Barnard College offers Beckman Scholars Awards to students in select science majors, with support from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation. The college recently received a second consecutive award from the Beckman Foundation, extending the program initiated in 2015 until 2021.
Beckman Scholars competitions will be held in Spring 2019 and 2020. We encourage interested students, especially sophomores, to explore the Beckman Scholars Program. Scholars and mentors participate in a 15-month experience and scholars are provided continuous and generous stipend support over two summers and publication costs, and travel to conferences. Faculty mentors furnish hands-on guidance and support throughout.
The Beckman Scholars Program specifically targets students who are mentored by select faculty in Biology, Chemistry, or Neuroscience & Behavior. Students must commit to an appropriate academic major (see below). We anticipate supporting one or two outstanding students each year.
All applicants must be full-time undergraduate students who have declared majors in biology, chemistry, or neuroscience, as well as U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Top candidates will demonstrate evidence of critical traits such as leadership, maturity, perseverance, and dedication to scientific research. They will have a grade point average of 3.5 or higher, research interests or experience aligned with a participating mentor, particularly compelling goals for independent research and post-graduate pursuits, superior communication skills, and a commitment to meeting the participation requirements for two summers and the intermediate academic year. Students planning to graduate in 2020 are not eligible to apply for an award during the cycle beginning in 2020.
October- December: Prospective applicants should discuss the feasibility of substantive projects with Beckman mentors, and consider early major declaration in an appropriate major (sophomores).
Monday, February 10, 2020: Deadline for finalizing application materials; if you haven't already, complete the preliminary application
Early March 2020: Beckman candidate interviews and notification to Scholars.
Guidelines and Checklist
Resume or CV
Student statement, 2-3 pages
Students should prepare a 2-3 pg. statement that concisely summarizes:
proposed research projects and goals, making sure to specify how these are compatible with the research of the faculty mentor and the host lab;
educational and career goals after graduating from Barnard College;
any prior lab research experience, including the lab’s location, duration of time in the lab, name of mentor, and their unique contributions;
any experience authoring or co-authoring a scientific publication or presenting research at a scientific seminar or conference; and
plans for managing the rigorous commitments of the Beckman Scholars program.
Resume or CV
Print out of transcript
Unofficial copy from the registrar is permissible; most recent semester’s course grades included.
Recommendation letter from the mentor
The mentor should also append a 1-2 pg. mentoring plan to the recommendation letter
Second recommendation letter
Should be from a faculty member at Barnard College
A selection committee consists of up to seven representatives, no more than two biologists, two neuroscientists, and two chemists. A representative from outside of the Beckman team and from outside of these disciplines may also be included.
The Program Director, Hilary Callahan, is available to answer questions from candidates and mentors about the application process.
Rachel Nordlicht '20 is a Biology major in the lab of Professor Elizabeth Bauer. Her research focuses on how neurons in the amygdala work together to produce anxious behaviors. The amygdala can be subdivided into different regions which contribute to both anxiety and emotional learning, and her project addresses the specific pathway between a region of the extended amygdala, the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST), and the central nucleus of the amygdala (CE). The first step will be to determine which behaviors activate cells within this pathway in both male and female animals. She will then determine the neurochemical characteristics of these neurons using a combination of tract tracing, immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy. Together, these experiments will advance understanding of the neural substrates underlying fear, anxiety and stress.
Alice Sardarian '21 is a biology major working in the lab of Professor John Glendinning. Using the mouse model, she is investigating how taste and odor stimuli contribute to variation in consumption of ethanol, a generally aversive stimulus for its taste, odor and irritant properties. Sardarian plans multiple experiments to tease apart the relative effectiveness and importance of these three stimuli. She will take advantage of genetic tools (i.e., knock-out), a drug to block alcohol's burning sensation, and additives such as sweeteners and floral scents. A biology major trained and actively volunteering as an EMT, Sardarian's future plans include medical school and a career as a surgeon, possibly specializing in trauma.
Shoshana Williams '20 is a biochemistry major who has worked in the lab of Professor Rachel Austin lab since her first year at Barnard. This award will support her continuing efforts to characterize properties of the protein AlkB, a di-iron protein that is sometimes associated with pathologies, and also found in diverse environmental microbes. Among other research activities, she plans to travel with her mentor to other campuses to access advanced spectroscopy techniques. In Summer 2018, Williams declined a Beckman award to be an Amgen Scholar at Washington University. After graduating from Barnard and finishing her time as a Beckman Scholar, she aspires to a Ph.D. in chemistry or chemical engineering and a research career.
Alyson Dennis '19 was a 2017 Beckman Scholar and a biology major who investigated the cephalic phase insulin response (CPIR). Previous students in the lab of Professor John Glendinning lab have established that glucose stimulates CPIR in mice, while artificial sweeteners and other taste stimulants do not. Dennis conducted conditioning experiments to test whether mice can "re-wire" the CPIR, learning to respond instead to artificial sweeteners, or to salty or sour stimuli. She learned about computer-controlled feeding apparatuses, animal surgery, and statistics. Such skills will enhance her pursuit of a medical career, and her already strong interests in surgery and childhood wellness.
Jenny Lam '18 was a 2016 Beckman Scholar chemistry major working with Professor Christian Rojas. She focused on synthesizing small sugar molecules to serve as "handles” for larger molecules, aiming to increase their medicinal effectiveness. During a previous summer in the Rojas lab, she had tested and optimized catalysts, purified products, and characterized them in molecular detail. As a Beckman Scholar, she continued these efforts and progressed to chemically attaching small molecules with their larger partners. Since graduating, Jenny has begun a research internship at the National Institutes of Health. She still plans to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry, aiming for possible careers in toxicology or drug development.
Amen Wiqas '18 was a 2015 Beckman Scholar who worked in Professor Rae Silver's lab on the role of mast cells, a type of immune cell in the brain, and the effect of zinc on the normal and pathological function of mammalian brains. Because there are many gender-biased disease pathologies related to the hippocampus, such as Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis (MS), she was also interested in seeing whether there are age- and gender-related zinc effects, since mast cells are known to be sensitive to hormones such as estrogen and testosterone. A biology major, she continued to conduct research in collaboration with the Silver lab and with the lab of Professor Rachel Austin in the Chemistry Department. Since graduating, Amen has moved to the West Coast and begun working as a research assistant at the University of California-San Francisco.
Yonina Frim '17 was a 2015 Beckman Scholar who worked in Professor John Glendinning's lab studying Type II Diabetes and the role of cephalic phase insulin release (CPIR) - insulin released as a result of taste stimulation during sugar intake. A biology major, her goals included earning her M.D. and Ph.D. in order to be a practicing doctor while conducting scientific research. Yonina was inspired while interning during the summer of 2014 at Boston Children's Hospital on a clinical research study for the Boston Center for Endometriosis. There, she saw how research and clinical medicine work together to ensure the success of the other. Frim graduated with highest honors in May 2017, winning several prizes and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. She worked in research for one year and is now attending Harvard Medical School.
Through existing programs that support undergraduate researchers, Barnard provides appropriate training in environmental health and safety, and New York Fire Department regulations. All faculty members in the proposed program have mentored students regularly, and routinely arrange for students to avail themselves of additional necessary training resources, typically at Columbia. These include training in the handling of radioactivity, animals, or blood samples. Additionally, science students benefit from campus-wide resources such as Barnard’s Speaking Fellows Program. Given such existing campus resources, faculty are then able to concentrate on individualized mentoring within their labs.
Faculty Mentors for Biology
Elizabeth Bauer: The Bauer group is exploring the functional relationship between two brain regions that have been implicated in both Pavlovian fear conditioning and anxiety. Examining how conditioned fear and anxiety interact at the neuronal level will increase understanding of the pathophysiology of anxiety disorders. A Beckman Scholar in Dr. Bauer’s lab will use immunohistochemistry techniques analyzed with confocal microscopy, stereotaxic surgery combined with behavioral assays of fear learning and anxiety, and electrophysiology of brain slices. Thus, she will be exposed to some of the more sophisticated techniques used by neuroscientists. Students who work in the lab during the academic year will meet weekly and receive formal training in experimental design, presentation, and writing.
Hilary Callahan: The Callahan group conducts research in ecological genetics and microevolution. Dr. Callahan has extensive experience working with one of biology’s premier genomic models, the annual plant species Arabidopsis thaliana. Since many of Callahan’s projects involve integrated teams of students, she tailors individual projects for each. A Beckman Scholar will work on projects that provide experience in the use of genetic resources such as mapping populations, mutant libraries, and natural genetic variants. She will also help investigate functional ecology and macroevolution in native forests, learning about plant diversity from community, ecosystem, and phylogenetic perspectives. A Beckman Scholar will gain experience working with large data sets, bioinformatics tools, and biostatistics. She will also attend regular lab meetings with other undergraduates, Columbia graduate students, and affiliated postdocs. As she has frequently done in the past, Callahan will mentor scholars in presenting research at college-wide events and at national professional conferences.
John Glendinning: The Glendinning research program addresses three issues: (1) Human epidemiological studies indicate that when pregnant women drink alcohol, they increase the risk of alcohol abuse by their adolescent children. The Glendinning lab is exploring whether fetal ethanol exposure makes alcohol taste better to adolescents, using rats as a model system; (2) Cancer chemotherapy drugs produce debilitating taste distortions that seriously reduce quality of life. The group is trying to understand the etiology of these taste distortions in rats; and (3) We know that the taste system contributes to the sugar-induced release of insulin from the pancreas, but have no idea how. The group is studying the sensory basis of this phenomenon. A Beckman Scholar will work closely with Dr. Glendinning to make sure she develops the technical skills and conceptual understanding necessary to execute her project competently and independently. She will have regular one-on-one meetings with Glendinning, and contribute to weekly lab meetings. She will also be encouraged to present findings at a professional meeting and prepare her results for publication.
Jennifer Mansfield: The Mansfield lab studies the molecular genetics of musculoskeletal development, focusing on Hox proteins, evolutionarily conserved proteins that direct embryonic cells and tissues to develop into different structures appropriate to their position along the head-to-tail axis of the body. Mutations in Hox proteins cause congenital defects and various cancers; thus a fundamental understanding of their roles is essential. A Beckman Scholar will work with vertebrate models, chick and mouse, to examine and manipulate patterns of Hox and other gene expression, signaling between embryonic tissues, and other factors important for development of the musculoskeletal system, with the goal of characterizing Hox genes’ normal roles. In a second collaborative project, a Beckman Scholar could investigate the functional genomics of chemosensation (taste and smell) in a moth, Manduca sexta. Students working with mice will complete training at the Columbia Institute for Comparative Medicine. Key goals for a Beckman Scholar in the Mansfield lab will include the development of critical thinking skills, honing knowledge of molecular genetics, and development of core lab skills.
Faculty Mentors for Chemistry
Marisa Buzzeo (‘01): The Buzzeo group employs electrochemical methods to study biological constructs that are capable of using electron transfer as a form of communication with an interest in exploring fundamental questions about electron-transfer as well as developing optimized biosensors that take advantage of this rich class of reactions. A Beckman Scholar would engage in one of two projects: (1) electrochemical characterization of the selenocysteine/selenocystine redox couple; or (2) development of an electrochemical microRNA biosensor. Both projects will expose a Scholar to topics and experimental techniques not traditionally taught in the undergraduate curriculum. Clear expectations will be established through a written contract, and ongoing workshops on topics such as scientific presentation skills, graduate school applications, and career paths will be provided. The Scholar will be responsible for maintaining an accurate laboratory notebook as well as presenting her results in weekly group meetings. At the end of each summer and academic semester, the Scholar will submit a written report, which will include a full analysis of progress made to date and a proposal of future studies. The Scholar will present her research findings at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Rachel Austin: The Austin laboratory is interested in understanding the role that metal ions play in key reactions in biology and in developing catalysts with important industrial and environmental applications. We use a variety of techniques, in collaborations with researchers from other labs, to answer questions about how hydrocarbons are metabolized by microorganisms, how lead impacts central nervous system development, and how renewable resources can be used to meet the world's ever growing energy needs. These projects reflect a pervading interest in understanding the connections between structure and function in catalytic and biological chemistry. An undergraduate researcher in the Austin lab would work on all aspects of experimental design and analysis including: doing background reading to understand the problem and to learn the history of the relevant experimental work, being trained on all aspects of the work including how to properly and safely use all equipment, designing experiments, carrying out experiments, analyzing data, presenting results from the work in public settings and contributing to writing and revising the work for publication in a peer reviewed journal. Austin has a great deal of experience advising students about careers in science (as well as careers away from the bench) and will offer mentees the benefit of 20 years of work in this area.
Christian Rojas: The Rojas group is undertaking a synthetic organic chemistry research program directed toward the preparation of amino sugars having biological and medicinal activity. The group seeks both to develop new methods for the incorporation of nitrogen functionality within carbohydrate frameworks and to apply those routes for the synthesis of versatile building blocks that can be incorporated into more complex structures. A Beckman Scholar will participate in all aspects of the Rojas group research, including planning, setting up, and running the necessary organic reactions; analyzing the reaction mixtures to determine product ratios and stereoselectivity; purifying the products; and characterizing the resulting compounds via a suite of spectroscopic and analytical techniques, such as 1- and 2-dimensional nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, infrared (IR) spectroscopy, high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS), and elemental analysis. Dr. Rojas is also in the early stages of establishing a collaboration with Professor Jon Thorson’s group at the University of Kentucky to study glycodiversification applications of compounds, and a Beckman Scholar would be involved in that effort. Many undergraduate researchers in the Rojas group have gone on to graduate programs in chemistry at such institutions as UC Berkeley, Yale University, and Caltech, and have received national awards including NSF Predoctoral Fellowships and summer funding from the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry.
Faculty Mentors for Neuroscience & Behavior
Peter Balsam: The Balsam lab seeks to understand how animals use temporal information to solve problems in flexible ways. Ongoing projects investigate the way that time is perceived, encoded, and retrieved by animals and how this information guides their decisions about whether, when, and how to respond. More than 150 students have been mentored in the Balsam laboratories at Barnard College as well as the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), which is part of the Columbia University Psychiatry Department. During the first weeks in the Balsam lab, a Beckman Scholar will co-develop mutual expectations about time and work commitments and receive training on lab safety and requirements for IACUC. A skills assessment will identify strengths as well as potential areas for future training. Publications and presentations will be expected from Beckman Scholars, and ongoing guidance will be provided in the preparation of manuscripts and conference presentations.
Russell Romeo: The Romeo group examines the changes in psychological and neurophysiological function that occur during adolescence. These studies explore how exposure to stressful experiences affects development and influences short- and long-term mental and physical health. Most broadly, research is directed at understanding how internal and external stimuli shape the structure and function of the nervous system during sensitive periods of maturation. A Beckman Scholar working in the laboratory will be involved at each stage of her research experience, from producing, recording, and analyzing data to participating in the dissemination of the results through presentations at national conferences, and ultimately peer-reviewed publications. Because 5-6 students are engaged in research in Dr. Romeo’s laboratory in any given semester, it is common for “senior” undergraduate students with greater levels of experience and training to help “junior” undergraduate students with parts of their projects. These collaborations have created great camaraderie among the students, while often affording them a chance to get involved in multiple projects, and a Beckman Scholar will benefit from this experience. Dr. Romeo holds bi-weekly lab meetings, at which researchers briefly present what they have been working on; individual meetings are scheduled for more informal discussions about research, coursework, and future plans.
Rae Silver: In all mammals, the brain’s daily master “clock” lies in a small hypothalamic area called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. The ~20,000 individual cells of this tissue each have a molecular 24-hour clock, and this is true of most other cells of the body. Unlike the other clocks, however, the brain clock is unique in that it coordinates daily changes throughout the rest of the body. Unknown is how the individual cells of this brain clock work together to produce this master clock function. Importantly, this system is an excellent model for studies of brain networks because clock function can be studied at various time scales (minutes, hours, days) and levels (within cells, in the nucleus as a whole, and at the level of physiology and behavior). The use of computer-based statistical tools for computational analysis of massive data sets to track temporal changes in bioluminescence of specific clock genes and proteins in many cells, along with classical single cell tracing studies of clocks in normal and mutant animals, will reveal how this daily clock achieves its function. A Beckman Scholar in the Silver lab will learn to perform computer programming using Mathematica or other modeling software, as well as various staining and testing techniques to explore questions about the brain and behavior. She will be expected to join numerous students from the Silver lab who have co-authored journal articles.