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Hutton Honors College

 — Indiana University

May Graduate Mo Siddiq Receives National Science Foundation Support for Graduate Study

Most recipients of the prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships are first- and second-year graduate students - but IU's own Mo Siddiq received the honor as an undergraduate.

Siddiq, who graduated in May 2012 with a degree in biology, attributes his success to his time spent in Assistant Professor Kristi Montooth's laboratory. Often, undergraduates spend their time helping out rather than developing ideas: Siddiq said this was not the case for him.

"I spent enough time in the lab and around people to know how to come up with a set of experiments that will test a hypothesis," he said.

Part of the reason that his undergraduate experience was distinct from others may be that he received several HHC research grants. While students sometimes must take on summer jobs, Siddiq was able to dedicate all his time to research. His work is even in the process of being published in two peer-reviewed publications.

"As an undergraduate, your goal is to get familiar with how to do science," Siddiq said. "Over four years, I've received excellent training." He credits his love of science and success to the wonderful mentorship and guidance he has received from both Montooth and graduate student Luke Hoekstra. "In science, I think you have to simultaneously crave and cringe at criticism, and sometimes the people I've worked with have been very critical," Siddiq said. "It's made me a better scientist."

Now, as a recipient of an NSF Fellowship, Siddiq will receive a $30,000 per year stipend and tuition support while pursuing his graduate degree in the University of Chicago's Department of Ecology and Evolution.

"It's a big, new pond," Siddiq said. "I was blessed with my experience at IU, and now, to be part of that storied department, to learn new techniques and ways of thinking will be awesome - I loved the graduate school environment during my visit."

To be awarded an NSF Fellowship, Siddiq said, applicants must submit a well-proposed idea for a research project and demonstrate the capability to fulfill the project.

"Receiving this award speaks to the outstanding degree of independence and creativity in research that Mo has achieved during his four years in our lab," Montooth said. "His undergraduate research experience has pushed him to synthesize ideas across fields of biology in ways that students rarely achieve in the classroom."

His research at IU in Montooth's lab dealt with evolutionary genetics with Drosophila, commonly known as fruit flies. Siddiq has always been fascinated with genes; his work has explored the consequences that genetic interactions in various environments have for organisms.

In his graduate work, he looks forward to exploring new questions: Why do we see new forms and functions, what underlies the diversity of these features, and how do these features evolve?

For his NSF Fellowship, Siddiq proposed a project that incorporates these questions and his background in Drosophila genetics. Fruit flies in the Caribbean islands have specific pigment patterns, and he would like to find out why and how this variation exists.

While the general public may not have an interest in fruit fly pigment patterns, Siddiq said, the processes that underlie them are likely to be highly conserved across animals - thus, characterizing them could provide deeper insight into gene expression and development for other organisms.

After completing his degree, Siddiq intends to stay in academia. "I view communication and mentorship as extremely important," Siddiq said, "and science as a public service. I want to be in a position to share my knowledge with as many people as possible."

Celia Grundman '14

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