Biology PhD student wins competitive DOE fellowship

Biology PhD student wins competitive DOE fellowship

Posted on October 12, 2020
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Young woman student wearing mask in front of computers

Ellis Torrance

Ellis Torrance, a Biology doctoral candidate in Dr. Louis-Marie Bobay’s research group at UNC Greensboro, has received a Department of Energy Computational Science Graduate Fellowship (DOE CSGF) to support her research.

She is among five percent of applicants chosen for the fellowship this year.

“It feels pretty surreal to win, honestly,” said Torrance. “The DOE CSGF is one of the most competitive fellowships available for graduate students, and generally seems to only go to students at the top universities for computational sciences (like MIT, Harvard, Berkeley) – I almost didn’t apply! Being awarded a fellowship definitely solidified the importance of not self-selecting out of an application.”

Each year, the program grants fellowships to doctoral students whose education and research focus on using high-performance computers to solve complex science and engineering problems of national importance.

In Dr. Bobay’s lab, Torrance uses high-performance computing to tackle tough questions about bacterial evolution. Specifically, they are determining how often bacteria exchange genes with one another by using supercomputers to process massive amounts of bacterial data.

“We are able to track how often these genetic exchanges occur, allowing us to answer very fundamental questions about how bacteria evolve and how these genetic exchanges in bacteria impact human health,” said Torrance.

Torrance is one of 26 first-year fellows across the nation chosen for 2020. Fellows receive full tuition and fees plus an annual stipend and academic allowance, renewable for up to four years. In return, they must complete courses in a scientific or engineering discipline plus computer science and applied mathematics. They also must conduct research at one of 21 DOE laboratories or sites across the country on a three-month practicum.

The fellowship and related practicum experiences are effective workforce recruitment tools for the national laboratories. Nearly a quarter of all DOE CSGF alumni work or have worked in a DOE lab setting. Others pursue careers in academia, industry or government, where they introduce and advocate for computational science as a tool for discovery.

Torrance is currently in her second year of UNCG’s Environmental Health Science PhD program. In the future, she hopes to explore career options at the DOE national laboratories.

“The DOE is actually responsible for a huge amount of bacterial and genetic research in the U.S.,” she said. “I’d love to apply my skills to scientific advancement at the national level.”

DOE’s Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration support the DOE CSGF and the Krell Institute of Ames, Iowa, administers it. For more information on the DOE CSGF, contact the Krell Institute.


Story by Elizabeth Keri, College of Arts & Sciences