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Vanderbilt MSTP students receive P.E.O. Scholar Awards

Jul. 14, 2022, 9:46 AM


by Bill Snyder

Margaret Axelrod, PhD, Rachel Brown, PhD, and Simone Herzberg, aspiring physician-scientists in Vanderbilt University’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), are among this year’s recipients of highly competitive P.E.O. Scholar Awards.

Recipients of the $20,000 awards from P.E.O. International, a philanthropic organization based in Des Moines, Iowa, are women from the United States and Canada pursuing doctoral-level degrees at accredited colleges and universities who have demonstrated their ability to make significant contributions in their chosen field of study.

“We are tremendously proud when one of our students receives this prestigious honor,” said MSTP Director Christopher Williams, MD, PhD, associate dean of Physician Scientist Education and Training at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “However, having three recipients within the same program is truly remarkable and speaks to their accomplishments to date and enormous potential as physician-scientist leaders.”

Margaret Axelrod, PhD
Margaret Axelrod, PhD

Axelrod earned her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and recently completed her doctorate in cancer biology. Her graduate work, supported by a National Institutes of Health F30 predoctoral fellowship, focused on antigen discovery in immunotherapy-associated myocarditis, and blood-based biomarkers for breast cancer.

She has received the Dean’s Award for Exceptional Achievement for Advanced Students from the School of Medicine and a $5,000 Lai Sulin Scholarship from the Graduate School recognizing excellence in cancer-related research. In 2020 she was named Graduate Student of the Year by Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Axelrod has served on the board of the nonprofit Tennessee Health Care Campaign, and has been inducted into the Gold Humanism Honor Society, which recognizes clinical excellence, leadership, compassion and dedication to service. Now in her last year of medical school, she plans to pursue a physician-scientist career in pathology.

Rachel Brown, PhD
Rachel Brown, PhD

Brown earned her undergraduate degrees from the University of Maryland, College Park. She recently defended her PhD in cancer biology, focusing on colon epithelial biology including colitis-associated carcinoma, and is in her final year of medical school.

She successfully competed for an F30 Individual Predoctoral Fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to help support her graduate training, and she received two Early Career Investigator Awards from the American Gastroenterological Association. A portion of her dissertation work was recently published in the journal JCI Insight.

Brown has served as philanthropy chair of the Cancer Biology Student Association for two years and held several leadership positions in the MSTP, including five years as MSTP newsletter and blog editor. She plans to pursue a career as a physician-scientist in internal medicine.

Simone Herzberg
Simone Herzberg

A graduate of Seattle Pacific University, Herzberg is in her second year of graduate school in the Department of Epidemiology, where she is using genetic analyses to investigate the relationships between obesity and diabetes and chronic rotator cuff tears.

She has held several leadership positions, including serving for the past two terms as southern regional chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Organization of Student Representatives and as an executive director last year of the Shade Tree Clinic, a free community clinic in Nashville run by Vanderbilt medical and nursing students.

For her community service, she received the peer-selected Robert F. Miller Service Award. Herzberg, who completed two years of medical school before beginning her graduate work, plans to pursue a career as an orthopaedic surgeon, serving marginalized communities around the globe.

Previous P.E.O. Scholar Award recipients from Vanderbilt include Nicole Perry, PhD (2017), Alex Sundermann, MD, PhD, and Lillian Juttukonda, MD, PhD (2018), Stephanie Dudzinski, MD, PhD (2020), and Lizzie Flook, MD, PhD (2021).

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