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Eric Dawson, Biology Honors | by College of Natural Sciences
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Eric Dawson, Biology Honors

Eric Dawson is a Dean’s Honored Graduate in Biology. He is graduating with an Honors Degree in Biology under the Dean’s Scholars Program with a cumulative GPA of 3.7363. He is being recognized for his superior research in computational biology with Professor Claus Wilke, culminating in an honors thesis, “Human MicroRNAs Exhibit Two Distributions of Expression Within and Across Cancer Samples.”


Eric has been involved in research in Professor Wilke’s laboratory since his freshman year at UT. Despite having little computational experience he made significant contributions to his first project, evolutionary rate at individual sites in influenza hemagglutinin, a glycoprotein found on the surface of the influenza virus. Since this project he has worked on two larger efforts in the Wilke lab. The first involved developing a masking scheme for low confidence residues in multiple sequence alignments. Eric assisted in implementing the underlying software and helped perform analysis using a variety of bioinformatics tools. He next worked on a collaborative project with most of the lab to assess structural determinants of evolutionary rate across a range of viruses. Eric curated the sequences used in the analysis and also performed initial alignments. The results of this have been three peer-reviewed publications. In addition, Eric has spent two summers at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. There he helped to develop tools to explore the underlying molecular pathology of tumors using next-generation sequencing data. This work has also resulted in a yet another publication.

Eric’s computational skills have grown tremendously since his first research project. In the Wilke lab he is the go to source for the graduate students when they have computational questions. Eric has also worked at the Texas Advanced Computing Center as a research assistant, where he thoroughly distinguished himself. Each year, TACC participates in an extremely competitive event known as the Student Cluster Challenge, in which a small group of undergraduates are tasked with building a high performance cluster. Eric joined the Student Cluster Challenge team in 2013, and his contributions were essential to TACC's 2013 victory. Eric was unanimously elected captain of the 2014 team, which he led to an unprecedented third victory.

Eric has received two very prestigious awards for his graduate education. First, Eric was awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Second, Eric was accepted into the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, a highly competitive graduate program that accepts roughly fifteen students a year. In addition to being accepted into that program, Eric received full funding for his graduate education through a fellowship from the Cambridge Overseas Trust and an NIH Fellowship. These two fellowships provide university fees and stipend for two years of study at Cambridge and full funding from the NIH for the remainder of the student's studies in the NIH Oxford-Cambridge program. As a result, starting in the fall he will be pursuing a collaborative Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge and the National Institutes of Health through the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program where he will be exploring genomic features that contribute to hereditary cancer risk.


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Taken on May 11, 2015