Two Georgetown students were among 413 U.S. students named Goldwater Scholars for their endeavors in scientific research.
Naomi Greenberg (CAS ’24) and Roma Dhingra (CAS ’24) beat out over 5,000 applicants for the scholarship, which is one of the most prestigious scholarships for undergraduates studying science, engineering and mathematics, with awards amounting up to $7,500 to sophomore and junior students for up to two years. Congress established the Goldwater Scholarship in 1986 to encourage American students to pursue careers in scientific research.
Full disclosure: Naomi Greenberg previously served as Senior Science Editor and Copy Chief for The Hoya.
Greenberg, a biology major, researches theoretical evolutionary genetics using mathematical models. Her research specifically focuses on X chromosomes, which are one of the two human sex chromosomes involved in determining biological sex.
Greenberg said she first developed an interest in biology after taking Foundations of Biology II with geneticist and professor Manus Patten, now her research mentor.
Patten said Greenberg presented her own original idea for research, which looked to examine potential biases in the process of X chromosome activation or the determination of which genes on an X chromosome appear.
“I offered her three ideas to see what she might be interested in, one of which involved X chromosome genetics. Then she pitched her own idea on the topic and it was the best out of the four,” Patten told The Hoya.
Greenberg began this research project with Patten in Fall 2022, and due to her work ethic, she was able to present results in January 2023, completing a process that usually takes a year in just a few months, according to Patten.
In the future, Greenberg plans to study for a Ph.D. in molecular biology, allowing her to take a more hands-on approach to genetics through lab work.
Dhingra’s research focuses on how psychosocial factors — external characteristics influencing individuals psychologically or socially — impact biological aging. Particularly, Dhingra has investigated the impact of discrimination-induced stress on the process of aging.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, when Georgetown’s labs were unavailable for student research, Dhingra joined University of Pittsburgh psychology professor Rebecca Reed’s laboratory. She has worked with Reed and University of Pittsburgh Ph.D. student Abby Hillmann virtually since May 2021.
Dhingra, a biology of global health major, said she completed scientific research in high school but was excited to cross disciplines through her current project.
“Through my research, I was able to get out of the ‘hard science’ bubble and see how research is interdisciplinary. Interdisciplinary research is not very common, so it was my first time getting exposure to the field,” Dhingra told The Hoya.
Biology professor Heidi Elmendorf has worked closely with Dhingra as her on-campus mentor and said Dhingra’s cross-disciplinary approach to research is remarkable.
“She has studied the impact of stress caused by discrimination on an individual’s epigenetic age — an innovative interdisciplinary study blending molecular biology with sociology with large-scale data analysis,” Elmendorf wrote to The Hoya. “I’ve been so impressed with Roma’s research. She has developed formidable data analysis skills while embracing the humanity of the research focus.”
Dhingra said she plans to continue research on the influence of psychosocial factors on health in the future, specifically focusing on cancer research in a clinical setting as a physician-researcher.
Dhingra said she was both ecstatic and shocked when she received the news of her award.
“I couldn’t believe it at first. I knew I couldn’t have done it without Dr. Reed or Abby Hillmann,” Dhingra said. “It was nice to know that my research had been recognized, especially since it is unique compared to the research done by other Goldwater Scholars.”
Greenberg said receiving a Goldwater Scholarship would push her to continue her work in scientific research.
“When you actually see, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been named a Goldwater Scholar,’ that’s a really big moment and has made me feel proud of my accomplishments,” Greenberg said in an interview with The Hoya. “There is an element of motivation and expectation that comes with it because now I feel like I’ve had this validation that I am on the right track.”