Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tiffany Norton Awarded American Society for Microbiology Travel Grant

Tiffany Norton, a basic medical science student at the University of South Alabama, recently was awarded a grant from the American Society for Microbiology (ASM).

This grant will be used to assist with travel funds to this year’s 2015 ASM general meeting in New Orleans. Award recipients must be an ASM member and a presenting author for a presentation at the meeting. This grant is highly competitive, with only 25-30 percent of applicants receiving the grant each year.

Norton received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Elon University in North Carolina and her master’s in engineering physics from the University of Virginia. After 11 years in engineering at Northrop Grumman / Huntington Ingalls Industries, Norton decided it was time to make a career change to the biomedical sciences. While enrolled in some undergraduate courses to brush up on areas of science that were not required for her prior degrees, she discovered that USA had a Ph.D. program in Basic Medical Sciences.

“Serendipitously, I was guided to the University Committee on Undergraduate Research program in the laboratory of Dr. Thomas Rich, associate professor of the department of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine,” Norton said. “Dr. Rich was instrumental in convincing me to apply for the Basic Medical Sciences Ph.D. program.”

Norton entered the program in Fall 2012 and is now in her third year of study. She chose to do her research in the department of microbiology and immunology in the lab of Dr. Jarrod Fortwendel, working with the filamentous fungus Aspergillus fumigatus.

The biological and medical sciences hold the greatest interest for Norton. “Trying to decipher the intricacies of how a living organism works -- and what can break it -- never gets old,” said Norton. “I chose microbiology because microorganisms are smarter than we are, and there's no better source for learning than someone who knows more than you do."

Aspergillus fumigatus can cause rare but severe and difficult-to-treat disease in humans. Norton is motivated in her work by the thought that something her lab discovers may lead to safer and more effective treatments for patients.

The Basic Medical Sciences Ph.D. program has provided Norton not only with intensive classroom training in the major subfields of medical science, but also with hands-on lab experience and presentation experience through research forums and journal clubs. Most importantly in science, these exercises have developed her critical thinking and experimental design skills.

“My adviser has encouraged me to develop professional skills by presenting my research at conferences such as ASM 2015 and the Fungal Genetics Conference,” said Norton. “With his guidance, I've also been able to have a short review article published in Mycopathologia, a journal focusing on the role of fungi in human and animal disease.”