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Future anthropologist focuses on infectious diseases

Meg Gauck’s doctoral work requires travel to Tanzania, and a new award from the State University of New York will help her get there.

Gauck, a biological anthropology student at Binghamton, was among 28 winners of the 2022 SUNY Graduate Research Empowering and Accelerating Talent (GREAT) Award. The prize encourages undergraduate and graduate SUNY students to apply for competitive graduate fellowships to fund their master’s or doctoral studies.

The GREAT Award comes with $5,000 in flexible funding from the SUNY Office of Research and Economic Development, and is given to students who have already received national recognition from the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program or the National Institutes of Health’s National Research Service Awards.

Gauck received an honorable mention from the NSF, and was delighted to discover she had won a GREAT Award. “I wasn’t anticipating it, so it was a nice surprise,” says the Pilot, Va., resident. “I would definitely encourage students to apply for national fellowships. Even if they don’t get the ‘big one,’ they still have a chance to receive funding and support from the SUNY system.”

After earning her bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and biological sciences at East Tennessee State University in 2018, Gauck considered medical school but decided she didn’t want to simply treat patients: “I realized I was more interested in looking at ‘why’ — Why are some people more likely to get sick than others? Why do we still have diseases after thousands of years?”

Gauck completed her master’s degree in biological anthropology at Binghamton and is in the first year of her doctoral studies. She works in the lab of Katherine Wander, associate professor of anthropology, which supports research in anthropology and global health. The lab works in collaboration with multiple research institutes and universities on questions involving nutrition, infectious disease risk and chronic disease risk in infants, children and adults. The team has ongoing projects in Tanzania, Nigeria, Bangladesh, China and the islands of Vanuatu.

Gauck’s current research looks at the risk factors and health consequences associated with co-infections of intestinal parasites and tuberculosis in northeastern Tanzania. She plans to use her GREAT Award funding to travel to Kilimanjaro and to purchase kits so she can conduct biomarker assays. Her goal is to create a pilot program as the potential basis for her dissertation, which would then allow her to gain funding through larger grants.

“Meg is a creative and insightful researcher and a joy to collaborate with,” Wander says. “Her ideas are innovative, pulling together insights from many fields to answer important questions about human biology that anthropology alone cannot answer.”

When Gauck graduates, she plans to work in the field of infectious disease. “I’m very interested in tuberculosis, so who knows where that will take me,” she says. “I could go into academia or I could work for research labs in the private or public sector. More than anything, I’d like to continue researching and finding ways to apply what I’m finding either through public health policy or teaching.”

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