Dr. Erika Calvo-Ochoa has been working in a lab since the first week of her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Research in Mexico. Back then, little did she imagine that some years later she would become a mentor to undergraduate students like she used to be. Or, that in 2022, besides being a professor and principal investigator, she would be awarded an IBRO Rising Stars Award. “It was the best thing to wake up to that email,” says Dr. Calvo-Ochoa.

The award she received, IBRO Rising Stars, is a grant for diverse, early-career neuroscientists who have just started a new lab, and provides funds to make a significant difference in their research endeavors. As a Latina working in the United States and needing funding to generate preliminary data to apply for other grants, Dr. Calvo-Ochoa believes the grant is a great fit for her needs.

Dr. Calvo-Ochoa’s lab is based at Hope College, a research-oriented institution focused on undergraduate students. Together with her students, she studies the mechanisms of neural regeneration in the adult brain, using the olfactory system of zebrafish as a model.

The Rising Stars Award will allow her to fund two summer research students next year, as well as a teaching assistant who will help her with her classes. Dr. Calvo-Ochoa believes the award will allow her to dedicate more time to mentoring her students. “It’s wonderful to see that there is an organization that can see the value in training undergraduate students, as this isn’t common in many other funding agencies,” says Dr. Calvo-Ochoa.

With the Rising Stars Awards, previously called Return Home Fellowships, IBRO aims to support early-career faculty in their transition and retention into academic positions. For Dr. Michael KH Ling, a 2020 IBRO Return Home Fellow, the grant has been instrumental in the transition from a postdoc in the United States to establishing his lab in Malaysia, in the Genetics & Regenerative Medicine Research Centre at Universiti Putra Malaysia. Thanks to the fellowship, Dr. Ling was able to buy pieces of equipment and cell lines for his lab. There, together with his new team of three students, he investigates how a molecular mechanism during brain development is involved in Down syndrome and may lead to intellectual disability in this condition.

Despite only being able to start the benchwork in 2022 due to COVID-19 safety measures, the Return Home Fellowship has already been fruitful for Dr. Ling’s team. The results of his ongoing research were recently presented by one of his lab members at a scientific meeting, where they were awarded the second best poster presentation. In addition, the data generated with the support of the Return Home Fellowship has already helped him to receive another grant. As the first Malaysian to receive this fellowship, he received a lot of attention in the country and the grant has helped him boost his career. “It helped me in terms of visibility and reputation, and it helped me to attract students to the lab,” says Dr. Ling.

Dr. Anupama Sathyamurthy, also a Return Home Fellow, had a similar experience. She was working in the United States when she found a position in India, at the Centre for Neuroscience at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. The fellowship came at the right time to help start up her lab, where, together with her team, she studies the anatomical and functional connectivity between the cerebellum and the spinal cord in movement control and adaptation to external inputs. The funding allowed her to purchase consumables for her lab, including adenoviruses and tools for fiber photometry and histochemistry. “This was the first grant money that I used to start up the lab and without it, I wouldn’t have been able to start working with the students I was able to attract to the lab,” tell Dr. Sathyamurthy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the grant supported her to publish a protocol paper on spinal cord injections.

After receiving the Return Home Fellowship, Dr. Sathyamurthy received four other grants. “Getting the IBRO grant was for me a morale booster. It was not only the financial aspect, but also the enthusiasm that it brought to me and also the enthusiasm of IBRO, which is so proud of their awardees. To me, it felt like I was part of a community and it helped boost my confidence. And I guess this was the stepping stone for all the other grants that I came to receive later,” says Dr. Sathyamurthy.

Join Dr. Calvo-Ochoa, Dr. Ling, and Dr. Sathyamurthy: apply for the Rising Stars Awards. Applications for the Rising Star Awards are open until 14 October 2022. Dr. Calvo-Ochoa shares her experience: “It took a while to write a good application but it didn’t take me months. So it’s something very doable. It’s totally worth it!”

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If you are an IBRO awardee and would like to share your experience, contact Communications Manager Carolina Araujo Sousa at communications@ibro.org.