Friday, January 22, 2021

Spotlight on 2020 Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship Winner Dr. Deena B. Snoke

The Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship is awarded to graduate students doing research in fats, oils, proteins, surfactants and related materials. The purpose of this graduate fellowship is to encourage, recognize and support outstanding research in a field of study consistent with the areas of interest to AOCS.

Could you be the 2022 Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship Award Winner? Learn more about the application process. The fellowship's deadline is February 1.

Congratulations to Deena Snoke of The Ohio State University, USA — Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Nutrition (OSUN). This spotlight introduces you to Dr. Snoke, her current research and more!

Meet Deena B. Snoke

A brief biography: Dr. Deena Snoke earned her BS in Biology from Keene State College in 2013. As an undergraduate, she spent three years working with Dr. Susan Whittemore studying the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on the development of X.laevis tadpoles. This led to the opportunity to spend two summers at Dartmouth Medical School, further contributing to this project in the lab of Dr. Leslie Henderson. The common thread uniting this work and Snoke's current research interests is that environmental factors - whether it is food consumed or exposure to harmful chemicals - can have an enormous impact on health. 

Dr. Snoke joined the lab of Dr. Martha Belury in 2015 as a member of The Ohio State University Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Nutrition (OSUN). She was a member of a diverse research group at the crossroads of nutrition and molecular biology, where she studied dietary fat quality and its impact on muscle energy metabolism. After defended her dissertation in September of 2020, and after several rounds of interviews she joined the laboratory of Dr. Michael Toth at the University of Vermont, where she uses my expertise in nutrition and metabolism to contribute to research studies focusing on skeletal muscle atrophy during cancer treatment. 

Prior to being awarded the Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship, Snoke was awarded two additional university fellowships and was one of 50 students selected to attend the John Milner Nutrition and Cancer Research practicum in March 2019. She has presented her work at regional and national conferences and has been recognized with several awards for her presentations. At Ohio State, Snoke was heavily involved in the Graduate Society of Nutritional Sciences, where she served as president, social chair, and helped organize the Russell Klein Nutrition and Cancer Research Symposium for the past five years.

1. What was your reaction when you learned you had won the award?

I could not believe I was being recognized at this level. I called my advisor as soon as I got the email and shared the great news!

2. Can you tell us about your dissertation research?

One-third of adults in the U.S. have metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk for many of the leading causes of death in the modern world. Altering dietary habits could be a very effective, safe, and affordable method to reduce the risk for these diseases. Skeletal muscle is the main site of postprandial glucose uptake, and where mitochondria metabolize fatty acids and glucose to generate energy. In skeletal muscle and other metabolically active tissues, dietary lipids act as fuel substrates, signaling molecules that regulate whole-body energy metabolism, and structural components of cell membranes necessary to support ATP production. My dissertation research looked at how different dietary oils with differing fatty acid composition impacted skeletal muscle energy metabolism in mouse models of metabolic health and disease. More specifically, I am investigated how plant-based dietary fats supplemented in the diet can impact skeletal muscle architecture, mitochondrial and cellular energy metabolism and membrane phospholipids, as well as whole-body energy metabolism.

3. How has AOCS helped develop your career?

Attending the AOCS annual meeting was the first experience in my graduate career where my work was critically discussed and evaluated.  I was provided with great feedback about future experimental ideas. I returned to my lab confident in my understanding of my project and invigorated with the drive to produce meaningful research. My attendance widened my awareness of the many flavors of positions available in industry for those interested in communicating scientific knowledge. Interactions with leading scientists in the lipids field will help me contribute impactful research that assists in the greater understanding of dietary lipids and molecular nutrition while also having implications on human health. Importantly, as I look to the next steps in my career in the future, I will have more opportunities to meet and network with other scientists from a variety of lipid fields who may be an invaluable connection to future job opportunities.

I recently interviewed for several postdoctoral positions and feel very strongly that this fellowship recognition improved my visibility and embellished my application to make me a very competitive candidate. I interviewed with many investigators in the lipids field, most of whom were familiar with AOCS and this award. Ultimately, I was offered my top choice position and I am very grateful to have a choice during such a tumultuous time for scientific research. 

4. How did you get started in the field that you are studying?

In high school, my AP biology course initiated my desire to learn more about biology, so I decided that was what I would continue my studies in as an undergraduate student. Once I got to college, I began working in a research lab as a sophomore and quickly realized that I loved the problem solving and ‘outside the box’ thinking that is required of scientific research, and enjoyed the challenge of performing different experiments and constantly learning something new. A uniting factor of my research interests and training is how environmental stimuli - whether a dietary component or pharmacological treatment - can alter metabolic health outcomes. As an undergraduate student, I studied how anthropometric toxins impacted the development of tadpoles, and I saw firsthand how compounds deposited into the environment could directly affect our health. As I progressed to my graduate school career and began lab rotations, I began to learn about how the components of the foods we eat affect our health and became enamored by nutrition research. When I met my advisor, Dr. Martha Belury, and learned about how lipids were not just consumed in the diet but also were signaling molecules that drive whole-body energy metabolism, I thought it was one of the most interesting things I had ever learned. That was when I knew that I was in the right place. As I progressed through my doctoral work and learned more about muscle and energy metabolism, I felt challenged by my research and the problem solving required, and so lucky to be a part of this new and interesting research area. 

5. What challenges have you overcome during your course of study?

Anyone who has progressed through a Ph.D. program knows that it is a long road and mentally and emotionally difficult. Yes, there are factors and variables that make this more or less challenging, but at the core of it all, it is just something that is very difficult to do - which is why not everyone chooses to go down this path. There are periods where you get great results, and there are times when you get stuck troubleshooting one experiment for six months. I do not think that this is unique to my experience - I know many colleagues of mine have been through similar situations. I learned very quickly to overcome these roadblocks by aligning my attitude and emotional response with my end goal. It is not getting stuck, but rather, how you choose to respond and bounce back from it that matters the most and keep you on your trajectory. 

6. Can you share any advice for graduate students who want to apply to the Fellowship?

First: try to propose a small project. One page is not very much space, and trying to accomplish too much leaves a lot of questions! Instead, focus on one major aim and really try to develop it. Because AOCS encompasses so many different areas of research, it is also very important to write to a broad audience and try to include as much explanation as possible. A great thing to do is to ask someone who is not in your field to read your fellowship application and make sure they understand it. 

Second: do not give up and keep submitting if you do not get selected. I applied for this award twice before receiving it, and I am so glad I submitted again. I would also suggest that if you submit a second time, it is important to ask for feedback on your application and try to address that feedback in future applications. I can see that all of my hard work and using the valuable feedback of the award committee on each application really paid off.  

Award details

This Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship award was established in memory of Dr. Smouse’s dedication and enthusiasm for lipid chemistry and his commitment to family, education, and AOCS. Dr. Smouse was a long-time member and very active volunteer in AOCS, including serving as President of AOCS in 1983. As well as a noted industrial researcher into the flavor chemistry of fats and oils. Archer Daniels Midland Foundation, AOCS Foundation, AOCS and the family and friends of Dr. Smouse established and assisted in this fellowship’s funding.

What does the recipient receive?

  • Custom inscribed bookends with the recipient’s name and award details
  • US $10,000 honorarium
  • Up to a US $5,000 research and travel allowance
  • Opportunity to present an award lecture at the 2022 AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo

Who is eligible?

Graduate students who are AOCS members that:

  • are conducting research at an educational institution that is conducting fundamental investigations in the chemistry of fats, oils, proteins, surfactants and related materials, with an above-average interest in and aptitude for research have never received the Thomas H. Smouse Memorial Fellowship
  • Note: the graduate student’s major professor supervising the research must also be a current AOCS member
  • Please refer to the Award Guidelines (.pdf) for detailed eligibility guidelines.

How to nominate?

  • The professor should review the student's application for completeness, and then send the following nomination materials as a single mailing to the AOCS main office by February 1. Should you have concerns about your application materials arriving by February 1, please notify AOCS at
  • Letter of nomination from the major professor supervising the research
  • Major professor statement confirming good standing at the university (complete within the application)
  • At least three letters of recommendation from deans, department heads and/or professors who have supervised the student’s most recent academic work. These letters should present essential facts regarding: 1) scholastic record, 2) character and personality, 3) interest and capability in research, 4) ability to cooperate with others, 5) capacity for work and 6) extracurricular activities
  • Official transcripts from all undergraduate and graduate colleges or university work completed to date
  • Application (.doc) completed by the student

View all student award details


Should you have any questions, contact Victoria Santo at

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