, including travel, lodging and meals, covers all student expenses. Students receive training focusing on professional networking, grant writing and mentoring by academic professionals and scientists at the highest levels of neuroscience research.
Walker applied for SPINES in mid-February.
“I submitted a dual application for SPINES as well as the neuroscience scholars program,” she says. “For my application, I needed two letters of recommendation, a statement about my professional goals, as well as a short essay on my research plans and goals.”
Walker says that she hopes to learn more about what is required to become a successful principal investigator (PI) while attending SPINES. She credits Karen Mruk, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical science, and Sreejayan Nair, director of the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program, both in UW’s School of Pharmacy, for supporting her academic career goals.
“Whitney joined my lab in fall 2020, and it was clear she wanted to be a PI when she graduated,” Mruk says. “As a woman in STEM, I am aware of just some of the barriers Whitney will face throughout her career. I recommended that she apply to SPINES to grow her network and get the additional training and support to help her become a PI as she navigates the difficulties of graduate school and beyond.”
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“In addition to the NIH-R21 grants from Dr. Mruk that support Whitney’s research, she received a graduate assistantship from the Office of Academic Affairs, which was given to the Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program being offered,” Nair adds.
NIH refers to the National Institutes of Health.
“My adviser, Dr. Mruk, has been invaluable in preparing me for a career in biomedical sciences,” Walker says. “She is always happy to support me in multiple aspects so that I can gain any skills or knowledge I need for whatever path I may choose. I feel like I was able to achieve this goal through her guidance and mentorship.”
To learn more about UW’s Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. Program, visit www.uwyo.edu/biomedphd/.