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PhD Student, Aiko Turmo, Awarded Prestigious NSF Fellowship

PhD Student

Aiko Turmo, a Ph.D. student in the lab of MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory (PRL) scientist Cheryl Kerfeld, is a recipient of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

The program, one of the country’s most prestigious and competitive awards for graduate students, directly supports graduate students in various science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

NSF Graduate Research Fellows benefit from a three-year annual stipend of $34,000 along with a $12,000 cost of education allowance for tuition and fees, opportunities for international research and professional development and the freedom to conduct their own research at any accredited U.S. institution of graduate education they choose.

What research and activities will the award fund?

Aiko will study the relationship between carboxysome shell permeability in cyanobacteria and how microcystins, a cyanobacterial toxin, binds to RuBisCO to enhance carbon fixation and the growth of the cyanobacterium.

NSF fellows also participate in professional development programs that expose them to a variety of science careers. Aiko, who has career interests in the biotech and science policy fields, plans to explore the internship opportunities associated with the program.

What are your feelings having won this award?

“I think it was 6 am, I woke up and read the email I got the award,” Aiko, who is in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, says. “I was so excited, I couldn’t believe it! I had to read the email a couple of times. I hit ‘Accept,’ immediately.”

“I am lucky to have very caring and supportive mentors in the Kerfeld lab and at the PRL. Cheryl [Kerfeld] is always motivating me to do my best and provides me with feedback to improve myself,” Aiko says.

“The post-docs have also sacrificed a lot of their time to teach me for which I am incredibly grateful. The mentorship provided to me continues to inspire me to work hard to achieve my aspirations.”

Thoughts from Aiko’s mentor and the PRL’s director

Cheryl Kerfeld, Aiko’s mentor, says, “Aiko has all of the requisite talent to succeed in graduate school and beyond: aptitude for critical thinking and research, persistence, work ethic and tremendous soft skills. She’s a pleasure to coach, she really wants to learn and works hard to improve herself. I really don’t think I have ever had a student so simply willing to work hard and learn in order to achieve her goals. She is always looking for opportunities to grow, to learn more, do more—and to do something with impact. She has the potential to become a leading female scientist.”

Christoph Benning, director of the MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory, adds, “I am very happy that Aiko received this NSF graduate fellowship and I congratulate her on behalf of everyone in the PRL. This award is a great honor and speaks for Aiko’s ability to present a great project. It is also the result of excellent mentoring by Cheryl Kerfeld.”

  • Igor Houwat via MSU-DOE Plant Research Laboratory News

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