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Neurobiology Ph.D. Student, Advisor Receive 2022 HHMI Gilliam Fellowship


Karim Abdelaal and Kafui Dzriasa

Karim Abdelaal, a Ph.D. student in neurobiology, and his advisor Kafui Dzirasa, have been awarded a 2022 Gilliam Fellowship for Advanced Study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The fellowship provides annual financial support totaling $53,000 for up to three years of dissertation research. The student fellows will also present their research at the Gilliam annual meeting and HHMI science meetings, participate in professional development training, and receive support for discipline-specific meetings, courses, and other activities.

The fellows’ advisors will participate in yearlong training on culturally responsive mentorship, develop an implementation plan to disseminate mentor training, and receive an allowance for diversity and inclusion efforts at the graduate level.

Abdelaal’s research focuses on the neural mechanisms that govern the transition from casual drug use to compulsive drug abuse and addiction. He is using a combination of in vivo electrical brain recordings and machine learning to explore how various brain regions involved in reward, negative emotional affect, and compulsivity evolve and converge over time in a mouse model of chronic opioid self-administration.

The Gilliam Fellowships aim to prepare students from groups historically excluded from and underrepresented in science to assume leadership roles in science and science education, and to build a healthier, more inclusive academic scientific ecosystem.

Abdelaal and Dzirasa were among 51 student-adviser pairs selected for the fellowship this year. Abdelaal is the fifth Duke Ph.D. student to receive the award, joining Maria Pia Rodriguez Salazar (2021), Briana Davis (2020), Nina Marie Garcia (2020), and Elise Adamson (2019). Dzirasa, a Duke M.D./Ph.D. graduate, was also Adamson’s advisor when she received the fellowship.

Advice for Future Applicants

Start early and spend a bit of time trying to pin down exactly what you want to write about for each prompt. I teamed up with a friend also applying for fellowships to bounce ideas off of and proofread throughout the process, and this really helped. Lastly, be genuine and write about what excites you! — Karim Abdelaal