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UNG student wins NIH scholarship

Joshua McCausland feature
Joshua McCausland works on one of his several current research projects in a UNG biology lab.

Joshua McCausland, a senior majoring in biology at the University of North Georgia (UNG), is one of 16 students in the nation selected for the prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) Undergraduate Scholarship Program, which includes an internship and employment at the institute.

The scholarship includes $20,000 to cover tuition and educational and living expenses for students committed to careers in biomedical, behavioral, and social science health-related research; a 10-week summer laboratory experience, during which McCausland will train as a paid summer research employee in an NIH research laboratory; and full-time employment for one year at NIH after graduation.

"When the faculty of the biology department unanimously recommend a student to you, you know you've got a phenomenal young scholar on your hands," said Dr. Anastasia Turner, assistant dean of student research and scholarship. "Joshua's natural curiosity and enthusiasm for biology is refreshing and contagious. These traits, added to his combination of scientific acumen, diligence, and hard work make Joshua the perfect candidate for top STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) scholarships and higher graduate work. I expect we'll be hearing back from him soon on some great discoveries he's made."

McCausland bacteria sample
McCausland notes the number of bacteria colonies in a sample.

McCausland has been involved in four research projects, including his undergraduate thesis that infers evolutionary relationships among freshwater fishes in Mexico. In examining two species of fish in the endangered Characodon genus, he has found "questionable relationships" which lead him to believe the two species may not be distinct after all.

"If it turns out that the two species are in fact one, the discovery will help conservationists streamline their efforts in saving the genus, which is rare in the wild," McCausland said. "Rather than worrying about protecting two different species of fish in multiple locations, conservationists will be able to focus on the more sustainable populations."

After his 10-week training session at NIH next summer, during which he will spend two-week rotations in different labs, he will choose the lab he likes best to work in for the following year.

"NIH will expose me to other programs and allow me to interact with other scientists and be involved in publications, so I will be able to make a better decision about where I would like to go for graduate school," McCausland said. "I'm already considering programs such as Emory University's Microbiology and Molecular Genetics program, and other genetics Ph.D. programs involving topics such as evolutionary relationships or population genetics. Many of my UNG professors and mentors have been instrumental in helping me find my love of research, especially Drs. Ralph Hitt, Shane Webb and Stephen Smith."

McCausland has served as an ambassador for UNG's Center for Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities and frequently speaks with other students about the benefits of engaging in undergraduate research.

"I enjoy sharing with fellow students how helpful and amazing undergraduate research is," McCausland said. "It makes you look much more competitive, and I've spoken to groups ranging from students in the honors program to first-time freshmen in the INTRO program to try and help them see its value."

McCausland also has presented his research at several conferences, including events held by the Georgia Collegiate Honors Council and Georgia Academy of Science, and UNG's Annual Research Conference.

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