Published: April 22, 2020 By

Sabina AltusThis past week, Sabina Altus, one of our PhD Students in the Department, was awarded a summer dissertation fellowship by the Graduate School. This summer, Sabina will be given funding to work on her thesis with her advisor, Associate Professor David Bortz in our department. Sabina described that the “fellowship is specifically awarded to PhD students during their last summer of graduate school as a final push towards finishing their dissertations and graduating.”

In regards to the work she will be completing this summer, Sabina explained she will be completing a paper in the area of mathematical biology, which is the primary research focus of her advisor and an important component of the research CU’s Applied Math Department does. Sabina uses partial differential equations to model growth dynamics in populations of cyanobacteria. Sabina will be collaborating in this research alongside “biochemists at the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute (RASEI) in trying to better understand how photosynthesis is regulated in cyanobacteria with the goal of identifying ways to engineer more productive bacterial strains with applications in renewable energy and agriculture.” Sabina continued to describe her work in detail, saying that “Cyanobacteria contain microstructures which act as the photosynthesis centers of the cell. We aim to characterize how these microstructures evolve (or degrade) over time. From a modeling perspective, this requires us to resolve how the population is structured … I will be wrapping up this piece of the work and submitting a paper on the structured population model.”

When asked what part of the work that she’s most excited about, Sabina exclaimed: “I am excited to have my first first-author publication! This will be a huge milestone for me both personally and academically. Beyond that, I am just so grateful to have this time to work on my research without all of the other distractions and time requirements that I would normally have.”

This brings up a critical current problem at CU and universities across the globe: how can work transition with remote working being mandatory for the foreseeable future? When asked how her own work will be impacted, Sabina said that “Weekly meetings with Dr. Bortz will certainly help keep me on task, but it's been challenging for sure. There's certainly a big difference between meeting with your advisor in person and over the phone or on video. I suppose it's nice that I've had a few weeks of practice now and am starting to get into a routine that works for me. I adopted a dog recently and that has helped me deal with social distancing.”

Sabina also highlighted the importance of her work for the CU chapter of the Association for Women in Math, where she was the president of the chapter:

“I'd be remiss not to acknowledge or give a shout out to women pursuing higher education or careers in math or STEM in general! Supporting and encouraging women to get involved and stick with STEM is something I am certainly very passionate about and I know I would not still be here without the support of other women in the department, plus my advisor has been wonderful in that regard.”

Sabina wrapped up her statement by giving thanks to those who have helped her get to this critical and impressive position in her career:

“I'd also like to thank the department as a whole. From the time we first organized and established our AWM chapter among graduate students, the department has been extremely supportive and has even made an effort to hire more female faculty. This has been such a positive change that I have been so happy to see and be a part of. I am beyond grateful to the department for listening to us and being willing to do so much more than just pay lip service to our cause, so to speak … I came to graduate school after having taken four years away from any serious academic pursuit once I had finished undergrad. That time was important to me on a personal level, and while I wouldn't trade it for the world, I would not recommend taking that much time away to anyone else planning to go to grad school! … I'd like the department to know that even those who are struggling and maybe not moving along as quickly as they would like, can still be successful on their own timeline. Thank you to the department, particularly Dr. Bortz and Mark Hoefer, for their support, patience, and encouragement.”

The Department congratulates Sabina and wishes her luck this summer with her fellowship!