University of Iowa

UI student receives a Fulbright U.S. Student Program award for research to Spain

April 19th, 2018

anya kim

Name: Anya Kim
Hometown:  Indianola, Iowa
Type of Fulbright award:  Fulbright Study/Research Award in Medical Sciences to Spain 
Degree and field of study:  BS biology (neurobiology track), BA Spanish, certificate in clinical and translational science

Research: I hope to investigate how the activity of the immune cells of the brain can affect amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that destroys the connections between the brain and the muscular system, gradually taking away a patient’s ability to walk, talk, and eventually even breathe on their own. In Spain, ALS incidence has almost doubled over the last three decades, and in the United States 6,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. Currently, there is no cure for ALS, and drugs commonly used to treat it barely impact the clinical course of the disease. I plan to work with Professor Manuel Jose Rodríguez Allué at the University of Barcelona, whose neurochemistry group develops novel drugs to modify the activity of the brain’s immune cells, or microglia, to control neurodegenerative diseases. By testing the efficacy of these drugs in a tissue culture model of ALS, I can study their potential to treat this inevitably fatal disease.

What drew you to this field of study? 
When I started doing research I was lucky enough to join the lab of Professor Michael Dailey, and since then I’ve been working on a project in his lab about how microglia (the immune cells of the brain) work during stroke. Seeing how knowledgeable and genuinely excited he was about these cells made me want to continue working with them, and hearing how good he was at talking about his research inspired me to not only focus on science but how we communicate it. In my time at Iowa, I’ve been able to talk about my research with other students, scientists, legislators, and even elementary school kids. I’ve also gotten to go outside of Iowa and work at Harvard Medical School with Professor Beth Stevens on the role of microglia in brain circuitry. When I heard about the research Professor Rodríguez is doing in Barcelona on microglia, which I had become so invested in through these research opportunities, I knew I had to go over to Spain to work with him. Additionally, getting the chance to improve my Spanish and hopefully pick up Catalan as well is definitely a huge perk.

How do you envision this will change your life? 
I really hope that this experience not only helps me improve my Spanish and my understanding of the culture of Spain, but that it also helps me become a better researcher. Working in a new environment and trying to do science in a different language will be a huge change for me, but I hope to become stronger through the experience.  After my Fulbright year, I am deciding between attending medical school at either Stanford or Washington University in St. Louis, and I hope to use my experiences in Barcelona to guide the research I do at either institution back in the U.S.

What advice do you have for future students interested in pursuing a Fulbright award?

  • Make sure that you are doing something that you are actually passionate and excited about.
  • Don’t be afraid of writing some terrible, awful drafts. Just start writing those essays, and eventually it will work out.
  • Start early! Give yourself the whole summer to work on your application.
  • You can definitely put your future plans on hold for a Fulbright Research Grant. All of the medical schools I have been accepted to were really excited that I got the Fulbright, and they had no problem with me deferring for a year.
  • Check your email hourly (at least) and respond to emails as promptly as possible during the application process.
  • Appreciate your mentors! They are wonderful humans who will be so helpful to you throughout the process.

Are there any individuals you'd like to personally to thank for their investment in this process? 
There are so many incredible faculty and staff at the University of Iowa who helped me with this whole application cycle. Thank you to my mentor Professor Michael Dailey for getting me excited about research in the first place; thank you to Lori Adams, Brinda Shetty, Bob Kirby for showing me how to actually talk about that research in an coherent way; thank you to Kelly Thornburg for teaching me how to write good essays and generally figure out who I am as a person and what I want to do; thank you to Professor Christopher Squier and Professor Jeanine Abrons for reading all of my essay drafts; thank you to Professor Kathleen Newman, Professor Ana Rodriguez, and Samuel Jambrovic for not only helping me edit my essays in English, but making sure my Spanish essays made sense; thank you to Ana Fernandez and Jean Reed for always being so supportive, and being kind enough to write me letters of recommendation; finally, thank you to the Science Library for their always available free coffee to get me through many late nights of application editing.

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