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Holly Kilvitis MICHELE DYE/CAS

Ph.D. student wins prestigious NSF fellowship
[05.24.2012]

TAMPA, Fla. -- A University of South Florida alumna has received a prestigious National Science Foundation Research Fellowship grant, which will provide a $30,000 stipend and tuition for a maximum of three years.

Holly Kilvitis will return to USF this fall as an NSF Research Fellow to pursue a doctorate in biology. Kilvitis, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the Department of Integrative Biology in August 2011, will be studying epigenetics and ecoimmunology under the direction of Lynn “Marty” Martin, Ph.D., and Christina Richards, Ph.D.

According to Kilvitis, epigenetics is the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression brought on by environmental factors that do not involve alterations to the underlying genetic code, per se. Ecoimmunology is the study of natural variation in immune function and examines how this variation affects other physiological processes of the organism.

“My Ph.D. research will investigate how early-life immune challenge influences sickness behavior--specifically lethargy--later in life in a wild bird, and the extent to which behavioral variation is associated with environmentally-induced epigenetic modifications,” Kilvitis said. “This research will advance our knowledge of how early life infections can alter behavioral response to disease in adulthood and reveal the implications of this variation on disease emergence in wild populations. Furthermore, the epigenetic component of my research will begin to illuminate whether environmentally-induced epigenetic variation can influence evolution on ecological timescales in natural populations.”

Kilvitis, who worked full time at Bank of America while pursuing her bachelor’s degree at USF, said she was overjoyed when she found out she received the fellowship.

“It will be the first time since I’ve been in school that I can focus solely on research and coursework without having to worry about working a full-time job,” Kilvitis said.

Kilvitis said had she not established a relationship with Martin and Richards as an undergraduate, she would have never known about this fellowship.

“The biggest piece of advice I could give to undergraduates is to develop relationships with your professors,” said Kilvitis, who was an undergraduate researcher in Martin’s lab. “It’s so important to be able to collaborate with them and learn from them, especially if you want to go to graduate school.”

The NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program helps ensure the vitality of the human resource base of science and engineering in the United States and reinforces its diversity. The program recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines who are pursuing research-based master's and doctoral degrees at accredited U.S. institutions.

-USF-



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Author: Michele Dye
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