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Two winners of this year’s PhD Award

04 July 2017

The jury of the Wierenga-Rengerink PhD Award has , as an exception, granted the award to two PhD graduates: Dr Nigel Hamilton and Dr Jordi van Gestel. The PhD Award is granted annually by the University of Groningen for the best PhD thesis. Hamilton and Van Gestel will receive their awards of EUR 5,000 for their further academic development, for instance through participation in conferences, at the Summer Ceremony on 7 July 2017.

Biographer of presidents

In April 2016 Nigel Hamilton (74) conducted a cum laude defence of his PhD thesis Commander in Chief: FDR’s strijd met Churchill (FDR’s struggle with Churchill), 1943, written under the supervision of Professor Hans Renders of the Biography Institute of the Faculty of Arts.Commander in Chief is a partial biography of president Franklin D. Roosevelt, which has Roosevelt’s role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces of the United States during World War II as its principal theme. The book focuses on 1943, a year which has been somewhat neglected by Roosevelt’s biographers and in which Roosevelt performed a military role that has been greatly underestimated by historians.

British-born American Hamilton became one of the most famous biographers for a book that he never wrote. In 1992, JFK: Reckless Youth was published, the first volume of what was meant to become a complete biography of Kennedy. But the sequel was never written, despite the overwhelming and positive reception of the revealing first volume, which even made the New York Times bestseller list. Hamilton's subsequent focus on Roosevelt makes the story about the Kennedy biography all the more fascinating, for just as biographical research now sheds light on an unknown side of FDR, Kennedy’s reputation was redefined by Hamilton’s efforts.

The bacterial expert

Jordi van Gestel is a 29-year-old evolutionary biologist with a fascination for bacteria. He defended his PhD thesis The evolution of bacterial cell differentiation and multicellular organization with great success on 1 April 2016. A population of bacteria is often seen as a collection of cells that more or less exhibit the same simple behaviour. Van Gestel demonstrates through a combination of experiments and theory that this view of bacteria is too simplistic: bacterial populations are in fact highly structured. Jordi van Gestel gained his PhD for research conducted in the department of Theoretical Biology of the GELIFES research institute at the University of Groningen, but also in research groups of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School in Boston. The research was funded by NWO, the University of Groningen Ubbo Emmius Fund and the Gratama Foundation. The energetic Van Gestel, also known for his TEDx talks, is pursuing his career as a postdoc at the University of Zurich.

Wierenga-Rengerink PhD Award

Since 2015 the PhD Award is presented annually to the University of Groningen PhD student with the best PhD thesis. Each faculty chooses its own winner, after which a jury of former rectors appoints the ultimate winner from this pool. The festive presentation takes place during the Summer Ceremony at the beginning of July. The Wierenga-Rengerink family makes the prize money available through the Ubbo Emmius fund. In 2016 the Award went to Hanna M. van Loo of the Faculty of Medical Sciences for her PhD thesis Data-driven subtypes of major depressive disorder.

Photo: Frank Monkiewicz
Photo: Frank Monkiewicz
Last modified:15 September 2017 3.24 p.m.
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