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Vega selected as 2021 Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar

Aug. 11, 2021, 4:10 PM


by Bill Snyder

Paige Vega, a PhD student in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt University, has been selected as the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar.

Paige Vega has been selected as the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar.
Paige Vega has been selected as the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar. (photo by Elaine Chen)

She will receive a $1,000 cash prize and will be mentored by the recipient of the 2021 Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science, Aviv Regev, PhD, an internationally known computational and systems biologist and executive vice president of Genentech Research and Early Development (gRED).

Vega will be recognized during Regev’s Discovery Lecture, which was postponed because of the pandemic. It will be held on April 24, 2022.

Established in 2006, the Vanderbilt Prize honors women scientists with “stellar records” of research accomplishments who have made significant contributions to mentoring other women in science. Recipients mentor female graduate students — Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholars — who are pursuing doctorates in the biomedical sciences.

Vega is a doctoral candidate in the lab of Ken Lau, PhD, associate professor of Cell and Developmental Biology in the Epithelial Biology Center. “By all measures, Paige is an exceptional graduate student,” Lau wrote in his nomination letter.

Her thesis work currently involves using single-cell approaches to decipher the function of a specific intestinal cell population in inflammatory bowel disease. She has contributed to several papers published in high-impact scientific journals.

Her work “should eventually have a large impact on patient care and therapeutic development,” Lau wrote.

Vega graduated from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville in 2015 with a BS in Chemical Engineering. Trained as an engineer, she entered Vanderbilt’s Quantitative and Chemical Biology Program in 2017 and joined the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology the next year.

Last year she won a Vanderbilt University Dean’s Award for Exceptional Achievement. Earlier this year she received a F31 fellowship from the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, which currently funds her thesis project.

During the pandemic, Vega demonstrated impressive leadership skills to preserve the mouse lines on which much of the research in Lau’s lab depends.

“Specifically, she single-handedly established an online platform for recording, organizing and tracking mouse information such that mouse management can be done remotely,” Lau wrote.

Vega also supports several organizations and events that encourage more women to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, and served as a peer mentor, a tutor and was a course coordinator for an undergraduate engineering elective.

“A leader inspires others to be the best versions of themselves,” Lau noted. “Paige is one of those graduate students that others should model themselves after.”

To be eligible for the Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar award, candidates must be enrolled in the medical school’s PhD track (includes PhD and MD/PhD trainees), have completed the qualifying exam and have at least one year left to complete the PhD degree.

Nominations are accepted from department chairs or program directors in the biomedical sciences, as well as from directors of graduate studies and faculty mentors.

Competitive nominees demonstrate excellent leadership qualities through their research and service to the scientific community as well as characteristics that exhibit outstanding potential to impact medicine through research during their careers.

For more information about the Vanderbilt Prize Student Scholar, visit


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