Two University of North Carolina students were recently among the 28 chosen nationwide for the prestigious Gates Cambridge scholarship. UNC School of Medicine MD/PhD student Yasemin Cole (also a Carolina alumna) and UNC-Chapel Hill senior Daniel Malawsky will both be attending the University of Cambridge pursuing Ph.D.s in genomic sciences as Gates Cambridge Scholars.
Gates Cambridge Scholarships are highly competitive fully funded scholarships for graduate study. They are awarded to outstanding applicants from countries outside the United Kingdom to pursue a full-time postgraduate degree in any subject available at the University of Cambridge.
Both Cole and Malawsky are multinational geneticists who see the importance of genetics to the future of applied medicine and also have a passion for refugee health; Cole holds dual citizenship with Turkey and speaks Turkish and Spanish; Malawsky has dual citizenship with Israel and speaks Hebrew fluently.
Cole was selected for this esteemed scholarship due to her academic track record, sense of career trajectory, leadership, and commitment to improve the lives of others. Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Professor of Genetics and Genomic Sciences Anne Bowcock, who was involved in the discovery of BRCA1 gene, says ““I am delighted that Yasemin’s hard work and talent are being recognized with this highly prestigious award. This should leverage her to research areas where she can truly help to improve the human condition.”
As a Biology major and with minors in medical anthropology and chemistry, Cole excelled in her advanced coursework, which led to her graduation with highest distinction and induction into Phi Beta Kappa. As an undergraduate researcher at UNC-Chapel Hill and the National Institutes of Health, she gained a broad understanding of the biological mechanisms underlying disease, ranging from genetic therapies for diabetes (Anton Jetten Lab, NIH) to the circadian rhythms of tumors (Aziz Sancar Lab, UNC School of Medicine). It was through this work she found her passion in cancer molecular biology and precision medicine. Her research work in Jeanette Cook’s Lab at UNC School of Medicine culminated in a senior honors thesis on the phosphorylation regulation of Cdt1, a protein in the cell cycle. She has co-authored multiple articles in “Molecular Biology of the Cell” and “PLOS One.”
While an undergraduate in the Honors Program, Cole contributed to the Chapel Hill community by serving in organizations such as Carolina Pre-Medical Association, UNC Partners in Health, and the Office of Undergraduate Research. She earned the title of Buckley Service Scholar for her hundreds of community service hours. She designed and taught a seminar on the past, present, and future of medicine with the CSTART program, which focused on the integrative nature of research and medicine. She was awarded the Student Undergraduate Teaching Award (Chancellor’s Award) for her teaching excellence and creating a dynamic learning environment.
After graduating in May 2016, she completed her master’s in genomic medicine at Imperial College London with the Dean’s Master’s Scholarship, where she graduated first in her class. She completed her master’s thesis on uveal melanoma genomics in Professor Anne Bowcock’s Lab. Before starting the MD/Ph.D. program at UNC School of Medicine, she worked in UNC School of Medicine Professor Jonathan Berg’s lab conducting genomic medicine translational research.
Outside of medical coursework and clinical work, Cole is continuing her commitment to underserved populations and genomics education by volunteering at Student Health Action Coalition, working with refugee families with Refugee Community Partnership, and leading DNA Day CONNECT.
As an NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholar, Cole will complete her PhD studies at both the National Institutes of Health and the University of Cambridge. She plans to study the genomic landscape of paragangliomas, pheochromocytomas and gastrointestinal stromal tumors at the NIH and the University of Cambridge in the labs of Zhengping Zhuang (National Cancer Institute) and Eamonn Maher (University of Cambridge). Through metabolic, epigenetic and functional genomic studies, she hopes to elucidate the biological underpinnings of these devastating neuroendocrine tumors, leading to advancements in prognostication and treatment.
Yasemin aspires to be a physician-scientist, improving the lives of patients through a combination of direct care and translational research. In this capacity, she aims to translate scientific advancements into precision medicine diagnostics and therapeutics.
Malawsky was accepted for his outstanding intellectual ability, leadership and commitment to improving the lives of others. Given his well roundedness, UNC-Chapel Hill physics and astronomy Assistant Professor Adrienne Erickcek describes Malawsky as “the complete package: a successful student, an accomplished researcher, a talented artist, and a compassionate humanitarian.”
While taking a wide array of advanced courses at UNC-Chapel Hill, Malawsky has maintained a 3.97/4.00 GPA. He was awarded a Morehead-Cain Scholarship, which is the University’s premier scholarship based on academic excellence, leadership and moral force of character. He will graduate Phi Beta Kappa in May 2020, majoring in biostatistics and mathematics with a minor in chemistry.
While at Carolina, Malawsky joined UNC School of Medicine Associate Professor Timothy Gershon’s neurology lab. He is a co-author on an article published in the journal “Nature Communications.” More recently, Malawsky completed two summer research projects abroad, one at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and another at the University of Oxford.
Malawsky’s contributions to UNC-Chapel Hill extend far beyond the classroom and laboratory. He has also designed and taught a seminar on the misuse of science in the public sphere and founded a critical theory reading group on campus to discuss works related to Judith Butler’s book “Parting Ways.” Additionally, he is an accomplished cellist and plays in multiple chamber ensembles at UNC-Chapel Hill and elsewhere.
Malawsky’s commitment to serving underprivileged populations is evident in his proposed program of study. He will be completing his Ph.D. in biological sciences at the Wellcome Sanger Institute working with Hilary Martin. Malawsky proposes to research medical population genetics of understudied populations. He plans to apply mathematical techniques to genetic datasets to identify rare and undertreated genetic diseases.
Outside the lab, both Cole and Malawsky will continue their involvement in scientific outreach and refugee health. The future scientist and future physician-scientist will join the interdisciplinary cohort of Gates-Cambridge Scholars working to improve global health.