EEB graduate students Kevin Bakker and Andréa Thomaz have been selected to receive the prestigious Rackham Predoctoral Fellowship for the 2016 – 2017 academic year. The fellowship supports outstanding doctoral students who have achieved candidacy and are actively working on dissertation research and writing. Bakker’s advisor is Professor Tim James. Thomaz’s advisor is Professor Lacey Knowles.

“To mitigate childhood infectious diseases via vaccination, quarantine or sanitation, it is necessary to understand the mechanisms by which pathogens are spread from person-to-person,” explained Bakker. “My dissertation provides the first characterization human birth seasonality across the globe, which replenishes the pool of children susceptible to disease, investigates the role of digital epidemiology when no reported case data are available, and applies environmental, demographic and social factors to disease transmission models to understand their role in childhood disease outbreaks, with a focus towards polio eradication. This work has the potential to drastically reduce global childhood disease burden by informing policy makers with: (1) an understanding of the global variation in birth seasonality – allowing for locally tailored immunization campaigns, (2) model-based outbreak predictions – providing opportunity for prevention, and (3) the knowledge of the mechanism that is most strongly tied to poliovirus seasonality – granting epidemiologists the knowledge of when to time immunization efforts.”

“Multiple processes that result in similar patterns confound the underlying mechanisms promoting genetic variation in riverine fishes,” said Thomaz. “For example, geographic barriers, constraints imposed by physical properties of a river and species ecological requirements affect the dispersal of organisms and, consequently, the genetic differentiation among populations. My Ph.D. dissertation is a step towards addressing this issue by disentangling the effect of these three processes on patterns of genetic structure of freshwater fishes in a system of drainages along the Atlantic coast of Brazil. By using new sequencing technologies and hypotheses testing statistical approaches I’m able to understand the processes responsible for generating the high species diversity and strong genetic structure observed among populations of fishes in the region. This approach also provides insights into which river portions are critical to conservation efforts because of their impact in population persistence and movement patterns of organisms living in these environments.”

The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships are one of the most prestigious awards given to graduate students by the Rackham Graduate School. Those selected for this 12 month fellowship have advanced to candidacy and are anticipating finishing their Ph.D. within six years of beginning their studies. The award takes into consideration professional papers and presentations, publications, honors and academic standing. An important part of the application process is the submission of the dissertation abstract, a dissertation statement, and letters of recommendation from faculty. The Rackham Predoctoral Fellowships are for $32,000 over three terms and include candidacy tuition and registration fees for fall and winter, GradCare health coverage and dental insurance.

Andréa Thomaz casting her net during fieldwork in the coastal basins of Brazil.