In 2020, the CMB Exceptional Thesis Award was renamed the Raymond L. Erikson Exceptional Thesis Award. A fund to support the award was created by family and friends in honor of Dr. Erikson who passed away on March 30, 2020 (Raymond L. Erikson (1936–2020). The award will continue to recognize CMB students who have written and defended an exceptional thesis. Recipients will receive $1500, as well as a plaque, and their names will be added to a plaque that hangs in the Bock Penthouse.
Renaming the award in honor of Dr. Erikson is fitting in many wonderful ways. Most notably, he was the second student to graduate from CMB, receiving his Ph.D. in 1963 under Dr. Waclaw Szybalski. Additionally, Dr. Erikson was born outside of Eagle, WI, he was an undergraduate at UW-Madison, and after graduate school he went on to have a distinguished career that included postdoctoral research with Dr. Richard Franklin at the University of Colorado Medical School and faculty positions at the University of Colorado and Harvard University.
After studying the radiation sensitivity of human cell lines as a graduate student and RNA bacteriophages as a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Erikson turned to studying RNA tumor viruses in his first faculty position. He made many important discoveries, including the identification of the first oncogene v-Src and its characterization as a kinase. In recognition of his work on v-Src, Dr. Erikson received the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 1982, which he shared with Robert Gallo, J. Michael Bishop, Harold Varmus, and Hidesaburo Hanafusa. At Harvard, Dr. Erikson’s group continued to study oncogene and growth factor signaling, leading to the identification and/or characterization of the familiar signaling kinases MEK, S6K, and RSK. His legacy will live on through the graduate students and postdoctoral fellows he trained, and now through the Raymond L. Erikson Exceptional Thesis Award.