Carnegie Mellon University
August 11, 2021

Kowalczyk Receives Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship

By Caroline Sheedy

Amanda Kowalczyk, a computational biologist, has been awarded the Neuroscience Institute’s 2021 Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship. She will join Carnegie Mellon University in October.

The program, designed to bring new perspectives and voices to the Neuroscience Institute community, supports exceptional young scientists and promotes sustainable, collaborative links among research areas.

Kowalczyk joins CMU from the University of Pittsburgh, where she earned a Ph.D. this year. She will work with CMU researchers Alison Barth, Maxwell H. and Gloria C. Connan Professor in the Life Sciences in the Mellon College of Science and Andreas Pfenning, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science.

Kowalczyk studies genomics. In the Barth and Pfenning labs she will be working on pair bonding, investigating why some species of animals mate for life and some do not. In the Pfenning laboratory she will gain access to expertise in evolution and genomics while the Barth laboratory will connect candidate genes to their function within the neural circuits underlying behavior. 

“Amanda has conducted ground-breaking research building methods that relate genetic differences across species to differences in traits,” Pfenning said. “In her Ph.D. research, she applied these approaches to identify genes that are associated with how long-lived different species of mammals are. As a postdoc, Amanda will build upon that research to identify genetic differences across mammals that are associated with differences in social behavior.

Pfenning and Barth are looking forward to working with Kowalczyk in part because of her passion for science outreach. Barth cited it as a major factor in their decision to offer her the fellowship.

“The evaluation committee put a very strong emphasis on outreach and diversity, equity and inclusion activities,” Barth said. “We were extremely impressed with Amanda’s efforts to make science accessible.”

Since 2017 Kowalczyk has led a science outreach program, the Greensburg Area Science Program. She has also taught though the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences at the National Institutes of Health and participates in Letters to a Pre-Scientist, a program that connects students in low-income school districts to academic researchers.

The Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship program is in its second year. It is made possible through the generosity of Henry L. Hillman and Kris Gopalakrishnan.