University of Connecticut junior Romir Raj ’24 (ENG), an honors student majoring in biomedical engineering and native of Glastonbury, has been named a Goldwater Scholar. The Goldwater Scholarship is considered the nation’s premier scholarship for undergraduates studying math, natural sciences, and engineering.
The Goldwater Scholarship was established by Congress to honor the late U.S. Sen. Barry M. Goldwater, with the purpose of identifying students of outstanding ability and promise, and encouraging them to pursue advanced study and research careers. Scholars receive one- or two-year awards that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year. Raj is among just 413 students selected nationally for the award this year.
Raj has an extensive amount of research experience as an undergraduate at UConn. He first joined the lab of Assistant Professor of Cell Biology Mayu Inaba at UConn Health, which studies chromosomal homolog pairings.
He also joined the lab of Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology in the Institute for Systems Genomics Jelena Erceg at UConn Storrs to investigate homolog pairing in developing Drosophila embryos.
In the summer of 2022, Raj received a SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fund) Award from the Office of Undergraduate Research and conducted research in both labs, where he further studied and built upon his past research on interchromosomal interactions – mainly homolog pairing.
“I love that research can be so open-ended and that you can navigate through many different aspects of one topic,” says Raj. “I also love how specific research can be. You generally don’t think of how specific every single cell in your body can be, so studying even the smallest details of a cell and seeing how they all interwind and work with each other is really amazing.”
“As one of the first members to join my lab, Romir has shown initiative and creativity in shaping up a research project on regulatory genome organization,” says Erceg. “This project is a part of a larger goal to elucidate how genome packaging and regulation contribute to cellular identities during development. Proper genome integrity and stability are crucial as aberrant changes in genome organization and gene expression can lead to developmental disorders and cancer. The proposed research study will provide a framework for fundamental understanding of genome packaging and gene regulation and allow us to better interpret impact of dysfunctional chromatin on diseases.”
Raj was recently selected as a 2023 University Scholar. As he continues his junior year and enters his senior year, he plans to study more about genomic architecture and the possible functional implications of this architecture.
“Going forward, Romir’s curiosity-driven questions and suggestions pave ways to new exploratory directions,” says Erceg. “His interpersonal skills make him a great team member, as demonstrated by his close work with other students in my lab.”
Raj also credits the guidance of a pair of graduate students – Matthew Antel in the Inaba lab and Akshada Shankar Ganesh in the Erceg lab – as people who have served as mentors and guidance providers.
Raj would like to attend medical school following his undergraduate career, in addition to possibly earning a Ph.D.
“I was ecstatic when I found out I was a Goldwater Scholar,” says Raj. “I was joyful to see my work and the time that I devoted to it pay off.”
Raj does not know what area of medicine he wants to study yet but has interest in dermatology and pediatric orthopedics.
Aside from his studies, Raj has been involved in the HuskyTHON dance marathon and directs the UConn chapter of GLOW Uganda, which helps supply medical supplies and aid to displaced people of that country.
“UConn can only nominate four students for the Goldwater each year, so just being nominated is quite an accomplishment,” says Vin Moscardelli, the director of UConn’s Office of National Scholarships and Fellowship. “The members of our campus nominating committee were particularly impressed with not only Romir’s productivity, but also the sophistication and development of the ideas he outlined in his application essays. Even though he’s just a junior, Romir already has an ambitious and startlingly coherent research agenda that would be the envy of many graduate students. His ability to explain how each project builds on the ones that came before it reveals a mature understanding of the scientific enterprise that will serve him well in his future career as a physician-scientist.”
The Office of National Scholarships & Fellowships (ONSF) is a resource for students interested in learning more about the Goldwater Scholarship and other prestigious scholarships and fellowships that support study in all fields. ONSF is part of Enrichment Programs and is open to all graduate and undergraduate students at the University, including students at the regional campuses. For more information about the Goldwater Scholarship and other prestigious, nationally-competitive awards, visit ONSF at www.onsf.uconn.edu.