Megan Jones got a head start helping build one of West Virginia University’s Mountains of Excellence, thanks to a three-year doctoral fellowship funded through the West Virginia Research Challenge Fund.

Jones is one of five recipients of the first round of awards of Mountains of Excellence Fellowships, allowing her to begin her doctoral work on radio astronomy even before arriving in Morgantown.

The five fellowships go annually to newly admitted doctoral students who were nominated by their departments in these areas: Achieving international leadership in radio astronomy; utilizing shale gas; promoting stewardship of water resources; improving science, technology, engineering and math education and scientific literacy; and eliminating health disparities in Appalachia.

Jones’ fellowship enabled her to attend the International Pulsar Timing Array conference in Thailand this past summer, where she met scientists in her field who could be her collaborators in the future.

The fellowships were first awarded last year and a committee will begin reviewing applications in January for the second year of awards. The competitive fellowships include a $27,000 stipend, a University tuition waiver, a College tuition scholarship, and $1,500 toward research-related travel expenses each year.

“First-year grad students typically aren’t an active part of research groups, so the Mountains of Excellence fellowship has afforded me the unique opportunity to do research as an incoming student,” Jones said. “The fellowship has allowed me to get a head start on research which could expedite my Ph.D. progress and has allowed me to network with researchers from institutions around the globe.”

Jones is working with her adviser, professor Maura McLaughlin, to predict radio wave signals from pulsar stars. McLaughlin is studying pulsars to detect gravitational waves, which could confirm Einstein’s theory of relativity.

In the last six years, Jones said, the astronomy area within the Department of Physics and Astronomy has nearly doubled in faculty and significantly increased in graduate students.

In addition to fellowships, the program offers $5,000 scholarships to supplement funding for new or continuing doctoral students. All applicants for the Mountains of Excellence program must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S.

While a large function of the Mountains of Excellence grant is to support doctoral students in these areas, the main goal is to grow strategic areas at WVU, including the support of faculty in these areas.

“We want to support the faculty that we’re hiring in these areas, and in general we’re trying to build up our expertise in these fields, so we’re trying to get students whose interests match up with the kinds of things we’re trying to grow at WVU,” said Katherine Karraker, associate provost for graduate academic affairs.

WVU President Jim Clements announced the Mountains of Excellence initiative in 2012, singling out research areas where the University’s academic leadership sees the most potential for growth and substantial return on the University’s investment.

In addition to Jones, others who were in the inaugural class of fellows include: Kristen de Graauw in geography; Evan DeVallance in biomedical sciences; Kristen Murphy in mathematics and Rachel Stone in public health.

To nominate a student for the fellowships or scholarships, visit:



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