USA Grad Student Wins Master's Thesis Award

Posted on September 8, 2020
Lance Crawford

Valeria King, a University of South Alabama biology master’s student, was recognized by the Conference of Southern Graduate Schools with an award for Top Life Sciences Thesis for 2020, just the second USA student to be so recognized.

The competition included entries from more than 200 graduate schools located in 15 states in the southern United States.

“Although extremely excited by this, I was not particularly surprised as her thesis was as good as any doctoral thesis I’ve read,” said Dr. Glen Borchert, associate professor in the departments of pharmacology and biology, as well as, King’s graduate mentor.

Master’s thesis award winners were selected by faculty members in the field from member institutions. They made their decisions based on clarity of style and presentation, scholarship, research methodology, and contributions to the field or discipline.

“I was so happy that someone had read my work that I labored so hard over and found it to be outstanding,” King said.

Her thesis was the result of investigating and cataloging a new species of small RNA in the context of cancer cells. Observing numerous tumor cell types, described >850 novel small RNAs, and identified >100 interesting potential targets for future prostate cancer drug therapies.

Despite the complicated subject matter, King made it look easy in the classroom, graduating with a 4.0 GPA and excelling in research.

“In our field, you typically expect a master’s student’s work to lead to authorship on at least one scientific article. Two or three article authorships is generally considered exceptional,” Borchert said. “Valeria’s work in my lab resulted in her inclusion as an author on five separate publications all in highly respected journals.”

King’s love of biology began early. Always curious — asking about different plants and animals — there came a point in grade school when nobody had answers to the questions she was asking.

“That's when I realized that science isn't just about knowing things, it's about finding things out,” she said. “I was excited to find my own answers and it's still so thrilling observe and discover things that no one has known before.”

King received her undergraduate and master’s degree at South and is now enrolled as a Ph.D. student in the molecular and cellular biology program at the University of California Berkeley. However, she still considers herself very much a Jag.

“I loved my time at South and in Mobile. The professors I had were so awesome and attentive, they really wanted us to learn,” she said. “Most of all, there are the people like Dr. Borchert who encouraged and believed in me every step of the way and motivated me to reach for my highest goals.”

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