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MCB BIOpalooza: Meet the Incoming First-year Graduate Students!

MCB BIOpalooza: Meet the Incoming First-year Graduate Students!

This year’s virtual retreat, MCB BIOpalooza, will provide opportunities for the MCB community to meet the new incoming graduate students (and vice versa) through breakout sessions and through online community-building activities.

MCB BIOpalooza will begin on Wednesday, September 23 at noon with a panel discussion on the documentary film Picture a Scientist. The event will feature MIT biology professor Nancy Hopkins, History of Science chair Evelynn Hammonds, History of Science professor Sarah Richardson, and psychology graduate student Tessa Charlesworth of the Banaji Lab as panelists and  GSAS Dean for Academic Programs and Diversity Sheila Thomas and MCO student Paula Pelayo (G3) of MCB’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Task Force as co-moderators.

Watching the documentary before the panel is strongly recommended. MCB BIOpalooza registrants will receive an email with a link to stream the film on Friday, September 19. (More details below.)

Members of the MCB community are also encouraged to electronically greet the incoming graduate students (G1s), who will be rotating through MCB labs this year. The incoming class includes fourteen MCO graduate students, three graduate students from the OEB program, and one from the CCB program.

Below, we’ve included brief introductions to each of the incoming G1s in their own words:


Adriana Aguilar-Maldonado (MCO)

Hometown: Santa Rosa, California

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I was born and raised in Sonoma County, California. After high school, I decided to attend community college before attending a four-year university. I studied at Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) where I re-developed my love for science that I lost interest in during high school. I earned two degrees in Natural Sciences, A.S. and Biology, A.S. at SRJC before transferring to University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In December 2019, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Cell Biology and a minor in Marine Science from UCSD.

“During my time at SRJC and UCSD, I had the opportunity to partake in several research experiences, mentor students, and become involved in a couple outreach programs for STEM. I want to continue to mentor others during my time in graduate school.

“Scientifically, I have a broad level of interests within biology. I am interested in how cells interact with their environment during development, homeostasis, growth and more. Other scientific interests that I have include ocean/marine biology, botany, and ecology.

“One interesting fact about me is that I trained in Tae Kwon Do for 12 years and am a black belt.

“I also enjoy the outdoors a lot… anything involving hiking, camping, swimming, snow sports and much more!

“Several other of my favorite hobbies are watching and participating in comedy, board game nights with friends, hanging out with my beardie Rocky (lizard), drawing, attending concerts, and watching films and movies.”


David Anderson (MCO)

Hometown: Urbana, Illinois

Research Area: Biochemistry, Chemical, and Structural Biology

“I moved all over the country throughout my childhood making the hometown classification a little more difficult than it needed to be. While I was born in California, I subsequently moved to Colorado, Massachusetts, Illinois, and finally settled in Ohio for my undergrad at Kenyon College where I majored in Biology. From a young age, I knew I was going to be a biologist. I showed a special interest in coral reefs and marine biology as a child. However, my broad interest in biology has led me to study a range of questions. At Kenyon, I researched ion transporter expression within the principle osmoregulatory organs of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in Prof. Chris Gillen’s lab. After graduation, I came to Harvard and worked in Prof. Victoria D’Souza’s lab exploring how RNA structure influences programmed ribosomal frameshifting in coronaviruses. Moving forward, I am excited to sample the variety of labs MCO has to offer. I am leaning towards RNA biology and research with therapeutic applications.

“Outside of the lab, I enjoy playing soccer or basketball, reading, and hanging out with friends. I was an All-American soccer player at Kenyon, and I am currently enjoying the freedoms of retirement and the Boston men’s leagues. I am always excited to talk about science or personal development so if you see me please hit me with your favorite science fact, book recommendation, or life hack. I am happy to trade.”


Claire Ang (MCO)

Hometown: Albuquerque, New Mexico

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I was born in Fairfax, Virginia, where I lived for a lengthy six months before moving to Albuquerque, New Mexico. During undergrad I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I earned a B.S. in MCB and a minor in English. I’ve always loved observing living things, but when I took an introductory MCB class in college I started to realize just how complex and intricate biological systems really are, which crystallized my love for MCB. At the U of I I spent two and a half years conducting research in Steve Blanke’s microbiology lab. I worked on the biochemical characterization of bacterial multi-subunit genotoxin assembly using microscale thermophoresis. I also had the wonderful opportunity to teach physics lab courses, culture mammalian cells for an MCB lab course, and work on a research project examining LGBTQ representation in southern gothic literature. When I’m not working on coursework or doing research, I enjoy reading, writing, cooking, trying new foods, tending to my plants, and going for runs. During my time as a grad student I hope to continue teaching, cultivating my science communication skills, and exploring the reciprocal relationship between science and culture.”


Alan Baez Vazquez (MCO)

Hometown: Waterville, Maine

Research Area: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolutionary Biology

“My name is Alan Baez Vazquez and I was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. When I was eight years old, my family moved from Mexico to Maine due to a change in my mother’s career and in pursuit of better opportunities. Despite being born in Mexico, I consider Maine to be my home. I grew up attending Waterville public schools and got my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from The University of Maine in Orono. I originally enrolled at UMaine with the intent of pursuing a degree in chemical engineering; however, when I took a class on bacteriophage genomics (where we got to isolate and characterize our own novel bacteriophage!), I quickly realized I was pursuing the wrong career. My plans for the next five years are pretty flexible. I love to perform research; however, I am not entirely sure which specific area of biology I’d like to dedicate my PhD to. Most of my experience lies within the fields of toxicology and immunology; however, I have always wanted to explore genetics, genomics and their intersection with molecular biology. Due to this I am very excited to take advantage of the brief exploratory period that pre-rotations and rotations will bring about. When not performing science, I love to hike (Acadia National Park will always have a special place in my heart), run, play the flute and cook. I am very grateful for the opportunity to study here at Harvard and I am incredibly excited to begin this next life journey.”


Stephen Early (CCB)

Hometown: Groveland, Massachusetts

Research Area: Biochemistry, Chemical, and Structural Biology

“A native to Massachusetts, I grew up on the north shore prior to venturing out to the good ole Midwest to complete my undergraduate studies in Biochemistry and Bioengineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. There, I pursued research biophysically characterizing fundamental forces governing protein-carbohydrate affinity and developed chemical tools to probe quorum sensing systems in Gram-negative bacteria in the labs of Prof. Laura L. Kiessling and Prof. Helen Blackwell, respectively. I also spent summers in Cambridge, MA studying natural competence in B. subtilis with Prof. Briana Burton at Harvard (now at UW-Madison) and at the University of Oxford, U.K. in Prof. Nicole Zitzmann’s lab characterizing the efficacy of iminosugar natural products as antivirals against dengue.

“Yearning to return to the east coast and be back near the sea, I began as a Laboratory Technician in Prof. Daniel Kahne’s lab in Fall 2019 studying the lipopolysaccharide transport pathway and will continue at Harvard as a PhD student in the Chemical Biology program. Currently, I’m interested in applying techniques at the nexus of biochemistry and structural biology to answer fundamental questions about bacterial physiology. When not studying microbes, I enjoy wandering the Boston-area to find the best cup of coffee, going on long hikes, cultivating a fledgling house plant garden, and getting funky to 90s dream pop on the dance floor.”


Ethan Glantz (MCO)

Hometown: Short Hills, New Jersey

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I graduated from Brandeis University in 2017, where I majored in neuroscience. As far as my research past goes, I spent the last 5 years studying different aspects of behavioral neuroscience: 2 years at Brandeis studying questions in learning, memory, and decision making, and 3 years as a tech in the Crickmore lab (over in Longwood) studying multiple examples of behavioral flexibility in innate behavioral circuits. As far as my next 5 years in research is concerned, I honestly don’t know exactly what I want to study. For me, as long as I am able to spend my time making discoveries about cool, mysterious, and exciting phenomena regarding the basic fundamentals in biology, I will be very happy.”


Landen Gozashti (OEB)

Hometown: Penngrove, California

Research Area: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolutionary Biology

“I grew up in Petaluma, California, a small town just north of San Francisco and probably best known as the birthplace of Lagunitas Beer. My mom worked at UCSF researching melanoma and other skin cancers, and from a young age I expressed a profound interest in science, particularly in the origins of life. I studied Biomolecular Engineering at UC Santa Cruz and primarily worked in Russell Corbett-Detig’s lab and Scott Roy’s lab (at San Francisco State University) in a collaborative effort interrogating how transposons drive intron gain across diverse eukaryotes. For the past 6 months, in light of the current pandemic, I worked at the UCSC genomics institute, developing software to analyze and filter SARS-CoV-2 data using phylogenetics. My interests still remain very broad, and over the course of the next 5 years I plan to use comparative genomics methods to understand mammalian evolution across diverse lineages, and perhaps population genetics to focus on the evolution of particular traits. Outside of science, I like to travel, play soccer and hike.”


Fini Just (OEB)

Hometown: Vienna, Austria

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“Hello everyone, my name is Fini and I mainly use she, her pronouns. I am originally from Vienna, Austria, but spent two years of High School in New Mexico before going to undergrad in Maine. In undergrad, I studied the evolution of the genetic pathway that determines sexual dimorphisms in hemimetabolous insects in Dr. David Angelini’s lab. At Harvard, I am joining Dr. Cassandra Extavour’s lab where I will continue studies in the field of evolutionary and developmental biology. I am interested in how genetic pathways give rise to organismic form during development and how such pathways evolve to produce the fascinating diversity of organisms around us. I love this field of study because it combines understanding how things work on a small scale with integrating it with a bigger picture. It also makes me feel connected to the rest of the world because I continue to be reminded of my shared ancestry with other organisms. Outside of the lab, I love rock climbing and mountaineering, being active for environmental and social causes, and reading and writing poetry. I am also really interested in philosophy and history of science as well as neuroscience and astronomy. I hope to potentially pursue a secondary masters in one of those fields. I also love connecting with people and having long conversations. I look forward to meeting and getting to know all of you!”


Tammy Lan (MCO)

Hometown: Tainan, Taiwan

Research Area: Biochemistry, Chemical, and Structural Biology

“I was born in Taiwan, grew up in Scotland, did my undergraduate degree in bio in Germany, and am currently studying RNA secondary structure at the Whitehead Institute here in Cambridge. In graduate school I think I would like to study the construction/constitution of complex systems such as the immune system or the brain, preferably with some new experimental and computational skills that I can pick up.”


Saara Luna (MCO)

Hometown: Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Research Area: Engineering and Physical Biology

“Hi, I’m Saara!  I was born and raised in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, a small town 25 miles northwest of Harvard Square. I was homeschooled through high school, although I began taking many classes at the local community college during my high school years. Knowing that I could transfer many of my community college credits (thus allowing me more freedom to pursue my academic interests), I decided to attend UMass Lowell for my B.S. degree, graduating in 2020 with a double major in Biology and Physics and minors in Mathematics, Computer Science, and Biomedical Technology. Coming from a family of scientists and engineers, I was always interested in science, and I became enthralled with molecular biology in my early teenage years, a passion which has since continued. My interest in physics became apparent during my time at UML and I realized how well biology and physics intersected in the field of molecular biology.  As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work in two labs, where I studied gene family evolution using bioinformatics and programmed a radar system to collect range measurements.  Inspired by my interest in biology and physics and my undergraduate research experience in both fields, I am excitedly hoping to pursue research with a strong biophysics or bioengineering component in understanding cellular function and behavior. In my spare time, I enjoy playing the piano, baking, and spending time with my two cats! I am also half Finnish, and spoke Finnish as my first language.”


Aoyue Mao (MCO)

Hometown: Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I started my pursuit of the secrets of life from high school. I went for the biology Olympiad. I was selected to the International Biology Olympiad in 2016 and met future biologists from across the world.

“I obtained my BS degree in Biological Science from Peking University in 2020. I worked in Prof. Yulong Li’s lab for three years. The lab develops genetically-encoded sensors for detecting various neurotransmitters in vivo. I tried to use directed evolution to facilitate engineering of such sensors. I explored CRISPR base editors for the diversification of such sensors. I also tried to set up a continuous evolution cycle involving Sindbis virus for generating sensors with ideal ligand selectivity.

“I stayed in Professor Adam Cohen’s lab here during the 2019 summer. I took advantage of their self-built ultra widefield microscope for efficient photo-selection of outperforming sensor candidates.

“I am interested in translating scientific research progress into products that benefit human beings. I once worked as an intern in a company that aims at early diagnosis of neurodegenerative diseases by evaluating eye movements. I am now participating in another internship program in a brain-machine interface company.

“I like reading, listening to music, drinking tea, eating fish, hanging out and playing mahjong. I have volleyball experiences, so please expect to meet me at the Rhino League games!”


Cait Moffat (MCO)

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Development

“I was born in North Carolina, and (fast forward 18 years) attended UNC-Chapel Hill for my undergraduate education, where I studied Biology and Spanish. In undergrad, I got to participate in a two-months long research experience in the Galápagos Islands, which, along with working in a fly lab, made me realize I wanted to pursue science as a career. This led me to the National Institutes of Health, where I was a postbaccalaureate fellow for two years. I studied subcellular organelle size scaling and fell in love with cell biology and microscopy. I like cell biology because I think it highlights the ways in which organisms are more alike than they are different; I used budding yeast in my experiments and was constantly amazed at how many processes this single-celled eukaryotic organism shares with other organisms. I’m hoping my future research is creative and interdisciplinary and incorporates biochemistry, cell biology, and any new fields I learn along the way. Outside of work, you could find me cooking new foods (especially bread – shout out to yeast), playing cello, being in nature, or spending time with my cat, Ralphie.”


Alexa Pérez-Torres (MCO)

Hometown: Cidra, Puerto Rico

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I grew up in the thick of the tropics in a small town in Puerto Rico, where I spent most of my childhood exploring nature. When I was little, I was fascinated by land-snails and liked to observe what they ate and where they preferred to live. During my first-grade science fair, I was awarded the first-place prize for identifying that they really enjoyed tomatoes. These humble beginnings in science ultimately led me to many years later pursue my BS in Biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Cayey.

“After graduating, I  began to study the influence of cell cycle kinetics in the developing mammalian cortex as an NIH-funded PREP scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

“I’m currently interested in understanding cell-type specification and developing single-cell transcriptomics technologies to answer interesting biological questions in development.

“When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy spending time with my cat, going to the beach, and connecting to Puerto Rico through music. I’m a huge foodie and value the occasional lazy Sunday.”


Jonathan Perr (MCO)

Hometown: Mercer Island, Washington

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I was raised in Mercer Island, Washington by two dental professionals. My parents instilled in me not only a fear of enamel erosion but also a love of science. Consequently, when my dad was diagnosed with ALS in 2005, I looked to research as the key to ameliorating such devastating chronic illnesses. These factors ultimately inspired me to pursue a career in scientific research.

“After spending 18 years in Mercer Island’s highly insular community, I gladly welcomed the chance to branch out and relocate for my undergraduate education. However, I didn’t make it very far. I attended the University of Washington (a school only 20 minutes away from my childhood home) to study biochemistry and applied mathematics. Freshman year, I landed a position as an undergraduate researcher in Dr. Joshua Vaughan’s lab and began conducting research in super-resolution microscopy. This opportunity opened the door for collaboration with the Parrish Lab. There, I leveraged super-resolution microscopy to elucidate the developmental processes of somatosensory neurons in Drosophila. As I transition into the MCO research community, I hope to further delve into the field of neuroscience and follow my lifelong dream of combating neurodegenerative diseases.

“When I’m not in the lab, I often head for the mountains to ski, hike, or climb. I also greatly enjoy playing classical piano and tending to my collection of carnivorous plants.”


Joshua Price (MCO)

Hometown: Reading, Pennsylvania

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I was born in Reading, Pennsylvania where I also started my academic career at Reading Area Community College. I had no idea what to study, so I took the opposite approach: try to sample everything. While doing so, I took a general physics course where we mostly learned through performing and reflecting on experiments, and, leaving that course, I knew I wanted to stay in a field where I would have that continued sense of discovery.

“Transferring to Penn State, I majored in Biology and joined an environmental microbiology lab studying antibiotic resistant bacteria in local waterways. After graduating, I was a summer fellow at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, where I used yeast to create a calibration curve for the incorporation of deuterium into proteins. And, over the last year, I worked as a postbac at the National Institutes of Health studying Polycomb group protein recruitment in Drosophila melanogaster.

“Outside of research, I have a cat named Leo, a continuously expanding vinyl and CD collection, and an admiration for anything space related. My latest endeavors include watching the entire Star Trek series, exploring the world of poetry, and learning to speed cube. Overall, I am excited to learn about the diverse research happening at MCO and look forward to refining my interests.”


Carlos Rivera-López (MCO)

Hometown: Orocovis, Puerto Rico

Research Area: Cellular Biology, Neurobiology, and Developmental Biology

“I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where I also completed my undergraduate studies in the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM). I majored in Biology, and had the opportunity to research the genetic evolution of endangered species that are endemic to the Caribbean. One of my principal projects was focused on the Puerto Rican parrot, which suffered a critical genetic bottleneck in the 1970’s. As a result of our research, we were able to establish gene loci data that could help future endeavors towards the conservation of the species. Now, as a graduate student in the MCO program, I want to learn more about the intersection of Evolutionary and Developmental Biology.

“Outside of the lab, I work towards amplifying Latinx diversity and inclusion in STEM. As an undergraduate student at UPRM, I helped develop efforts to foster the curiosity of younger students and inspire them to strive for more. As a second focus, I aim to take advantage of my position as a graduate student to reach and support fellow Latinx peers interested in pursuing a career in STEM fields.

“In my free time, you can find me reading a fiction book, having a cup of coffee, enjoying the sunlight (weather permitting), or doing the three things at the same time.”


Abe Sabbarini (MCO)

Hometown: Topeka, Kansas

Research Area: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolutionary Biology

“I grew up in Kansas where I quickly cultivated an interest in biology through forensic science books. I was fascinated by the differences that could be detected among humans (even identical twins have distinct fingerprints!). This eventually led to me completing a degree in Biology at Washburn University, where I also experienced my first stint in research. Realizing my love for answering scientific questions, I spent the next two years as a research technician studying rapidly evolving selfish genes in the lab of Dr. Sarah Zanders.

“Over the next several years in the MCO program, I hope to explore new and unfamiliar areas of science. Being able to move from topics such as genetics and evolution to neurobiology would be exciting. Outside of the lab (and science in general), I enjoy cooking and playing basketball.”


Maya Woolfolk (OEB)

Hometown: Louisville, Kentucky

Research Area: Genetics, Genomics, and Evolutionary Biology

“I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and studied as an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky. At UK, I majored in Biology and minored in Math. Also during my time at UK, I joined Dr. Catherine Linnen’s lab, and studied the relationship between climate factors and spotting patterns in Neodiprion lecontei larvae. In the Hoekstra Lab, I am interested in understanding the role of adaptation in the process of speciation and development of reproductive isolation in Peromyscus. Overall, I still have broad interests, and I am looking forward to exploring other research areas. Other hobbies/interests of mine include crocheting, embroidery, spending time with friends and family, and reading.”


Please join us in welcoming these G1s to our community at MCB BIOpalooza!

MCB BIOpalooza’s first event will be a panel discussion of the film Picture a Scientist on Wednesday September 23 from 12:00pm-1:30pm. Viewing the film prior to the panel discussion is strongly encouraged.

 Picture a Scientist will be exclusively available for MCB BIOpalooza participants to stream, starting September 19. Everyone who registered for BIOpalooza will receive an email with a link to where the film is streaming from department event coordinator Camila Ossa or from [MCB_department_listserv].

Questions about MCB BIOpalooza should be directed to Camila Ossa at camila_ossa@harvard.edu.

Hope to see you there! And welcome to the new graduate students!