Former Second Century Initiative (2CI) fellow and Ph.D. student in biology Alex Thomas has received a prestigious fellowship from the National Institutes of Health (NIH): the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA).
Thomas, from Macon, Ga., was a 2CI Fellow in the Obesity Reversal and Neuroimmunology & Cardiometabolic Diseases cluster at Georgia State. He began his college career at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga., where he received his bachelor’s degree in biology.
Armed with the desire to visit Atlanta, Thomas said he ultimately chose to attend Georgia State because of the reputation of the university’s research program and the resources available to fund doctoral students.
“I knew that Georgia State had a great research program and had a lot of available resources to support Ph.D. students,” Thomas said. “I’ve also always wanted to come to Atlanta, so that played a part in my decision as well.”
The NRSA that Thomas received is a highly competitive predoctoral fellowship awarded by the NIH. Thomas won this award based upon the submission of his research on ghrelin, a hunger hormone found in the stomach. With the support of his advisor Dr. Bingzhong Xue, a professor of biology, Thomas is attempting to discover how ghrelin is integrated by the part of the nervous system responsible for communication between the brain and other bodily extremities: the peripheral nervous system. He described this process as peripheral ground signaling and according to Thomas, it’s a process that has never been described before.
“I’m basically attempting to describe a new kind of research,” he said. “I’m working to describe the basic neuroanatomy of how ghrelin signals in the periphery and then trying to figure out how the brain integrates that to either increase or decrease energy expenditure.”
Thomas’ ghrelin research topic stemmed from his previous ghrelin experiences with a former advisor who passed away, the late Dr. Timothy Bartness. After joining Xue’s laboratory, he decided to pursue ghrelin as his research topic because he now had access to the genetic tools that could assist him with new discovery in his research.
Thomas said receiving the 2CI and NIH fellowships has helped him both financially and professionally.
“The monetary aspect of the fellowships is great but being able to say that I’ve consistently received fellowships over the course of my Ph.D. program is probably the biggest benefit of this entire experience”, said Thomas.
After he earns his Ph.D., Thomas said he would like to work at a top medical laboratory where he can continue his research. He also hopes to one day lead his own research program.
For students interested in pursuing a doctorate degree or fellowship, Thomas said students will need three things: passion, self-motivation, and a good advisor.
“It’s going to be rough but having a little self-motivation and a good advisor to push you really does go a long way,” he said. “Write something that you’re interested and passionate about and go for it. The worst thing they can do is tell you no or make you resubmit it. So why not?”
– Kiana Colquitt, Graduate Administrative Assistant, Office of the Provost