Michael P. Wilczek: Edith M. Patch Outstanding PhD Student Award & Outstanding Service Award
Edith M. Patch Outstanding PhD Student Award
The Edith M. Patch Outstanding Ph.D. Award recognizes a Ph.D. student with a distinguished record in areas that Dr. Edith M. Patch, a pioneering entomologist, excelled in during her long and important career at UMaine.
Outstanding Service Award
The Outstanding Service Award recognizes a graduate student who has been exceptionally successful in fulfilling UMaine’s service mission to the university, stakeholders, and their field of research.
Michael Wilczek came to the University of Maine to investigate how viruses infect our cells and cause disease.
With the guidance of his advisor, Melissa Maginnis, associate professor of microbiology, Wilczek works to characterize how JC polyomavirus, which is harmless to most of its human hosts, can cause an incurable, fatal brain disease. His research, which marks a new focus of study at UMaine, uncovered the virus’ ability to hijack numerous pathways and influence many of the hosts’ genes in a specific type of brain cell, targeted by the virus, to eventually produce viral progeny. His findings may ultimately help develop treatments to help prevent or treat infections in immunocompromised patients.
Wilczek first-authored a manuscript that was published in a seminal journal in his field, the Journal of Virology, which has also featured his graphic art on its cover. He has three additional papers in preparation, and has presented his research at ten conferences, and authored more than 35 abstracts. He won Best Presentation by a Graduate Student in Biomedical Sciences at the 2018 UMaine Student Research Symposium.
When the COVID-19 pandemic upended life at UMaine, Wilczek stepped in to support Maine’s response, testing for SARS-CoV-2 in samples taken from hospital environments and evaluating a novel liquid surface designed to enhance the efficacy of facemasks.
Wilczek is also notable for his efforts to mentor burgeoning scientists. As Grant’s Officer for Graduate Student Government, Wilczek was responsible for coaching UMaine’s graduate students as they applied for grants. He organized and led more than 20 review sessions and provided personalized feedback on more than 200 grant applications.
He taught the experiential undergraduate course Genome Discovery: From Dirt to DNA for five years, and spearheaded the development of a Phage Enrichment Peer Mentoring Program to help students navigate this rigorous class. Many of his undergraduate student mentees have won awards at UMaine Student Research Symposiums, a testament to his efficacy as a research mentor. In addition to his on-campus activities, Wilczek volunteers as a judge at middle school and high school science fairs.
After he graduates with a Ph.D. in Microbiology, Wilczek plans to find a position that will let him help expand Maine’s biotechnology sector.