Skip to main content

U Postdoctoral Scientist Earns Eight Years of Support with Prestigious Hanna Gray Fellowship

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has named University of Utah postdoctoral researcher Katherine Deets, Ph.D., a 2023 Hanna Gray Fellow. Deets will receive up to $1.5 million for up to eight years spanning postdoctoral training through transition to an early career faculty position.

The 2023 Hanna Gray Fellowship cohort, announced on September 19, includes 25 early career scientists from across the country.


The fellowship will support Deets’ research to understand how viruses break past an organism’s defenses to cause disease and how those hosts, in turn, develop new mechanisms to protect themselves over evolutionary time. Studying host-pathogen interactions can lead to innovative ways to prevent and treat infectious disease.

Deets is focusing on studying antiviral responses in ciliates – single-celled eukaryotes that play an important role in moving nutrients throughout aquatic ecosystems. She is also developing a new model system to determine how these ciliates might concentrate and transmit viruses or other pathological microbes between fish.

Katherine Deets standing in front of trees wearing a yellow scarf.


I am immensely honored to be selected an HHMI Hanna Gray Fellow. This fellowship will give me an incredible amount of support to explore the evolutionary history of the eukaryotic immune system and build my future career as an academic scientist,” Deets says. Earlier this year, she earned another prestigious fellowship from the Jane Coffin Childs Funds for Medical Research. She carried out her graduate work at University of California, Berkeley.

The Hanna Gray program allows fellows to follow their curiosity while seeking answers to challenging scientific questions. In keeping with HHMI’s “people, not projects” philosophy, they have the freedom to change their research focus in pursuit of their evolving interests at any point through the duration of the award.

“Katie will be an outstanding Hanna Gray Fellow and is one of the most promising scientists anywhere,” says Deets’ advisor Nels Elde, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Human Genetics at the Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine and HHMI investigator. She has killer taste for exciting science and combines her daring approaches with patience and resilience. She also invests great energy promoting inclusion as she actively works to make science a better place.”

The program is named for Hanna Holborn Gray, former chair of the HHMI board of trustees and former president of the University of Chicago. Under Gray’s leadership, HHMI developed initiatives that foster inclusion in science education. The goal of the Hanna Gray fellowship program is to reach, recruit, and retain individuals from the diverse talent pool of early career scientists in the U.S. with the idea that these fellows will become leaders in academic research who inspire, train, and mentor future generations of scientists.

- Julie Kiefer, Associate Director, Science Communications