Former University of Cumbria student wins prestigious scholarship to study in USA

Former University of Cumbria student wins prestigious scholarship to study in USA 

Louise Lavictoire, recently awarded a PhD through the University of Cumbria, is about to take her family on an American adventure following the news that she has received an ‘All Disciplines Scholar Award’ from the Fulbright Commission. The scholarship will enable her to carry out research at Missouri State University. 

As a Fulbright scholar, Louise has been selected to investigate the factors affecting the ways in which juvenile freshwater mussels feed. Many of the world’s freshwater mussel species are becoming endangered and this work will improve understanding of juvenile mussel behaviour and allow her to suggest ways to increase survival in captive breeding programmes. This will potentially save some of the world’s most critically endangered freshwater mussels from extinction.

Louise, from Kendal, is already an expert in the field of freshwater mussels, having researched the juvenile biology and captive rearing of the freshwater pearl mussel Margaritifera margaritifera for her PhD which was sponsored by her employer, the Freshwater Biological Association (FBA).

Louise explains: “I became interested in helping to improve captive rearing efforts at the Freshwater Pearl Mussel Ark project at the FBA because the species is declining rapidly in the wild and time is running out for many populations."

Commenting on receiving the award, the thirty-two-year-old continues: “I was stunned and delighted to be offered such a fantastic opportunity from an organisation as prestigious as the Fulbright Commission. The prospect of studying with Professor Chris Barnhart, a world-renowned expert in freshwater mussel biology and captive rearing, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My time at MSU provides me with the prospect of significant knowledge-transfer from experts in the US to the UK and will enable me to pursue a subject which I find both fascinating and incredibly worthwhile.”

Louise, her husband and two young sons, will soon be settling into their new home in the US, and she is looking forward to immersing her own ‘juveniles’ in American culture, teaching them about American traditions, exposing them to the great American outdoors and sampling the diverse American cuisine.

Dr Gill Notman, one of Louise’s supervisors and senior lecturer in marine and freshwater conservation said: “I am incredibly proud of Louise. She completed her PhD with the University of Cumbria part time whilst also working for the FBA. Not only has she contributed considerably to scientific understanding of freshwater pearl mussel reproductive biology, she has also published several papers in respected journals, got married, and had two kids!

“She is now moving on to the next stage of her career and has been awarded this prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. With this merit-driven award, Louise will be working alongside American freshwater mussel experts extending her own expertise and understanding of the complex feeding behaviour and ecology of this fascinating group of molluscs. I hope we will be able to welcome her back to Cumbria in the future to put all this new knowledge into practice, conserving our own critically endangered pearl mussel populations.”

The Fulbright Commission provides the only bi-lateral, transatlantic scholarship programme, offering awards for study or research in any field, at any accredited US or UK university. The commission selects scholars through a rigorous application and interview process, looking for academic excellence alongside a focused application, a range of extracurricular and community activities, demonstrated ambassadorial skills, a desire to further the Fulbright Programme and a plan to give back to the UK upon returning.

Penny Egan CBE, executive director, US-UK Fulbright Commission said: “The impact of the Fulbright programme can change the world. Our Fulbrighters will return to the UK having been exposed to different cultures, value systems and schools of thought. They will have the capacity to be more empathetic global citizens and be better prepared for collaboration across borders, between the US and the UK, and beyond.”

Louise and the other 44 British grantees of the 2017-18 Fulbright cohort celebrated their success at a reception hosted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office early in July.

Image shows Louise with husband Damian and their sons Samuel (3) and William (1)