Erica Daniel Kepner Award for Scientific Achievement

About the Award

The Indiana University Graduate School of Basic Medical Sciences is requesting applications for the Erica Daniel Kepner Award for Scientific Achievement. This award is named to honor the memory of the late Erica Daniel Kepner, a highly meritorious and courageous graduate student who lost her battle with cancer on August 31, 2011.

This competitive research award of $250 will be made to an outstanding basic science graduate student in any of the 9 doctoral programs in the Indiana School of Medicine. The award will be presented at an annual reception for incoming graduate students held in August. 

To be eligible, the graduate student must be a current basic science graduate student nominated by a faculty member at the IUSM. If the student is getting ready to graduate, the graduate student must be enrolled thru the summer term.

The award is based upon a graduate student's contributions to a single research manuscript as a first-author that has either been published or accepted for publication within the last academic calendar year (August to July). A selection committee will evaluate and rank the applicants for this award. 


About Erica

This information was updated in fall 2016 based on an interview with Dr. Debbie Thurmond.

Erica Daniel Kepner graduated from Indiana University with Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry prior to joining the IBMG Program for PhD Study in fall 2007. After rotating in three labs, Erica chose the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology PhD program and joined the lab of Dr. Debbie Thurmond. During her time in the graduate program, it was discovered that Erica had an aggressive form of cancer and would undergo extensive chemotherapy treatments.

Despite this setback, Erica was determined to continue her science. Often times, she would not be able to make it into the lab as she was neutropenic and could not go outside her home. Instead, she provided run sheets for experiments to lab mates, and the lab mates would keep a line of cells running for her, do the experiments if she was not able to make it in, and freeze back cells.

Sometimes, maybe four days a month, Erica would find the energy to come into the lab and process all of those samples. During these visits, she wore a neck and back brace because her vertebrae had started collapsing, fracturing, and dissolving because of the tumor growth. 

On the days when she could not move, she would sit in a recliner with her laptop and write. Erica, being very computer savvy, would work on putting together large spreadsheets and make figures for an upcoming paper. Obviously her lab mates helped as much as possible, but she put most of the figures together herself. She worked diligently on writing the paper; Dr. Thurmond edited with Erica, and a fellow lab mate, Stephanie Yoder, finished up the last experiments.

As a skilled writer, Erica worked with Dr. Thurmond, making final edits while in hospice. She did not want the editor in chief of the journal to know that she was ill as she made it clear she wanted the paper submitted and reviewed without bias, and she wanted it to be accepted on the same merit of any other paper.

She made her final edits, sent the paper back, and it was accepted. Dr. Thurmond called Erica at home the day it was accepted, and Dr. Thurmond learned Erica could no longer move and that it would be her last moments in hospice. The entire lab went to Erica's parent's house, celebrated with her, and she passed away.

Erica passed away on August 31, 2011, while her paper was in press. Dr. Thurmond was contacted by the journal the next day and learned the paper was selected as one of the premiere papers in the journal that year. The paper would be printed in a special edition and received extra merit and an editorial review in the journal. Erica never knew this as she passed away prior to the notification, but the news was shared with her husband and parents. 

Erica was awarded a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, posthumously in a ceremony on Friday, November 11, 2011, which honored her life, her passion for science, and her commitment to biomedical research.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • May I nominate a student based on more than one manuscript?

No, a student is nominated for the award based on the efforts of contributing to one manuscript, not multiple manuscripts.

  • May I nominate two students that are co-authors on a single paper?

Yes, with the understanding that they will be separate nominations and the student with the greater contribution will likely receive priority. There are no co-awards.

  • May I nominate two students separately for separate papers? 

Yes, we encourage nominations of all qualified students, and a single faculty member may nominate more than one student.

  • May I nominate a student from my lab that is not a graduate student at IUSM?

No, as we are bound by the parameters of the award as a donor funded account, and it was the initial donor's intent for the award to go to an IUSM doctoral student only. 

Application Guidelines/Requirements

Nominations are composed of:


  • Letter of recommendation from the nominating faculty, stressing the student's contributions  (overall role in project, degree of intellectual input into the research and the experimental design, which figures or parts of the article was the student involved in, what was the student’s role in the writing of the manuscript).
  • Cover page consisting of a short summary of the status of the manuscript and the student’s contributions to the manuscript (please note specifically the student's role in the project, which figures or parts of the article was the student involved in, what was the student’s role in the writing of the manuscript).
      * Cover page in Microsoft fillable form.
      * Cover page in Adobe fillable form. 
  • Copy of the manuscript 
  • Student's Curriculum Vitae 


Instructions for Submission:

  1. Assemble the nomination package into a single PDF file 
  2. Name the PDF as StudentLastName.StudentFirstName 
  3. Send an blank email with the single PDF attachment to: 

Questions or concerns should be directed to Brandy Wood (


IUSM Research

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