University of Georgia alumna Kirsten Allen was named a 2023 Quad Fellow, making her one of 100 international applicants in the fellowship’s inaugural cohort.
The Quad Fellowship is a scholarship supporting interdisciplinary innovation in science and technology by connecting graduate students from the four Quad countries: Australia, India, Japan and the United States. More than 3,000 students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics applied for the fellowship, and the 2023 fellows were selected based on written applications and multiple rounds of academic interviews.
Only 25 students from each country were selected to receive the $50,000 scholarship.
Allen earned her bachelor’s in pharmaceutical sciences, a minor in plant biology and a certificate in international agriculture from the University of Georgia. She is a fifth-year doctoral candidate at Rutgers University-New Brunswick studying plant biochemistry and the application of secondary metabolites—substances produced by plants that are not used for growth or development—in order to find new uses of plants and plant products.
“I think culturally, we need to remember how truly reliant we are on the natural world and how important plants are to our daily lives,” Allen said. “Improving our knowledge of plant biology would increase our environmental consciousness and social responsibility to the Earth and the people around us. If we’re more aware of the amazing things plants do for us, we can be more protective of them and more thoughtful on how our actions affect plant life.”
Allen’s program of research relates to catnip and creating improved varieties with a higher total essential oil yield.
“Catnip is an excellent example of a high-value medicinal plant species,” Allen said. “Its essential oil exhibits strong insect-repellant properties due to the presence of nepetalactones, with its repellency reported to be at least comparable to the industry standard DEET. I believe my work with catnip can serve as a model system for other high-value medicinal and aromatic plant species that contribute both to traditional medicine in underserved communities and their food supplies.”
Allen’s program of study builds on the foundation she created at the University of Georgia, and this fellowship provides additional resources for her graduate education.
Allen has worked as a teaching assistant for the last three years, and with this scholarship, she can fully focus on her dissertation in her final year of the program. The Quad Fellowship also provides opportunities for networking on an international level through connections with the four participating countries and mentors from those areas.
“I’ll miss teaching next year, but I’m looking forward to researching full time while also working on my thesis and applying for jobs,” Allen said. “The Quad Fellowship will also be a great source of support for me, and I can’t wait to meet my fellow cohort members and our mentors. On a personal level, I hope to improve my intercultural competence, broaden my worldview and make connections with industry and policy leaders from the Quad countries.”