Senior Wins Accelerated Biomedical Scholarship

Molecular Biology Major to Pursue Ph.D. at NIH and Oxford or Cambridge

April 30, 2009

Austin Swafford, a 22-year-old senior from Abita Springs, La., is one of only 17 students nationwide to win admission to the National Institutes of Health-Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

The award, which includes tuition, health care and a $27,000-per-year living stipend for four years, is an accelerated, individualized doctoral training program for outstanding science students committed to biomedical research.  It includes two years of mentor-driven study at either the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge and two years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md.  

Swafford, who will graduate in May with a degree in molecular biology, says he will use the award to pursue a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering.  After graduation from the program, he hopes to obtain a faculty position and eventually move on to a career in scientific policy.

“This is a unique chance to split my time between two top-notch institutions — Cambridge and the NIH — and experience self-directed learning where I’ll be in charge of setting up and maintaining the collaboration between my professors and mentors,” Swafford said of the award.  “I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity.” 

As an undergraduate, Swafford is conducting research to demonstrate the first targeted cancer therapy in which antibodies are bound to double-walled carbon nanotubes for the destruction of tumors upon near-infrared irradiation.

He studies under the guidance of Drs. Paul Pantano and Rockford Draper in the University’s Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute and has had internships at Zyvex Corp. and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience to be a part of Austin’s successes in the lab,” Pantano said.  “He’s a bright, driven, wise and caring man on a mission, out to become a difference-maker in our society, and I look forward to following and supporting his career aspirations.”

Draper agreed.

“It doesn’t surprise me that Austin was awarded the NIH/Ox-Cam fellowship.  He showed great potential for science and research even as a freshman, and he worked hard every year after that to refine his skills,” Draper noted.  “He has the enthusiasm, intelligence and perseverance for a great scientific career.  It’s been delightful to see him develop.”

For his part, Swafford is grateful to have had the chance to work so closely with the veteran researchers, an opportunity not typically afforded to undergraduates at larger universities.  

“Working with Drs. Pantano and Draper has been a constant push forward, always looking out for opportunities for innovation and learning,” Swafford said.  “They have both sought to train me to be not only a solid, effective researcher, but more importantly, about how to become a leading scientist and caring professor in the future.”

In addition to the NIH/Ox-Cam, Swafford recently learned he is recipient of a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Program.  

That award provides a $30,000 per-year living stipend, plus $10,500 toward graduate school tuition for three years.  It supports research in a laboratory setting, and he will be able to use portions of the NSF funding in conjunction with the NIH/Ox-Cam award.

Swafford is a 2008 recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, given annually on the basis of academic merit to students planning careers in mathematics, the natural sciences, or engineering. 

He recently worked with faculty and staff to create a minor in nanotechnology for the University.  In addition, he received the University’s Undergraduate Research Scholar Award, a $500 research stipend made for a single semester and awarded by the Vice President for Research, in both 2007 and 2008. 

Swafford is a Eugene McDermott Scholar, a Peer-Led Team Learning Leader for General Chemistry II, a member of the Collegium V honors program, University Democrats, the Chemistry Student Association, and the American Chemical Society.  He also participates in Destination Imagination, is involved with Habitat for Humanity, and has been both president and secretary of Meteor Theatre, a student-run movie screening group on campus.

He will start his work at the NIH in August and begin his formal studies at Cambridge in October. 


Media Contact: Jenni Huffenberger, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, jennib@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Austin Swafford

Austin Swafford hopes to obtain a faculty position and eventually move on to a career in scientific policy.

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