There is once again a spot of Yale blue in this year’s pool of Goldwater winners.
Dakota McCoy ’13, a biology major, and Durga Thakral ’12, a molecular biophysics and biochemistry major, were among the 275 winners of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship announced last month. Math major Laure Flapan ’12 received an honorable mention. The winners were selected for their academic merit out of an initial 1,095 science and math students and will receive a maximum of $7,500 to fund their studies depending on financial need.
Most Goldwater recipients intend to pursue doctoral degrees in their fields of interest, according to the foundation’s website. McCoy said she also expects to continue her biology studies after graduation. While she plans to do more work with the paleontology of extinct mammals and the behavioral science of primates and mollusks, she said she is still trying to narrow her academic focus.
“I’m still trying to decide between [studying] paleontology and things that are living.” McCoy said.
This summer, McCoy will work at professor Laurie Santos’s comparative cognition laboratory, also known as the monkey lab, where she will work with primates and research behavioral and cognitive science. Outside of the lab, McCoy runs hurdles for Yale’s track and field team, and sings alto for the all-female a capella group New Blue.
Though running requires different skills than her research work, McCoy said both activities are collaborative.
“In research I work with a small team, and on track I’m on a big team,” McCoy said. “So each teaches me a different type of teamwork.”
Though still an undergraduate, Thakral is on her way to a master’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry through Yale’s joint degree program. Thakral said that her current studies focus on chemical compounds that are produced by rainforest microorganisms. She is searching for a compound that can shut down the protein synthesis of harmful bacteria without affecting the human host.
Like McCoy, Thakral said she hopes to pursue a variety of interests within her general field after graduation.
“My first project [in biomedical engineering] focused on making cell migration tracking particles that can be applied to monitor donor cell transplants and help diagnose tumors,” Thakral said. “My current research [in MB&B] is in the rainforest lab where we go collect rainforest plants and study the biochemistry of the organisms inside them. I want to synthesize the concepts from these two fields in graduate school.”
Last year, Thakral was named a Beckman Scholar, a special designation and financial award for student researchers in the sciences at select colleges and universities. Thakral said that the Beckman and Goldwater awards will help relieve financial burdens associated with her education and help her focus on research.
For two years, Thakral has served as treasurer of the Yale chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Her Goldwater win coincides with the chapter’s recent EWB-USA Premier Project Award, which, according to the national organization’s website, is given to chapters that demonstrate technical effectiveness and community engagement. Over spring break, Thakral traveled with the organization to a small village in Cameroon to survey water sources’ potability and ensure that local purification systems were sustainable.
The Goldwater Scholarship was established in 1989 and has awarded grants to roughly 300 students every year. Three Harvard students and three Princeton students also won 2011 Goldwater Scholarships.