College of Arts & Sciences Graduating Senior in Biochemistry Receives Prestigious NIH Oxford-Cambridge Fellowship

Audrey Winkelsas will Earn Ph.D. Under Mentorship of Scientists in U.K. and America

College of Arts & Sciences senior Audrey Winkelsas is on the fast track to achieving her career goal: becoming a principal investigator in academia studying spinal muscular atrophy.

The biochemistry major – who is minoring in journalism, history, biology and chemistry – earned a prestigious 2015 NIH Oxford-Cambridge Fellowship (OxCam).

OxCam is a unique accelerated Ph.D. program, which allows students to complete an individualized, research-based Ph.D. in approximately four years (compared with the U.S. average of 7.8 years).

Students conduct research in labs at both the American National Institutes of Health (NIH), and at the U.K.’s University of Oxford or Cambridge, bringing international and interdisciplinary aspects to their work.

“Mentorship from two principal investigators with different backgrounds, both scientific and cultural, provides a robust education,” Winkelsas said. “I believe this diversity in science is vital, because when the ideas of many individuals are combined, realizations can be made that may not be otherwise.”

Research-oriented and student-driven in structure, OxCam requires no designated coursework, outside of classes agreed by the students and their mentors.

She will be working with Dr. Kurt Fischbeck at the NIH, and with Dr. Matthew Wood at Oxford, on projects involving “molecular biology on the pathogenesis of spinal muscular atrophy.”

Winkelsas has been conducting research in this area since her sophomore year at UM, when she began volunteering with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, investigating peripheral nerve regeneration following spinal cord injury. Last summer, she studied RNA molecule targeting at The Scripps Research Institute through the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program.

Her work at Oxford will be a homecoming of sorts for the Apopka, FL, native, who spent her junior year abroad in London – an experience she treasures.

“I decided to become a UM Global Ambassador because I wanted to stay involved with the Study Abroad office,” Winkelsas said. “Being a Global Ambassador has made me realize the importance of our being global citizens and having an international education.”

There are currently about 100 individuals pursuing Ph.D.s through the OXCam program, which allows students to build virtual research teams and leverage collaborative technologies in the pursuit of bold new ideas and solutions.

April 22, 2015