Biology Student Receives Prestigious Fulbright Award to Spain

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May 19, 2020

Congratulations to Neurobiology student and Iowa Biosciences Academy Scholar, Margaret Mungai, for receiving a Fulbright Study/Research grant in Biology to Spain! Mungai will be studying Type 2 diabetes at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona.

Hometown: Des Moines, Iowa 
Award: 2020-21 Fulbright Study/Research grant in Biology to Spain
Degree: BS neurobiology, Spanish minor

Could you give me a brief synopsis of what you'll be doing with your Fulbright?  
I will be studying how miscommunication within cells increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Dr. Antonio Zorzano’s lab in Barcelona, Spain. This project is based on preliminary data that I have been assisting with in University of Iowa Chair of Internal Medicine Dr. E. Dale Abel’s laboratory. Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the world, prevalent in Spain and the U.S. Moreover, diabetes increases the risks of many other serious health problems, and the trends are only expected to increase in the future. We hope to improve our current understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind diabetes and work towards improving insulin’s responsiveness in the body, which is impaired in diabetes. I am both excited and humbled for this research experience, the opportunity to immerse myself in the rich culture, and hopefully become fluent in Spanish/Catalan.  

What drew you to this field of study?
My interest in medicine and curiosity for research grew in high school through a year-long program called Career Opportunities in Health, where we observed at local hospitals three days a week and had healthcare-related discussions/presentations on alternate days. I found myself wondering how diseases were progressing in our body and even researching about the different procedures and technologies that I was observing. I knew coming into the University of Iowa that I wanted to try research and it has become an important aspect of my college experience in Iowa City. Additionally, I chose to minor in Spanish because I not only appreciate the language and culture, but I knew it would unlock access to a greater community of people that I hope to serve in the future. My experiences at UI have only solidified my career aspirations and being able to do research in Spain could not complement those experiences better.

How do you envision this will influence your future career?
I am excited for the challenges and growth that come with working on an independent project in a different environment. This will not only prepare me for graduate school but provide me with transferable skills for life. I aspire to merge my passion for scientific discovery with my zeal to improve the quality of life for patients. I hope to champion underserved groups and work towards reducing health disparities. I believe the acquired skills from research, cross-cultural environments, and Spanish language will help me serve a larger demographic. Finally, I envision that these experiences abroad will allow me to glean a better understanding of other cultures and build life-long collaborators in science.  Upon returning, I will complete a medical scientist training program which is an integrated MD and PhD training program in clinical medicine and scientific research. As I enter graduate school, the acquired skills from Fulbright will prepare me immensely for working in a diabetes laboratory towards the goal of preventing Type 2 Diabetes and its complications.

What advice do you have for future students interested in applying for a Fulbright? What experiences at the UI inspired you to pursue a Fulbright?
Two words: Start early. It makes the application process less overwhelming. I would recommend the “timeline and checklist” kindly provided by Dr. Wachsmuth that breaks everything to monthly goals. I would also begin early with asking for letters of recommendation, foreign language evaluation, and getting in contact with affiliations. Also, “doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will," so if this is something you are passionate about, then there is no reason you should not submit your best. As you write the drafts, be kind to yourself, and take breaks when needed. I also recommend attending the workshops because they are beneficial, and you also find a support system within the applicants. UI Fulbright mentors are phenomenal and have assisted so many other students in your shoes. I would seek out mentors who are willing to assist you with the process and read your drafts.

I also had the opportunity to conduct thyroid disease research last summer in Armenia through an NIH-funded program by UI College of Public Health, MHIRT. This not only exposed me to a different type of research, but I also had some unforgettable, meaningful experiences. I enjoyed conversing with locals and working with Yerevan State Medical University graduate students.

Are there individuals you'd like to thank for their investment in this process?  
I want to thank my family and friends who sent prayers and positive energy that bolstered me through the application process and for always being supportive of my aspirations in life.

Secondly, I want to thank Dr. E. Dale Abel, for accepting me into his laboratory, mentoring me, and providing me the space to grow as an individual and scientist. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Antentor " A.J." Hinton, Jr., and Dr. Renata O. Pereira, for teaching, mentoring and supporting me in the lab. Notably, Dr. Antentor "A.J." Hinton, Jr., thank you for teaching me about networking and other aspects of career development needed to navigate science.  Equally, I want to thank my recommenders for their support which includes: Dr. E. Dale Abel, Dr. Kristine Munoz, and Samantha Huhyn.

Furthermore, I would like to thank Dr. Christopher Squier, Dr. Jeanine Abron, and Dr. Kelly Kadera for reading my drafts and providing me with critical feedback throughout the Fulbright process.  I am grateful to Dr. Judith Liskin-Gasparro for helping me with my foreign language evaluation and proofreading my Spanish writings. It took a village and I am forever grateful to mine.

Article Link:
https://international.uiowa.edu/news/ui-student-margaret-mungai-awarded-fulbrigh…