Junior biology major receives prestigious Goldwater Scholarship

Molly Gordon, Goldwater Scholar

A Florida State University student who conducts research into cellular and molecular biology has received a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship, awarded to the nation’s brightest mathematics, science and engineering college sophomores and juniors.

Molly R. Gordon, a junior biology major from Hollywood, Fla., will use the one-year scholarship to further her study of the biological mechanism of replication timing, which is a poorly understood aspect of DNA replication. The scholarship will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500.

“I feel honored to represent Florida State University at such a competitive national level, and I will continue to represent my alma mater as I move on to graduate school,” said Gordon, who is among 260 Goldwater Scholars for 2015-2016.

Under the direction of David Gilbert, Florida State’s J. Herbert Taylor Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology, Gordon has the opportunity to work with stem cells — a rare opportunity for a junior. In addition, she is writing an Honors-in-the-Major thesis, “Understanding the Role of DNA Sequence in Replication Timing.” She will have to defend her research to Gilbert and two other professors on her Honors Thesis committee.

“A cell must replicate its DNA once and only once during each cell cycle in a carefully choreographed process,” Gordon said. “Disruption of this process leads to genomic instability and eventually diseases such as cancer.”

Gordon hopes to gain an understanding of why some genes replicate earlier or later than others and why an abnormal replication timing profile is a hallmark of diseases.

Gilbert praised Gordon as a young scientist who gains more confidence by the month.

“Molly is a delight,” he said. “I predict that 15 years from now we will be inviting her back for an alumni seminar visit to tell us about the exciting research going on in her own laboratory.”

Gordon expressed gratitude to Gilbert as well as biological science graduate research assistant Jiao Sima and the advisers of Florida State’s Office of National Fellowships for the assistance they gave her in applying for the Goldwater Scholarship.

“The application was very strenuous, but certainly worth my time,” she said. “Even if I had not received the Goldwater Scholarship, the process still would have helped me to grow and develop a better understanding of what I want to achieve after graduation.”

Gordon’s record of academic achievement includes receiving an Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Award (URCAA) from Florida State. Using the award’s $4,000 research stipend, Gordon spent the summer of 2014 studying replication timing in relation to cancer.

In addition to being a URCAA recipient, Gordon has received a John Mark Caffrey Scholarship and has been inducted into Phi Eta Sigma, the largest and oldest national honor society for undergraduates. Through her volunteer efforts in Phi Eta Sigma, she has tutored her fellow students through the university’s Academic Center for Excellence.

Beyond the classroom, Gordon has regularly volunteered with Hands of Hope, an FSU student organization that focuses on helping individuals with disabilities.

After completing her bachelor’s degree, Gordon plans to pursue a doctorate in biology with a focus on eukaryotic DNA replication and then complete a post-doctoral fellowship. Afterward, she hopes to establish a research laboratory studying replicative biology.

In addition to Gordon, two Florida State students received honorable mentions from the Goldwater Foundation: Tessa E. Bartges, who is majoring in chemistry and anthropology, and Emily K. Estry, majoring in physics and applied and computational mathematics.

“To have Molly selected as a Goldwater Scholar and also to have the hard work of both Tessa and Emily recognized as honorable mentions is representative of the high quality of research being conducted by undergraduates in the STEM disciplines at Florida State University,” said Craig Filar, director of the Office of National Fellowships at Florida State. “We could not be more proud to have all three young women recognized by the Goldwater Foundation for their contributions to their respective fields.

“This recognition is certainly the first of many for each of them in their careers, and contributes to Florida State University’s continued legacy of outstanding undergraduate researchers being honored at the national level,” Filar said.

Since its first award in 1989, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation has bestowed 7,428 scholarships worth approximately 48million dollars to undergraduate sophomores and juniors from the United States on the basis of academic merit. To learn more, visit https://goldwater.scholarsapply.org.