Updates from Advancement and Alumni Relations

All year we’ve been celebrating Laney Graduate School’s Centennial, and there’s plenty of celebration to come! All alumni, students, and faculty are invited to the upcoming Centennial events – you can find more details and registration links HERE.

September 12
The Carlos Museum
 Through a Glass Darkly Exhibition Discussion and Reception
featuring Dr. Walter Melion

September 26
4:00-6:00pm – reception to follow
Convocation Hall
LGS Centennial Lecture Series featuring Dr. Alondra Nelson

October 16
4:00-6:00pm – reception to follow
Convocation Hall
LGS Centennial Lecture Series featuring Dr. Jonathan Metzl

October 24
4:00-6:00pm – reception to follow
Convocation Hall
LGS Centennial Lecture Series featuring Dr. Jonathan Cole


Want to get involved in the exciting things happening at Emory, Laney, and GDBBS? There are a lot of ways for alumni and students to engage and learn from each other! If you’re in Atlanta, join us for an alumni/student panel or networking event – they’re held throughout the year. Wherever you live, sign up for Emory Connects – this platform allows alumni and students to network, sign up for events, and more! If you have any questions about connecting or giving, please contact Jessica Stephens (jessica.grace.stephens@emory.edu, 404.727.5015).

The Interdisciplinary Nature of GDBBS

By: Miranda McDaniel

If someone were to ask me about the topic of my graduate studies, I would likely start off by saying that I am working on my PhD in Molecular and Systems Pharmacology (MSP). Following that, I would likely launch into some enthusiastic soliloquy about how I study the brain and how different drugs and mutations can affect it. So, although I just explained that I study Molecular and Systems Pharmacology, it is also clear that my research heavily involves Neuroscience as well.

If you were to ask Matt Tilman, one of my MSP classmates, his answer would likely begin much the same: “I am a working on my PhD in Molecular and Systems Pharmacology.” However, what would follow this introduction would be vastly different. He would probably start explaining that he uses structural and biochemical analysis to study fatty acid binding proteins, even sprinkling in words like “purification” and “crystallography”.

Although my three classmates and I all sat through the same MSP introductory courses and passed the same qualifying exam, the four of us have entirely different research interests. As students of the Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (GDBBS), we have the unique opportunity to study across the broad range of biological sciences. Although each student applies to and is accepted by a single program, the interdepartmental nature of GDBBS grants students the flexibility to traverse disciplines and pursue their diverse research interests.

For example, my research advisor, Dr. Stephen Traynelis, is a member of both MSP and Neuroscience (NS). As such, we often have rotation students from both programs bringing unique perspectives to the research. Additionally, I was able to participate in neuroscience courses to expand upon the knowledge I gained on the topic through my MSP coursework, and I’ve attended seminars hosted by NS and Biochemistry, Cell, and Developmental Biology (BCDB). 

Lauren Fleischer, another of my MSP classmates, works in the lab of Dr. Trent Spencer. Dr. Spencer is a member of MSP and Cancer Biology. His lab, whose research focuses on Drug Resistance Immunotherapy, has been populated by students in MSP, Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis (IMP), and Cancer Biology (CB). With such a collection of experience and knowledge all standing shoulder to shoulder at the bench, it is no question that everyone benefits. Just as we are shaped by our life experiences, we are shaped by our training and education. When we are given the chance to work alongside people with different educational backgrounds than our own, we can integrate some of their knowledge into our own.

Dr. Eric Ortlund, Matt’s research advisor, is a member of MSP and BCDB. Matt shares his lab space with another MSP student and two students in the BCDB program. Additionally, members of the Ortlund lab collaborate closely with other Emory researchers in GDBBS, again taking advantage of diverse training and areas of expertise. Contrarily, our fourth classmate, Ken Liu, works in the lab of Dr. Dean Jones. Although Dr. Jones is considered to only be a member of MSP, his research expands far beyond the confines of a single program. As a professor of Medicine and Biochemistry, as well as the Director of the Clinical Biomarkers Lab, research under the guidance of Dr. Jones spans from physiological chemistry and metabolism to infectious diseases and personalized medicine.

One of the major challenges of any scientific research is finding answers to complex questions that haven’t yet been answered by other experts in the field. Often, answering these questions isn’t as simple as turning on a huge piece of equipment and pressing the start button. Making truly innovative discoveries usually requires researchers to have an arsenal of equipment, an assortment of skills, and a collection of creative ideas. Having all these tools needed for success in the research world is built from a team of people. Whether it’s sharing instrumentation or knowledge, everyone benefits from a collaborative environment where ideas can give way to breakthroughs.

Even outside of the lab, having diverse research interests within GDBBS lends itself to success. When I get the chance to catch up with my MSP peers, we share colorful conversation about research projects involving primates or proteins or prodrugs or preclinical research. And, although these conversations don’t always lead to a collaboration, they certainly contribute to a more dynamic approach to science and a broader knowledge base from which we can develop ideas. 

The benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration can even be found within this very newsletter. The contributors to this edition of the newsletter are members of MSP, NS, Population Biology, Ecology, and Evolution (PBEE), and Microbiology and Molecular Genetics (MMG). I like to believe that this diversity among the authors provides each article with a unique tone.

GDBBS gives its students the opportunity to pursue our personal research interests without sacrificing a sense of community. The structure of GDBBS, with intimate individual programs woven together socially and scientifically, promotes an environment that truly allows its students to thrive.

Common Good Atlanta

By: Sydney Sunna

As an English PhD student, Sarah Higinbotham began volunteering in 2008 as an educator at Phillips State Prison in response to her own uncle’s incarceration. Two years later she and a fellow graduate-student, Bill Taft, co-founded the organization Common Good Atlanta (CGA). Driven by the convictions that “higher education can restore dignity and reconnect people to their own humanity” and “communities are weakened when access to higher education is restricted on the basis of wealth, privilege, or class”, CGA has dedicated a decade to empowering people through correctional education. Today CGA offers more than 29 full-semester courses at four different correctional facilities, ranging from transitional to high-security penitentiaries. More than 50 faculty members from six universities, including those from Emory University, have taught courses in partnership with CGA.

Dr. Sober (Left) and Andrea Pack (Right)

Dr. Sober (Left) and Andrea Pack (Right)

In the summer of 2016, Dr. Sober and Andrea Pack of the Neuroscience Program at Emory University partnered with CGA to provide a 6-week course on Systems-Neuroscience. The course curriculum now expands into other topics of interest such as Neuroethics and The Neurobiology of Disease. Andrea, who continues to play a role in the program prepares lesson-plans each year by devouring the literature underlying each subject, providing articles to the class, and hosting discussions and debates. Experiments and demonstrations punctuate the lectures. Following an introductory lecture to neurobiology, human and animal brains were brought in from Emory’s Brain Bank to compare the neuroanatomy of the different specimens. After a lesson on sensorimotory learning, the class period featured a demo in which zebra finches sang in response to hearing a melody from a mechanical watch alarm. When reflecting on this experience, Andrea explained “That was really special, … One student expressed ‘I haven’t seen an animal or a pet in twenty years’… and that is something that as a civilian, that’s free, we take advantage of, like seeing animals or playing with pets or just having a pet around”.

Since her involvement with CGA began years ago, Andrea has invested tirelessly in designing a curriculum that fulfills the interests and needs of her students. She emphasizes the value of creating a confidential environment for her students to participate in; enabling open and honest communication. When asked of the value she gains from educating inmates, Andrea shares that “[she’s] learning just as much as [her] students are…creating a safe and open place for discussion is a powerful way to bring together people of various backgrounds”. The neuroscience lectures are thoughtfully designed to be both salient and useful to her students. A couple months before her second-year teaching at Phillips State Prison, she began by providing a list of neurobiological diseases from which the students chose four to learn about in-depth. The favored four included post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, traumatic brain injury, and depression. Complimenting the lesson on PTSD, Andrea taught a course about the neuroscience behind and practice of meditation. Employing methodologies such as deliberate breathing, body-scanning, or taking a walk, this training sought to give students a resource in emotional regulation that they can use in their daily lives. The course taught this semester is on neuro-ethics. Originally, the course was designed as a discussion; the students would be assigned a reading and then the class would sit in a circle to discuss the ethics of the given topic. Topics range from a controversial head-transplant, the ethics of neuro-marketing, and a phenomenon known as neuro-hype in which popular media sources sensationalize scientific findings and influence public opinion. Andrea noticed that a few students would talk more frequently than others and she wanted to re-structure the class so that more people would have a chance to participate. The class then adopted a debate-style format in which students were assigned to be on the “pro” or “con” side of a given ethical issue. After the debate, the class would re-group as a whole to reflect on what each person actually thought about the topic. This flexible formatting of the courses is just one of many examples in which Andrea challenges herself to build a more inclusive environment for discussion. When asked about future lessons, she has some ideas about an assignment that would incorporate the artistic talents of her students. Each student received a lined or unlined journal according to their preference where they can express their thoughts and feelings on each subject. Students were assigned the task of creating a comic strip in response to topics covered in the neuroethics class. Andrea’s enthusiasm for designing a more engaging curriculum is infectious. When talking with Andrea, it quickly becomes clear that her students make just as much of a positive impact on her as her work does onto them.

The impact that CGA has on incarcerated people and the community is substantial. Since the organization formally began in 2010, more than 100 incarcerated men and women have completed a course, 4,000 hours of college classes have been taught, and the curriculum available ranges from Algebra to Nonviolent Political Theory (Common Good Atlanta [CGA], n.d.). As of May, 2019, CGA now provides courses to previously incarcerated people including a free dinner, free tuition, and free books and supplies to each student. Upon completion of the coursework, the students earn six transferrable academic credits from Bard college. Currently, the neuroscience program is the only scientific course offered by the organization (Common Good Atlanta [CGA], n.d.). If you would like to get involved with expanding the scientific curriculum offered by CGA, please contact Andrea Pack.




  1. Common Good Atlanta. (n.d.). Our Impact. Retrieved from http://www.commongoodatlanta.com/our-impact-1

  2. Common Good Atlanta. (n.d.). Our Impact. Retrieved from http://www.commongoodatlanta.com/contact-2


Navigating the Path to Improved Graduate Student Mental Health

By: Megan R. Hockman

Browsing through social media, it seems that there is an ever-growing body of literature detailing the impact of graduate school on the mental health of graduate students. Hearteningly, these articles are being shared by students who seem to be seeking to end the stigma against mental health conversations and to raise awareness about the problem in the hopes of solving it. It’s no great mystery that, as graduate students, we face an extraordinary amount of pressure, making no small number of sacrifices in the pursuit of our degrees. But what are we doing to cope with these problems? What constitutes a healthy balance in a world where productivity is the name of the game? How can we be advocates for ourselves and our peers while avoiding the guilt that we sometimes feel for doing so?

A paper published in Academic Psychiatry by Emory researchers in 2014 explored the mental health of graduate students specifically. Their findings were consistent with other published literature of the time, indicating that more than half of graduate students at Emory who responded to the survey reported feeling negative emotions, such as worrying a lot or feeling life is too stressful. Of the those surveyed, students that were older in age were more likely to utilize counseling/therapy services1. It is possible that this discrepancy exists because younger students aren’t aware of the available resources or feel uncomfortable using them. Informing incoming graduate students about the importance of maintaining good mental health and possible ways to do so is critical, perhaps with a particular emphasis on those who are entering earlier in life. Although these results are compelling, it is possible that the data could be skewed towards students who were experiencing mental health problems and therefore more likely to answer survey questions pertaining to them. However, another more recent study of European PhD students indicated that they are more affected by mental health problems than the non-graduate student population2. Both studies indicated that mental health problems were more prevalent in the female populations surveyed. There are a multitude of other sources that have surveyed different groups of students for a number of parameters, but the consensus is that mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety are prevalent in the graduate student population. This is a problem, and how we address this problem is important.  

A few months ago, I called my dad to talk about some of the stresses I was going through, including a slew of experiments that yielded less-than-optimal results. These data dry spells are supposedly common, but the conversations around academic failure seem relatively sparse (which probably contributes to feelings of anxiety that many of us have). His response to my problems? I must not be working hard enough. He was not trying to sound critical or harsh. His reaction was a result of one traditional method of dealing with stress and failure- if you can’t work through a problem you must not be putting in enough effort. This mentality seems to be reflected in the long hours that graduate students clock despite the toll it can take on mental health. Since starting as a graduate student three years ago, I have come to realize that while this solution may seem reasonable at first glance- I’ll get results quicker, and the more results I get the more likely I’ll be able to elicit a positive outcome- it neglects to consider the importance of balance. This means putting time towards both work and play- time working on our research but also out doing things that we enjoy that don’t contribute directly to a degree. This balance just might be the key to maintaining good mental health while remaining productive as a graduate student.

What constitutes a good balance is highly individual. Each person has their own way of defining success, productivity, and relaxation. While this isn’t a novel concept, it seems to be forgotten during academic pursuits where we are continually in contact with peers who may seem to be more successful. We end up comparing ourselves to them, maybe even attempting to mimic the processes they use that make them appear so productive. This can occasionally lead to epiphanies about what works best for us but can also lead to burnout. Exploration of what works for the individual, and acknowledgement that it’s okay to embrace these differences, is integral to the development of practices that keep us happy and productive.

A year ago, I was in the midst of studying for my qualifying exam. This is a notoriously stressful point in any graduate student’s career and the pressure is enormous. It was then that I realized the importance of balancing my research and my personal life. I noticed that my rest days from studying left me feeling inspired and helped identify things I missed during heavy study periods. To release my anxious energy, I started running. There was no goal to this running, except to get outside (which I knew was a healthy space for me) and give myself the room to sort through my stress in a healthy way. It was an activity on which I wouldn’t be graded or judged (except against myself) and I could thoroughly enjoy without external pressure. There are any numbers of activities that fit these criteria, but running is what worked for me. I realized that I was sleeping better, feeling better, and I could think about my studies during a long run and not feel so anxious about the impending exam. Knowing I would have time to myself to go run made me better able to devote time to studying because it wasn’t a daunting, never-ending task. A run was a reward for studying and inspired me to go do more. A year later, I am still going out and running five days a week. I could write a whole series of articles on the ways ultra-distance running is comparable to the PhD experience, and has helped me tackle some of the bigger problems I’ve encountered, but the message here is that I’m a better student and researcher because of my running and the balance it’s helped create between work life and “real life”.

I’ve had conversations with a lot of peers, and it seems that there is no consensus about the “best way” to handle stress. Some students create strict boundaries around their work- when they’re not pursuing their studies, their minds are somewhere else entirely. Creating these boundaries can allow the mind to have time to refresh, as long as they are upheld. Going out on the weekend with friends outside of one’s discipline can be a great way to do this- it encourages conversation about things outside research and academic pursuits. If your only friends are ones from your program, it could be helpful to put a strict “embargo” on work talk for the evening. For other students, this method may cause guilt for not being present at work, which can lead to anxiety and a lack of the mental rejuvenation it’s meant to create. If that’s the case, perhaps a more active form of self-care is called for. Removing oneself from the stressful environment to someplace new, but allowing thoughts about work to flow unrestricted, could alleviate the anxiety caused by the work and the anxiety caused by not doing work. This is what I do when I run. Some of my friends like to go to the bar with other graduate students and talk about their problems over a drink. The commonality between most students is the importance of taking a break. How long that break is, and what it consists of, is up to the individual.

To accompany this exploration, it’s important to keep our mentors in the loop and have conversations about the expectations they have for us and those we set for ourselves. This can ease the transition from “normal” practices that end up causing distress to a more balanced lifestyle. Such conversations aren’t always easy, but there are on-campus resources to help with this. The Atlanta BEST program held a workshop series entitled “Maximizing Mentorship: Building Your Mentee Toolbox," which was aimed at helping graduate students build better relationships with their mentors and communicate more effectively. They also included a book entitled “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, Second Edition” which is a great resource for students who may want to improve communication with mentors. Additionally, faculty at Emory University founded the Atlanta Society of Mentors (ASOM) with the goal of improving the mentoring culture through recognizing and being inclusive of diverse perspectives, talent, and career interests. It is not an easy subject to bring up, but it’s an important one. With the ever-growing body of literature surrounding the mental health impacts of graduate school, the community is becoming increasingly aware of the problem. Our mentors want what is best for us, so telling them when our needs are not being met in some way could open the door to a more productive working relationship and improved mental health. If you have concerns about talking to your advisor directly, it can help to reach out to other members of the community such as committee members or other faculty members. Communication is key when it comes to ending the current stigma and finding solutions that work for all involved parties. 

As an Emory student, there are a number of excellent resources available. I myself have sought counseling at the Counseling and Psychological Services center (CAPS) and participated in the stress clinic. CAPS services provide a preliminary “placement” session in which you speak to a member of the team to assess your specific needs. You are then paired with a counselor who suits those needs for a total of 7 sessions per academic year. Should 7 sessions not be enough, the center has a list of local therapists readily available. The stress clinic utilizes biofeedback software and a number of classical stress reduction techniques, such as controlled breathing techniques, to help students determine better ways of managing stress. The biofeedback equipment provides physiological data about which techniques are helping the most, which is pretty interesting to see. For students interested in group therapy, there are a number of support and process groups available through the CAPS website. For late night moments of overwhelm and loneliness, the Emory HelpLine provides confidential peer support that you can call between 8:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. All of these services are great for coping with the stresses of graduate school, and we shouldn’t be concerned about using them.

Graduate school is hard. There are hundreds of reasons why we feel the stresses and anxieties that we do. Some of these are reasonable, while others are a result of a system that will, unfortunately, take some time to change. As a population we can work hard to effect positive change by being more open about the problems we see and working with one another to fix them. On an individual level, we owe it to ourselves to realize the importance of self-care and individuality. In a system where we are all judged by a set of standards, it is still possible to reach these standards in our own unique ways. Exploring what works, communicating openly about our needs, and utilizing the resources available to us are all ways we can start to take better care of ourselves and ultimately find happiness and success.


1.         Garcia-Williams, A. G.; Moffitt, L.; Kaslow, N. J., Mental health and suicidal behavior among graduate students. Acad Psychiatry 2014, 38 (5), 554-60.

2.         Levecque, K.; Anseel, F.; De Beuckelaer, A.; Van der Heyden, J.; Gisle, L., Work organization and mental health problems in PhD students. Research Policy 2017, 46 (4), 868-879.

Representation of #BlackGirlMagic at a Predominantly White Institution

By: Carmen Shaw

National and private establishments invest millions of dollars annually into science diversity programs in order to expand representation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields – for both undergraduate and graduate schools. Nevertheless, minority groups continue to be underrepresented within these specialized fields. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, while over 30% of African American, Hispanic/Latino, and Native American students enter college with an interest in STEM, only 16% end up obtaining a bachelor’s degree in these respective fields2.

Upon my entrance to graduate school at Emory University, a predominantly white institution, I instantly became hyperaware of my own blackness – an experience the former First Lady Michelle Obama describes in her debut memoir Becoming as “poppy seeds in rice.” Skin color, hair texture, style preference, manner of speaking – are all qualities that served as distinguishing features separating myself, the literal anomaly, from the mass of white and Asian students who constitute most of the school’s population. According to Data USA, the student population (undergraduate and graduate) at Emory University is 44.6% White, 14.3% Asian, 9.8% Black/African American, and 6.7% Hispanic/Latino3. These numbers typify the mental visualization of the specifically limited color landscape observed on Emory campus.

On the other hand, the geographic diversity at Emory University is astounding: With a total undergraduate and graduate student enrollment of ~15,000 - international students and scholars make up approximately 3,500 (from more than 100 countries), which is roughly 23% of the entire student population1. In this regard, Emory offers such a vibrant and vivacious international community, wherein students from various places of the world can congregate and learn about a country, nationality, or sphere completely distinctive from their own. From this geographic viewpoint, I could expand. From this geographic viewpoint, I could fit my singular identity within the beautiful amalgam that was our academic community. However, from a racial and ethnic viewpoint, this was not so much the case. Because despite the diversity in nationality, there was a mainly monolithic racial demographic; one in which I did not feel like my own blackness could be truly nurtured and cultivated. And in this particular regard, it can be difficult for students from underrepresented groups to create a space for themselves in an environment that is not necessarily reflective of their own personal (and in my case, racial) identity.

As a black girl entering her first year of a PhD program in Population Biology, Ecology, and Evolution (PBEE) at Emory, I’ve had to personally navigate through some of the universal challenges faced by every incoming graduate student including: attempting to find the work/life balance outside of a PhD to function at optimal level, dealing with the self-crucifying behavioral pattern of imposter syndrome, coping with the perpetual pressures and expectations to succeed in stringent academia, contending with the reality of unadulterated autonomy as a scientist and researcher, and remembering to prioritize mental and physical well-being – these are just some of the day-to-day struggles. A PhD student must constantly work to overcome these stressors all while maintaining their motivation to ‘keep on keeping on’. However, these challenges become steadily more difficult especially when conjoined with being an underrepresented individual. This then lends itself to an onslaught of other adversities like stereotype threats, unconscious bias, and microaggressions, which can have truly visceral and powerful impacts on both learning and performance in the STEM field of academia.  


At the request of some students in the program, PBEE held its very first Diversity Action Session this past April to progressively shift our community to one that actively (and intentionally) promotes diversity and inclusion. This student-led session provided students with a safe space to share their personal experiences and bring up concerns relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Consequently, the faculty members were able to gain transparent insight into some of the hidden issues and complexities their students have been facing that would have otherwise remained unbeknownst to them. There were also opportunities for the students to provide anonymous feedback as well, if they didn’t feel comfortable openly engaging in the discussion. The overarching end goal of the action session was – through this transparent exposure to a broad range of perspectives and experiences – to foster an intellectually diverse community within PBEE. Additionally, we were able to identify specific action items that could be executed to improve the overall experience of PBEE students – both short-term action plans and the establishment of long-term diversity goals. The talking points were not specific to race or ethnicity, but in fact were extrapolated outward to include all types of personal identities. The topics open for discussion in terms of diversity and inclusion involved the following:


·       Racial/ethnic minorities navigating through white spaces

·       Struggles with integration for international students

·       Coming from impoverished backgrounds

·       Coping with mental and/or physical disabilities while in graduate school

·       Difficulties faced by first generation students

·       Preserving your identity as an LGBT student

·       How to be an ally for students dealing with any of the above


The beauty of this session was that everyone in attendance put forth a considerable effort to transcend our histories and backgrounds, however disparate they may be, to consciously work to affirm personal identities authentically. The faculty members were open-minded enough to learn about the lives of their students in their full cultural, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical contexts. And from the information obtained in this session, we were able to start making pragmatic and formalized plans to reshape the structure of our program with diversity truly in mind. 

Throughout this entire process, I learned the importance of finding a sense of community while in graduate school, especially if you are a person from an underrepresented group. As the theorist Jean Baker Miller once said, everyone wants to feel “seen, heard, and understood.” By encapsulating yourself in a support network that emphasizes the viewpoints of peers coming from both similar and varied backgrounds, you have now created a safe space wherein you won’t feel as alone or ostracized, and instead will have created a sort of breeding grounds for both inclusivity and expansion of knowledge. It will afford you the opportunity to experience authentic social, cultural, and ethnic relatability and understanding – to be an entity whom is so thoroughly invested into, while being able to thoroughly invest into the entities around you. And although having a sense of community is just one aspect of my personal and professional life as a PhD student, it ultimately serves to cultivate the core of my self-identity, which is so incredibly vital to success in academia. The numerous individuals, peers, colleagues, and friends I've made along this journey so far have become both a paramount facet of my professional success, as well as an integral part of my personal community. Therefore, I would encourage other individuals reading this article right now, particularly those who may feel like the deviation in their respective field(s), to find a community of individuals who will become a part of your safe place. It will make the journey of obtaining your goals in a STEM-related PhD program all that more enriching, rewarding, and all-embracing.


1.     Emory University Facts: https://apply.emory.edu/discover/facts-stats/emory.html

2.     National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2019. Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2019. Special Report NSF 19-304. Alexandria, VA. Available at https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd.

3.     U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. 2018. IPEDS Data Feedback Report 2018: Emory University [Data file]. Retrieved from  https://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/datacenter/Expt/SelectDataReport.aspx

2019 DSAC Symposium

By: Miranda McDaniel

On January 28th, 2019, with enthusiastic students and faculty gathered to attend the 16th Annual GDBBS DSAC Student Research Symposium. The event, hosted by the Division Student Advisory Council (DSAC), began with student oral presentations broken up into five sessions by topic: Human Disease and Therapeutics, Proteins: Dynamics and Signaling, Neurological Disorders, Epigenetics and Gene Expression, and Immunity and Pathogens. Over the lunch recess, attendees flooded into the lobby, where they perused an impressive collection of posters.

The event concluded with an Awards Ceremony recognizing particularly exceptional talks and posters and the winners of the ICI Image contest. The award recipients this year were:


Integrated Cellular Imaging (ICI) Image Contest

1st Place – Emily Summerbell (CB)

2nd Place – Brandon Ware (CB)

Runner-Up – Joanna Perez (BCDB)

Runner-Up – Brian Pedro (CB)

Runner-Up – Alyssa Scott (GMB)

Runner-Up – Cara Schiavon (CB)



1st Place Tie: Emma D’Agostino (BCDB) and Dillon Patterson (GMB)

2nd Place: Matt Tillman (MSP)

3rd Place: Erica Akhter (NS)



1st Place: Raven Peterson (BCDB)

2nd Place: Jacob Beaver (MMG)

3rd Place: Jessica Shartouny (IMP)


Thank you to everyone who attended the event to celebrate the amazing research taking place within our program. We are incredibly proud of our students for their hard work, and congratulations to the award winners!

2019 GDBBS Awards Banquet

By: Miranda McDaniel 

This year, the GDBBS was proud to honor its students and faculty during a particularly special Annual GDBBS Awards Banquet celebrating 30 years of graduate education. The banquet, which was held on April 24th, recognized the wonderful achievements earned by the members of our community.


The night began with an opening greeting from Director, Dr. Nael McCarty. He expressed his appreciation for the faculty and students, acknowledging all those who dedicate their time and energy towards making our interdisciplinary program one of the most successful programs in biological and biomedical research. He also reflected on the evolution and impact of our program since it began 30 years ago, paying special attention to the faculty and previous Division Directors who have helped to establish such a flourishing community of scientists and scholars.  


Among the award recipients was Dr. Valerie Horsley, who received the Distinguished Alumna Award. Since earning her PhD in 2003, Dr. Horsley has gone on to become an Associate Professor of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology and Dermatology at Yale. In addition to her several awards, including the Pew Scholar Award, Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award, Dr. Horsley also ran for State Senate in 2018.

[To learn more about Dr. Horsley and her journey from science to senate, check out our Fall 2018 edition of the GDBBS Alumni Newsletter to find her article “Why I (A Successful Scientist) Decided to Run for Political Office and Why You Should Get Involved, Too”.]


After dinner, several students, faculty, and alumni were recognized for their achievements. The award recipients were as follows:

GDBBS Award Recipients 

Endowment Research Awards

 Graduate Program in Biology Academic and Professional Achievement Award

Marko Bajic (GMB) — Advisor: Roger Deal, PhD


Margaret and Thomas Lew Graduate Award in Biomedical Sciences in Biochemistry

Kelsey Maher (BCDB) — Advisor: Roger Deal, PhD

M. Edward Quach (BCDB) — Advisor: Renhao Li, PhD


Raymond Dingledine Award For Extraordinary Graduate Achievement

Suzanne Mays (MSP) — Advisor: Eric Ortlund, PhD


William and Catherine Rice Research Award

Fadi Poulous (CB) — Advisor: Brian Petrich, PhD


Keith Wilkinson Division Service Award

Sarah Suciu (GMB) — Advisor: Tamara Caspary, PhD


Distinguished Alumna Award

Valerie Horsley, PhD (BCDB Graduate, 2003) — Advisor: Grace Pavlath, PhD


Program Scholars of The Year

Kelsey Maher (BCDB) — Advisor: Roger Deal, PhD

Allyson Koyen (CB) — Advisor: David Sung-Wen Yu, MD, PhD

Hari Somineni (GMB) — Advisors: Subra Kugathasan, MD; Gregory Gibson, PhD

Maria White (IMP) — Advisor: Anice Lowen, PhD

Ashley Cross (MMG) — Advisor: Joanna Goldberg, PhD

Cameron Herting (MSP) — Advisor: Dolores Hambardzumyan, PhD

Arielle Valdez (NS) — Advisor: Gary Bassell, PhD

Connor Morozumi (PBEE) — Advisor: Berry Brosi, PhD


Graduate Career Award

Amanda Mener (IMP) — Advisor: Sean Stowell, MD, PhD


TATTO Teaching Award

Xingwen Loy (PBEE) — Advisor: Berry Brosi, PhD

Matthew Stern (NS/MD-PhD) — Advisor: Robert Gross, MD, PhD


Student Career Teaching Award

Elizabeth Kline (NS) — Advisor: Malú Tansey, PhD


Student Leadership Award

Mary Herrick (NS) — Advisor: Malú Tansey, PhD


Student Mentor Award

Erica Harris (PBEE) — Advisor: Nicole Gerardo, PhD


Faculty Mentor Award

Peter Wenner, PhD (NS)


Outreach/Community Service Award

Andrea Pack (NS) — Advisor: Samuel Sober, PhD

Rachel Turn (BCDB) — Advisor: Richard Kahn, PhD


Congratulations to all of our award recipients! We are incredibly proud of our community for their amazing achievements, and we look forward to the next 30 years of success!