M.D.-Ph.D. student wins Hertz fellowship

07/25/05

Bioengineering's Gwen Hoben uses award to study tissue engineering

HOUSTON, July 25, 2005 The Fannie and John Hertz Foundation has named Rice University bioengineering student Gwen Hoben among its elite class of 2005 Hertz Fellows.

The foundation awards only 15 graduate student fellowships per year. They are among the nation's most prestigious and competitive fellowships, with awards to fewer than 3 percent of those who apply. Rice is one of only 43 research universities whose students are eligible for Hertz fellowships. The prestigious awards are available only to students studying engineering or applied sciences, with a strong emphasis on the physical sciences.

Hoben, who earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from Rice in 2001, is enrolled in the Medical Scientist Training Program, an elite program offered by Baylor College of Medicine and Rice that allows students to undertake Ph.D. studies from Rice at the same time that they are earning M.D. degrees from Baylor. Hoben completed her first two years of medical school at Baylor last year and began working on her Ph.D. in bioengineering last fall.

A student in the laboratory of Kyriacos A. Athanasiou, the Karl F. Hasselmann Professor of Bioengineering and director of the Musculoskeletal Bioengineering Laboratory, Hoben hopes to complete her M.D.-Ph.D. around 2009.

"I have known Gwen for six years, ever since she was a sophomore student," said Athanasiou, whose lab conducts basic research on the healing processes of cartilage and applied research into methods of growing tissues. "Through this time she has demonstrated consistency, purpose, and outstanding performance. As she epitomizes excellence and rigor, I can't think of anyone more deserving for this great honor."

Hoben said the Hertz fellowship gives her more options to pursue the research that appeals to her.

"It gives me a little bit more freedom," she said of the fellowship. "When I first arrived six months ago, I was associated with a specific grant that focused on engineering knee meniscus tissue. With the Hertz, I have more flexibility to move between grants and follow the interesting scientific questions, wherever they lead."

Hoben said that extra bit of freedom is particularly valuable at this stage in her studies, because she is still trying to decide what type of residency she'll pursue. She's considering three surgical specialties reconstructive, cardiothoracic and trauma. Once she finishes her Ph.D. studies, she'll still have 18 months of electives and clinical rotations to complete at Baylor before she can start her 5-6 year residency. Regardless of her choice, she knows that winning the Hertz will pay dividends for many years, even after the fellowship expires.

"The Hertz review was rigorous," Hoben said. "In addition to the written portion of the competition, there were two board interviews. In winning this, I have proven that I can communicate about my research and sell it based on its scientific merits."

The Hertz fellowship covers tuition and fees, and it can be renewed for up to five years. It also includes a $28,000 stipend for the year.

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