Two graduating seniors—Yi Hua Chen (CPB ‘20) and Tessa Han (MCB and Statistics ‘20)—and two recent alumni—Adriana Méndez Leal (Neuro ‘16) and Madeleine Snyder (Neuro ‘17)—have been awarded fellowships through the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP).
“I am deeply grateful to the MCB community, my advisor, Prof. Giovanni Parmigiani [HSPH], and direct supervisor, Dr. Mehmet Samur [HSPH],” says Han. “The exemplary teaching, rigorous pursuit of scholarship, and exceptional guidance and mentoring played a pivotal role in these formative years and gave me the best preparation for the future. Receiving the fellowship is recognition of this collective community that steadfastly supported and nurtured me. I’m especially grateful to Dominic Mao, our MCB advisor, for watching over me throughout the program and for never failing to point me to the right path.” Han plans to study computational biology and bioinformatics in grad school.
Chen received the NSF email about her fellowship just a few minutes after she sent confirmation that she would join the MIT Computational Systems Biology Program in the fall. “I found out about the award during a really overwhelming time,” she says. “Harvard had just announced that undergraduate students have to move off campus because of the pandemic…I was scrambling to find some last minute housing in Cambridge. Also, I was really disappointed that the labs would be shut down, as I had just finished my senior thesis and was itching to get back to the lab and do some new experiments.”
Méndez Leal’s GRFP will support her studies as a grad student in Jennifer Silvers’s lab at UCLA. “I’m absolutely over the moon!” Méndez Leal says. “I got my acceptance email while I was alone quarantining in my apartment, procrastinating on writing a manuscript by trying to make Dalgona coffee after seeing it on social media…I hope to celebrate this (along with the graduations of several of my peers) again in the future!”
Funding for graduate research can make an enormous difference for early career scientists. “Receiving this fellowship has not only allowed me more scientific freedom, but pushed me to think more critically about the experiments I choose to pursue and the resources they require,” says Snyder, who is currently studying spatial navigation in Egyptian fruit bats in Michael Yartsev’s lab at UC Berkeley. “Particularly in the wake of the pandemic, I am very grateful for the structured financial independence.”
All of these newly-minted fellows say that they’re grateful to the MCB community.
“I cannot thank Professor Andrew Murray enough for advising me,” Chen says. “Professors like Andrew break down barriers to science for people like me, who come from family backgrounds that don’t usually permit them to be part of this ‘elite’ intellectual community. I hope to be like Andrew some day and perpetuate the accessible scientific community that he fosters.”
“I’d also like to thank my direct supervisors, Marco Fumasoni, a postdoc at the Murray lab, as well as Sriram Srikant, a former MCO grad student,” she adds. “They trained me through the disaster that was the freshman version of me, who was afraid to light a bunsen burner and may have set her bench on fire a few times. They were incredibly patient and have taught me so much…There are also many MCB faculty who instilled an excitement for science in me and gave me important advice about my academic trajectory. A few I’d like to point out include Shiv Pillai, Michael Desai, and Jeff Lichtman.”
“I am deeply grateful to the MCB community,” Han says. “The exemplary teaching and rigorous pursuit of scholarship played a pivotal role in these formative years and gave me the best preparation for the future. I’m especially grateful to Dominc Mao, our MCB advisor, for watching over me throughout the program and for never failing to point me to the right path.”
Méndez Leal says, “I’m so grateful to Professors Charles Nelson and April Levin (HMS) for their mentorship, above and beyond the call. Their unparalleled guidance, patience, and empathy has changed and enriched my life. I’d also like to thank Dr. Laura Magnotti for her thoughtful advising throughout my undergraduate career, which was so helpful as I planned for graduate school and beyond!”
Snyder agrees that the mentoring she received as an undergraduate has been important for her career development. “So many of the TFs were incredibly patient and knowledgeable, that as a grad student myself I want to emulate their teaching style,” she says. “I would like to thank three people in particular—Ryan Draft for being an amazing advisor, Marge Livingstone (HMS) for being an incredible mentor and scientist, and Michael Arcaro (now an assistant prof in psychology at UPenn), for guiding me through my senior thesis.”
Speaking to current MCB students, staff, and faculty, Snyder adds, “I wish you the best in this crazy time, and congratulations to the class of 2020!”