Graduate Student Profiles

Student Profiles

Sriram Srikan

Profile info

Home:

Chennai, India

Entering Class:

2011

Lab:

Gaudet, Rachelle & Murray, Andrew

Undergraduate School:

Indian Institute of Technology, Madras (Chemical Engineering)

Personal Statement:

A year ago, I walked away from being an engineer and entered the world of academia in Biology. In my time here, I have met and interacted with amazing scientists who have helped me identify and shape my interests. I enjoy the frequent ‘science chat’ with faculty and students alike and am fond of the journal clubs as great snippets of science in an informal setting. Outside of science, I collect comic books and relish my weekly trips to the bookstore with conversations on the latest events in the superhero multiverse. A year into a graduate school, I look forward to exploring the countryside, hiking and camping wherever possible.

Research Statement:

I am fascinated by the ability of biological molecules to coordinate and execute their functions to maintain the cell in a non-equilibrium ‘living’ state. By virtue of my undergraduate training, I view these problems through the lenses of an engineer, trying to understand the operating characteristics and specifications of these machines. I am particularly interested in the machinery present at the cell membrane that is used to sense and respond to the cell’s environment. As part of my doctoral research, I plan to study an ATP-consuming pheromone transporter essential for mating in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The introductory graduate classes in genetics and cell biology at MCB gave me a new appreciation for the diversity of living systems across evolution. For my current project and in the future, I want to take advantage of phylogenetic variation and structural principles to understand the mechanistic basis of molecular machines.

Publications:

Srikant S, Muralidharan SS, Natarajan U, Behavior of hydrogen bonding and structure of poly (acrylic acid) in water-ethanol solution investigated by explicit ion molecular dynamics simulations, Molecular Simulation. 2012.

Presentations:

Srikant S and Gsponer J (2010) ‘Transcript-level regulation, a codon-bias approach’ at the MITACS Globalink seminar.
Srikant S, Gaudet R and Murray A (2012) ‘Dissecting the mechanism of Ste6, an ABC transporter involved in Ste6 mating’ poster presented at the Dept. of MCB retreat

 

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Nichole Collins

Profile info

Home:

Aurora, IL

Entering Class:

2010

Lab:

Murray, Andrew

Undergraduate School:

Princeton University (Molecular Biology)

Personal Statement:

MCB has proved to be an excellent environment for me to explore a broad set of research opportunities. The depth and diversity of the department enabled me to transition to a field of research unknown to me before graduate school: experimental evolution. Outside of the lab, the Rhino league inspired me to take up volleyball again and now I play year-round with fellow graduate students in a community league. The Boston area is a wonderful place to live; I love running along the Charles river, apple-picking at local farms and going for walks through Boston’s South End.

Research Statement:

I am interested in how regulatory behaviors, which allow organisms to match their activities to environmental conditions, arise in evolution. Studying how organisms adapt to selection from environmental pressures is crucial to understanding and combating emerging diseases, resistance to antibiotics and antiviral therapies, and cancer resistance to chemotherapy. I am working to evolve a new connection between a stimulus, such as a change in an environmental variable, and a response in the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. My goal is to determine the genetic changes that give rise to the new connection and how the evolved mechanism depends on the parameters of the selection. I am committed to science education and I hope that this work can also help advance public understanding of evolution.

Publications:

Rivera A, Hohl TM, Collins N, Leiner I, Gallegos A, Saijo S, Coward JW, Iwakura Y, and Pamer EG. Dectin-1 diversifies Aspergillus fumigatus-specific T cell responses by inhibiting T helper type 1 CD4 T cell differentiation. (2011) J. Exp. Med. 208: 369-281
Rivera A, Collins N, Stephan MT, Lipuma L, Leiner I and Pamer EG. Aberrant tissue localization of fungus-specific CD4+ T cells in IL-10-deficient mice. (2009) J. Immunol. 183: 631-641.

Presentations:

Nichole Collins and Andrew Murray. Evolution of New Regulatory Behaviors. MCO Program Retreat, Harvard University. May 2012. (poster)
Nichole Collins and Andrew Murray. Teaching Old Yeast New Tricks: Associative Learning at the Cellular Level. Systems Biology Program Retreat, Harvard University. October 2011. (poster)
Nichole Collins, Ali Nouri, and Eric Wieschaus. APC Localization and Function in the Developing Neuron. Summer Undergraduate Research Program, Princeton University. August 2005. (poster)

Awards:

2012 National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship Recipient

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Alicia Darnell

Profile info

Home:

Pelham, NY

Entering Class:

2012

Lab:

O’Shea, Erin

Undergraduate School:

Yale University (Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry)

Personal Statement:

I love doing science-I still have very little idea which problems I want to spend my life solving, but thinking about the way things work on a cellular and molecular level makes me happy. So, I went to graduate school to become a great scientist. I wanted to find somewhere where I could realize that goal in the company of peers and mentors whom I hugely respected on an intellectual level and also very much enjoyed spending time with. The fulfillment of these two criteria by our Harvard MCO community is the reason that I have had such a wonderful time in graduate school so far. Outside of the lab, I like to go for long runs along the Charles River and hunt around Cambridge for really great whiskey – almost always in that order.

Research Statement:

My research interests and previous expereinces are pretty diverse. I have done research on the regenerative potential of the zebrafish auditory system, RNA alternative splicing defects in the motor neuron disease ALS, the role of an unusual viral noncoding RNA in regulating expression of the herpesvirus genome during infection, and solving the chemical structures of novel bioactive compounds produced by rainforest fungi. Here at Harvard, I study how cells are able to sense and respond to a fluctuating environment in the context of translational regulation during single amino acid starvation.

A unifying principle that has emerged from these experiences, is an interest in studying cellular signaling at the level of RNA regulation, and recently I have become interested in using quantitative and global methods of analysis such as ribosome profiling and RNA sequencing to decipher these systems. I look forward both to clarifying my specific passions as a scientist as well as expanding my interest into an even broader area in grad school.

Publications:

Borah S, Darricarrère N, Darnell A, Myoung J, Steitz JA (2011) A Viral Nuclear Noncoding RNA Binds Re-localized Poly(A) Binding Protein and Is Required for Late KSHV Gene Expression. PLoS Pathogens 7(10).

Presentations:

Alicia Darnell, Gillian Phillips, Kaury Kucera, Andrew Phillips, and Scott Strobel. “Chemical Diversity in the Rainforest: Discovery of an anti-Candida endophytic natural product.” :

  • Speaker at 2nd Annual Northeast Beckman Scholars Symposium, 2011.
  • Speaker at 1st and 2nd Annual Yale Science and Engineering Weekends, 2011 & 2012.
  • Poster at Beckman Scholars & Young Investigators Symposium, 2011.
  • Poster at Northeast Sigma Xi Undergraduate and Graduate Research Poster Conference, 2011.

Alicia Darnell, Arvind Subramaniam, and Erin O’Shea. “Nonoptimal response to amino acid deprivation in cancer cells.” : Poster at Harvard MCO Retreat, 2013.

 

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Ezgi Hacisuleyman

Profile info

Home:

Istanbul, Turkey

Entering Class:

2010

Lab:

Rinn, John

Undergraduate School:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Chemical Engineering, Biochemistry and Genetics)

Personal Statement:

MCB environment is very friendly and fosters a great unity among students as well as professors. Everyone is excited about science and is happy to share their research with others. Science here is collaborative. The intellectual dynamism is one of a kind. I met amazing people in the department, professors and students, who I have learned a lot from during the past 2 years and am still continuing to gain a lot from them. Besides the general aspects of the department, I love my own class. We have a very good group of friends that do so many different things outside lab.We hang out together pretty much all the time. Everyone is a different character that adds something to the group, which I like the most about our group. Besides lab, which does not leave that much time, I like trying out new bars and restaurants with friends, playing the violin, and drawing/painting. I just got a motorcycle, which I am very excited about. It will allow me to bond with other bikers in the department, who I did not know had bikes!

Research Statement:

My research focuses on a new class of RNA molecules, long noncoding RNAs (lncRNA). It is a very novel area of research. Not only RNA is an amazing molecule to work on but also the noncoding aspect of it makes my research more intriguing and exciting. We have discovered in the lab an lncRNA that is necessary for fat differentiation. I am hoping to figure out how it regulates this differentiation process from biochemical and structural perspectives. I am also using computational tools to investigate how it affects global gene regulation. It is an amazing feeling to work on some of these unknowns and unravel them.

Publications:

Hacisuleyman E, Cabili MN, Rinn JL. A Keystone for ncRNA. Genome Biology 13, 315-9
(May 25, 2012).

Sun L, Goff LA, Trapnell C, Alexander R, Hacisuleyman E, Sauvageau M, Tazon-Vega B, Kelley DR, Hendrickson DG, Yuan B, Kellis M, Lodish HF, Rinn JL. Long noncoding RNAs regulate adipogenesis. PNAS 110, 3387 (February 2013).

Ezgi Hacisuleyman, Loyal A Goff, Cole Trapnell, Richard Flavell, Harvey F Lodish, Arjun Raj, John Rinn. Topological organization of multi-chromosomal domains by linc-Firre. Nature. (in review).

Presentations:

  • Poster at the Molecular and Cellular Biology Retreat, October 2012. Biochemical Dissection and Localization Analysis of Functional Internally Repeating RNA Element (FIRRE).
  • Talk & poster at the Molecular and Cellular Biology Retreat, May 2012. Mechanistic
    dissection of a lncRNA-protein complex with a putative role in cellular differentiation.
  • Poster at the Keystone Symposium, April 2012. Large Intergenic ncRNAs (lincRNAs) in Cellular Differentiation.
  • Poster at the Molecular and Cellular Biology Retreat, October 2011. ncRNAs and the RNAbinding protein family, hnRNPs, as molecular scaffolds.
  • Poster at the Molecular and Cellular Biology Retreat, May 2011. Investigating Hedgehog-Mediated Cell Competition in Mouse Aggregation Chimeras. (*co-presenter Guo-Liang Chew)
  • Talk at Biology Undergraduate Symposium, 2010. Temporal and Concentration Requirements of Klf4 for reprogramming mouse fibroblasts to pluripotency.
  • Talk & poster, Novartis July 2009. Wnt pathway altered in pancreatic cancer.
  • Talk at the Undergraduate Chemical Engineering Meeting, 2010. Microfluidic Generation of Functional Magnetic Particles.

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Guo-Liang “Chewie” Chew

Profile info

Home:

Singapore

Entering Class:

2010

Lab:

Alex Schier

Undergraduate School:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( Biology)

Personal Statement:

Having been in the greater Boston area for the past 6+ years, I’ve been spoilt by an amazing scientific environment. The department has a broad range of research interests, and it’s easy to find collaborators/experts in a wide variety of topics either at Harvard itself, or other nearby institutes.

The MCO program has an amazing mix of students: very international, very different backgrounds, good mix of schools, resulting in a great diversity of ideas. It’s just the right size too, not so big that the faculty/upper-Gs don’t know every single one of you, but not so small that you can’t find a group of close friends to support you throughout your time here.

Students have a say too! Faculty and admin are very supportive of our ideas of how we can shape the program to be better for all of us. We’ve organized our own data clubs, have had opportunities to teach nano-courses to our peers, and have taken on organizational roles in our own program retreat.

Outside of lab, I ride, race and rebuild bicycles. I’ve been racing in the collegiate scene since my time at that institute down the street, and continue to enjoy doing so with Harvard’s cycling team.

Research Statement:

I am interested in how gene expression is regulated, especially in a developmental context: how does the developing organism go from a single cell to a multi-cellular organism with a head/tail, front/back, left/right, and how does it control the expression of its genome to do this. In particular, I am interested in gene regulation at the level of translation – how is translation tuned during development, and are these mechanisms necessary to buffer development in the face of genetic, stochastic and environmental variation?

Publications:

  • Site-specific N- and C-terminal labeling of a single polypeptide using sortases of different specificity.
    Antos JM, Chew GL, Guimaraes CP, Yoder NC, Grotenbreg GM, Popp MW, Ploegh HL.
    J Am Chem Soc. 2009 Aug 12;131(31):10800-1.
  • A straight path to circular proteins.
    Antos JM, Popp MW, Ernst R, Chew GL, Spooner E, Ploegh HL.
    J Biol Chem. 2009 Jun 5;284(23):16028-36.
  • Ribosome profiling reveals resemblance between long non-coding RNAs and 5′ leaders of coding RNAs.
    Chew GL, Pauli A, Rinn JL, Regev A, Schier AF, Valen E.
    Development. 2013 Jul;140(13):2828-34.

Presentations:

  • Poster at 2012 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Translational Control Meeting:
    Distinguishing Coding v. Non-Coding Transcripts and Identifying Novel Translated ORFs in the Zebrafish Developmental Transcriptome
  • Poster at 2012 MCO Retreat:
    Investigating Translational Regulation of Morphogen Interpretation During Early Vertebrate Development
  • Poster at 2011 MCO Retreat :
    Investigating Hedgehog-Mediated Cell Competition in Mouse Aggregation Chimeras (with Ezgi Hacisuleyman; tag-team rotation project)

Awards:

  • 2010 Peirce Fellow
  • 2011 Mazur Fellow
  • 2012-2015 Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Predoctoral Fellow

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Ania M Puszynska

Profile info

Home:

Zbychowo, Poland

Entering Class:

2009

Lab:

O’Shea, Erin

Undergraduate School:

University of Oxford (Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry)

Personal Statement:

I came to the Harvard MCO Program because of its inspiring people and the collegial environment that it can take pride in. In MCO you will meet faculty who will challenge you intellectually, support you and help you live-up to your potential, and a fantastic and very diverse group of fellow students who will definitely enrich your experience of graduate school. Despite a very broad range of scientific interests ranging from structural biology to systems neuroscience, I find the department a very close and collaborative community. The unique exposure to diverse topics across different fields of biology is also a big asset and I believe that it is an important part of the scientific education that MCO provides. I very much enjoy the scientific and cultural diversity that the program offers.

I love the experimental part of my work, but I also recognize the responsibility of a researcher to enhance the understanding of science outside the laboratory setting. There are various opportunities at Harvard to teach and to disseminate enthusiasm for scientific endeavors. Interacting with undergraduate students as a teaching fellow and participating in Harvard’s outreach initiatives have been truly rewarding experiences that have developed my skills and passion for communicating science.

For me the transition from a university in Europe to a graduate school in the U.S. was not too difficult. Harvard is an international community with a diverse graduate student body. In addition, the MCO program creates a welcoming environment and helps the new students bond. When I first arrived, I was immersed into a breadth of activities organized by the department, the dorms and the Dudley House that helped me settle in. The teaching style at Harvard is different from what I was used to in the UK, it is often based on group discussions and applied problems. While challenging at first, it complemented well my more theoretical knowledge and taught me new skills.

When not in the lab, I’m trying to pursue some of my other interests. Among many things I love are live music, movies and cooking. The university also offers a lot of extracurricular activities one could join. In my first year here I discovered that Harvard has the most amazing ceramics studio I’ve ever seen and I got hooked. I’m also a beginner cello player. Boston itself is an elegant and vibrant city full of music and art venues as well as beautiful historical sites. It’s definitely great to be so close to it.

Research Statement:

Research Statement The O’Shea lab is a very interdisciplinary environment and our interests span a broad range of topics. I really like the fact that my colleagues come from different scientific backgrounds and bring various areas of expertise to the lab. To me it is an important source of learning. I also like Erin’s mentoring style: she encourages a student to be independent from the get-go, at the same time being available for insightful discussions.

My research focuses on a circadian clock in a cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongatus. Circadian clocks are endogenous time-keeping mechanisms that synchronize physiology of a variety of organisms with environmental cycles. The bacterium that we are using in the lab is a powerful experimental system that allows for studies of the clock at a mechanistic level. My thesis project aims at identification and characterization of new components of clock complexes. I find questions relating to the molecular basis of circadian rhythms an exciting area of biology and I hope that my work will contribute to our understanding of underpinnings of cyanobacterial circadian oscillator.

Awards:

Harvard Distinction in Teaching Award for MCB 54

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Diego Baptista

Profile info

Home:

London, UK & Sacramento, CA

Entering Class:

2012

Lab:

Wagner, Gerhard (HMS)

Undergraduate School:

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and San Francisco State University (B.S. Chemistry and B.S. Biochemistry (CalPoly), M.S. Chemistry (SFSU))

Personal Statement:

I’ll be honest–I was hesitant to apply to a biology program because I was certain it would not be quantitative enough or have room for someone who only tangentially grazed the subject of biology. I was pleasantly surprised to be completely wrong about my preconceived judgments. This place is amazing. The diversity of scientists that make up the department is truly inspiring, and it facilitates a wide variety of meaningful perspectives to be applied to similar problems. As far as my deficiency in biological breadth, the faculty are incredibly supportive and have no qualms about taking extra time to make sure I understand things thoroughly. Even though I felt like an “outsider” prior to joining the department I now feel extremely welcomed by the many components of MCB.

The community at Harvard is phenomenal. There are simply too many interesting things happening here. Intellectually, you will never be bored. Outside of science there are quite a number of functions at the university to keep one occupied. For fun, I play for the Harvard Men’s Club Volleyball team–we play in tournaments and leagues all around the northeast!

As a West Coast man, I thought it would be hard to adjust to eastern living. Fortunately, Cambridge itself seems very similar to the Bay Area in many aspects. I am still exploring the area, but have found many things that keep me from missing home too terribly.

Research Statement:

I am interested in the physical basis of enzymes and proteins. This includes, but is not limited to, determining a relationship between protein structure and function, the structural dynamics of macromolecules, the molecular basis for cellular signaling and communication, and the apparent quantum mechanical properties present in macromolecular biological systems. I am extremely fascinated by novel methods to determine protein structure, especially those employed by experimental biophysicists. I believe understanding the physical chemical mechanisms underlying biologically relevant systems a powerful way to understand biology. My goal is to be able to develop an understanding of critical processes associated with detrimental disease on a molecular level. This, I believe, is the most powerful and functional way to develop successful clinical treatments for a wide variety of diseases.

Publications:

“LC/MS Characterization of Impurities and Degradation Products of a Potent Antitumor Peptidic Dimer, CU201.” Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis. 2010. 51(4). 824-33.

Presentations:

  • American Chemical Society National Meeting 2006
  • SACNAS 2011
  • ABRCMS 2011
  • Biophysical Society National Meeting 2012
  • American Chemical Society National Meeting 2012

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Mackenzie Amoroso

Profile info

Home:

Clovis, CA

Entering Class:

2012

Lab:

Uchida, Nao

Undergraduate School:

University of Oregon (General Science)

Personal Statement:

Harvard cultivates a stimulating academic atmosphere. The energy of the students, faculty, and MCB department is an extraordinary environment to do scientific research. Outside of lab I enjoy traveling, downhill skiing, and riding horses.

Research Statement:

Prior to joining MCB, I took time after my undergraduate studies to join a research team at Columbia University called Project A.L.S. There, I was part of a team that helped create in vitro models of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) using human stem cells. Here at Harvard, I have joined Nao Uchia’s laboratory and am studying the neural circuits underpinning learning and sensorimotor control.

Publications:

  • Diane B. Re, Virginia Le Verche, Changhao Yu, Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Kristin A. Politi, Sudarshan Phani, Burcin Ikiz, Lucas Hoffmann, Martijn Koolen, Tetsuya Nagata, Dimitra Papadimitriou, Peter Nagy, Hiroshi Mitsumoto, Shingo Kariya, Hynek Wichterle, Christopher E. Henderson, Serge Przedborski, Necroptosis Drives Motor Neuron Death in Models of Both Sporadic and Familial ALS, Neuron, 2014 81(5):1001-1008
  • Mackenzie W. Amoroso*, Gist F. Croft*, Damian Williams, Sean O’Keefe, Monica A. Carassco, Anne R. Davis, Tom Maniatis, Christopher E. Henderson, Hynek Wichterle. Accelerated high-yield generation of limb-innervating motor neurons from human stem cells. Journal of Neuroscience (2013) 33(2): 574-586.
  • Stephane Nedelec, Mirza Peljto, Peng Shi, Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Lance Kam, Hynek Wichterle. Concentration dependent requirement for local protein synthesis in motor neuron subtype specific response to axon guidance cues. Journal of Neuroscience (2012) 32(4): 1496-1506.
  • Gabriella L. Boulting*, Evangelos Kiskinis*, Gist F. Croft*, Mackenzie W. Amoroso*, Derek H. Oakley*, Brian J Wagner, Damian Williams, David J Kahler, Mariko Yamaki, Lance Davidow, Kit T. Rodolfa, John T. Dimos, Shravani Mikkilineni, Amy B MacDermott, Clifford Woolf, Christopher E. Henderson, Hynek Wichterle & Kevin C. Eggan. A functionally characterized test set of human induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature Biotechnology (2011) 29:279-286. *equal contribution
  • Christoph Bock, Evangelos Kiskinis, Griet Verstappen, Hongcang Gu, Gabriella Boulting, Zachary D. Smith, Michael Ziller, Gist F. Croft, Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Derek H. Oakley, Andreas Gnirke, Kevin Eggan, & Alexander Meissner. Reference Maps of Human ES and iPS Cell Variation Enable High-Throughput Characterization of Pluripotent Cell Lines. Cell (2011) 144: 439-452.
  • Tomonori Takazawa, Gist F. Croft, Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Lorenz Studer, Hynek Wichterle & Amy B. MacDermott. Maturation of spinal motor neurons derived from human embryonic stem cells. PLoS ONE (2012) 7(7):e40154.

Published Abstracts:

Kevin C Kanning, Hai Li, Elena Nikulina, Jianwei Hou, Wan S Yang, Artem Kaplan, John R Bermingham, Nuno J Lamas, Mackenzie W Amoroso, Hynek Wichterle, Marie T Filbin, Brent Stockwell, Christopher E Henderson. Making motor axons grow. International Journal of Developmental Neuroscience (2012) 30(8): 613-614.

Presentations:

  • Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Gist F Croft, Anne Davis, Christopher E. Henderson & Hynek Wichterle. Accelerated high-yield generation of limb-innervating motor neurons from human stem cells. Poster at Columbia University Stem Cell Day, May 7th, 2012 & NYSTEM Conference May, 2012.
  • V. Le Verche, D.B. Re, M.W.Amoroso, B. Ikiz, L. Hoffmann, C. Yu, H. Wichterle, C.E. Henderson, P. Lograsso, S. Przedborski. Human sporadic ALS and rodent familial ALS primary astrocytes are selectively toxic to spinal motor neurons through the same death pathway. Society for Neuroscience, Oct. 2012. #121.08
  • Gist F Croft, Mackenzie W. Amoroso, Anne Davis, Christopher E. Henderson & Hynek Wichterle. Defining and controlling human motor neuron diversity: in vivo and in vitro. Poster at P2ALS Annual Meeting New York. January 19th, 2011. NYSTEM Conference May, 2011.

Awards:

Awards: NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, 2013-2017, MCB Ernst Peralta Fund Award 2014

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Javier Alejandro Masis

Profile info

Home:

Cartago, Costa Rica & Potomac, Maryland

Entering Class:

2013

Lab:

Cox, David

Undergraduate School:

Princeton University (Molecular Biology)

Personal Statement:

I came to graduate school straight out of college because I knew I loved molecular biology, and because I knew I loved to learn. As an undergraduate I worked in a lab that transcended the boundaries of molecular biology. I understood the value of being fluent in multiple disciplines, and I decided that what I wanted was a graduate program that would train me holistically. MCO has not failed to deliver, and I am very excited for the training to come as I embark on my own personal projects.

Besides science, I also love music. I am a member of the Harvard Dudley House Jazz Band, and a cover band with Harvard undergrads called Bodyshout, and my college alternative rock band Burne Holiday, which regularly plays in NYC and soon in Boston. I regularly exercise at Hemengway Gym, and when it is not cold I play intramural soccer with the Dudley House team. I have also taken an interest in sailing, which is very popular in the area, and plan to spend the summer designing distortion pedals with a friend who will be starting his PhD in engineering at MIT in the fall.

Research Statement:

Very generally, I’m interested in behavior and how it is generated. A question like this can be answered through genetics, systems, and a number of other approaches, and this flexibility, which may be required to attempt to answer such a large question, is one of its appeals to me. My previous research at Princeton involved studying how the retina reacted to complex motions (such as object occlusion) and whether the neural firing corresponded to an encoding of the stimulus. How the brain represents objects, and how we solve complex problems such as object recognition, or making choices are questions that fascinate me.

The approach I would like to take to answer these questions requires some amount of quantitative skill, and I have already begun to strengthen my quantitative background here at MCB. Combining a sound biological intuition with a strong set of quantitative tools makes for a killer skill-set when trying to unlock the mysteries of the brain.

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Will Menegas

Profile info

Home:

Chicago, IL

Entering Class:

2012

Lab:

Uchida, Nao

Undergraduate School:

University of Chicago (Molecular and Cellular Biology, Philosophy)

Personal Statement:

So far, I am extremely happy here. And considering how many hours I’ve been slaving away at problem sets, late nights I’ve spent setting up ligations, and weekends I’ve had to come into lab to feed my cultured cells – that’s saying a lot! Since I arrived here, I’ve met all sorts of people with different interests, scientific and otherwise. This has caused me to start thinking about areas of research that I would never have previously given a second thought – like structural biology. But equally importantly, it has also led me to sample a wide range of activities outside of the lab. For example, over the summer, I played on my lab’s (highly competitive but only moderately skilled) volleyball team in heated matches against other assortments of graduate students, professors, and post-docs. Recently, I even tagged along with two other MCO students and tried competitive ballroom dancing! The initial data suggest that I should stick to pipetting.

The few times that I’ve actually left Cambridge since I arrived here, I really enjoyed myself as well. The surrounding neighborhoods are brimming with ‘authentic’ ethnic food and I hear that there are also several bars in the area. In Boston, I found that there was an excellent museum of fine arts and a very contemporary institute of contemporary art – both of which you can get into for free with a bit of planning. Additionally, after wading through a sea of tourists, I found Faneuil Hall / Quincey Market. In short, I will never want for pizza bagels, scallops covered in bacon, clam chowder, or delicious pastries while living in the greater Boston area. After stocking up on junk food, there are also a lot of outdoor attractions around the city. For example, there is a great series of live Shakespeare plays performed in the park that you only need to pay for if you want a comfortable seat.

Research Statement:

To me, the most appealing aspect of the research done here is that it questions the most basic mechanisms which underlie the most interesting biological phenomena. Also, it is great that there is a Chipotle within walking distance. The University of Chicago was miles from the nearest one.

As an undergraduate, I worked in a lab that studied morphogenesis in a Drosophila model for organogenesis. During that time, I was intensely focused on the specific questions that I was trying to answer and barely ever read papers that didn’t involve certain “key” proteins, pathways, or cellular behaviors. Since arriving here, the variety of topics I’ve been exposed to through classes and seminars have been transformative for me as a scientist. So far, I’ve rotated in a lab interested in modeling ALS in culture and a lab interested in reprogramming terminally differentiated cells. My next rotation will likely be in a lab that studies how synaptic specificity is achieved in the retina. I think that, no matter which lab I eventually join, I will be happy to be working in an environment that is intensely focused — but also cheerful and fun.

Publications:

A screen for round egg mutants in Drosophila identifies tricornered, furry, and misshapen as regulators of egg chamber elongation. Horne-Badovinac S, Hill J, Gerlach G 2nd, Menegas W, Bilder D. G3 (Bethesda). 2012 Mar;2(3):371-8.

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Brenda Marin- Rodriguez

Profile info

Home:

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Entering Class:

2013

Lab:

Dulac, Catherine

Undergraduate School:

University of California, Davis (Neurobiology, Physiology & Behavior (major) & Dramatic Arts (minor))

Personal Statement:

My experience in the MCO programs has been extremely positive. Though Cambridge seems to have some very unpredictable weather, this city is full of life and there is always some new adventure to embark on (after experiments are finished, of course). Though classes and labs are where most of my time is invested, my non-science interest are the following: sketching, watching musicals, singing karaoke, baking structural cakes and attempting water sports. The MCB department is also full of friendly people who have deep ties to science and beach volleyball. However, my favorite part of the MCO program thus far has been watching the comedic talents of my fellow classmates at the weekly Journal Club where they present scientific articles with a flair of performing and visual arts.

Research Statement:

My research interest are currently in elucidating the neural circuit of conserved social behaviors such as parental behavior in Mus musculus. Previously, my research interest were in understanding the role of conserved regions of the centromere-specific histone Cenh3 in Arabidopsis thaliana. Other research interest: organs regeneration.

Publications:

Brenda Marin-Rodriguez, Ravi Maruthachalam and Simon Chan. Can Point Mutations in Kinetochore Proteins Create Haploid Plants in Arabidopsis thaliana? Explorations: The UCDavis Undergradute Research Journal. Volume 16. 2014

Presentations:

  • ABRCMS 2012 – A Genetic Toolbox for Arabidopsis thaliana
  • ABRCMS 2011 – The influence of mating on the parental behavior of male mice: a time-dependent inhibition of infanticide
  • ABRCMS 2010 – Point Mutations in Kinetochore Proteins to Create Haploid Plants in Arabidopsis thaliana
  • UCDavis Undergraduate Research Conference(URC) 2012 – A Genetic Toolbox for Arabidopsis thaliana
  • URC 2011 – The influence of mating on the parental behavior of male mice: a time-dependent inhibition of infanticide
  • URC 2010 – Point Mutations in Kinetochore Proteins to Create Haploid Plants in Arabidopsis thaliana

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Jenelle Wallace

Profile info

Home:

Tucson, AZ

Entering Class:

2013

Lab:

Murthy, Venkatesh & Stevens, Beth

Undergraduate School:

Stanford University (Biology (Biophysics and Biochemistry)

Personal Statement:

I was born and raised in Tucson, Arizona, and completed my undergraduate studies at Stanford, so moving to Boston is an exciting change for me. I was naturally interested in science as a child, with many fond memories of creating baking soda and vinegar volcanoes and watching caterpillars develop into butterflies. I didn’t connect this fascination with the natural world with the class called “science” in school, until I reached high school. It is partly for this reason that I am passionate about improving science education through hands-on learning at all levels. I began my fascination with neuroscience in high school, when I got the wonderful opportunity to work in Dr. Carol Barnes’ lab at the University of Arizona. At Harvard, I am excited to combine the experience I gained in Karl Deisseroth’s lab during my undergraduate years at Stanford, with the techniques of optogenetics and CLARITY with my interests in brain development, behavior, and functional imaging at the molecular level.

Outside of the lab, I hope to continue my martial arts training, as I currently have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a green belt in Japanese Jujitsu. I also enjoy mediation through swimming as well as all sorts of outdoor activities, including rock climbing, hiking, and backpacking. If you can’t find me in the lab, you might try looking for me on a mountain top!

Research Statement:

During my time in Dr. Karl Deisseroth’s lab at Stanford, I worked on developing and applying innovative new tools for neuroscience research, such as optogenetics and tissue clearing method now know as CLARITY. At Harvard in the MCB Department, i hope to use some of these tools, among others, to answer basic neuroscience questions. In particular, during my first semester at Harvard, I have discovered an interest in neurodevelopment and plasticity, in particular how brain cells and circuits mature and change over time. During my first lab rotation with Takao Hensch, I studied this in the context of “critical periods” for the development of Neurobiology Department at the Medical School. I will explore similar questions from the perspective of the involvement of glial cells called microglia, which have been shown to be involved in synaptic pruning.

Publications:

  • Burke, Sara N., A. L. Hartzell, Saman Nematollahi, Ajay Uprety, Jenelle. L. Wallace, and Carol. A. Barnes.” Representation of Three-dimensional Objects by the Rat Perirhinal Cortex.” Hippocampus 22.10 (2012): 2032-044. Print.
  • Burke, Sara N., Jenelle. L. Wallace, A. L. Hartzell, Saman Nematollahi, K. Plange, and Carol. A. Barnes. “Age-associated Deficits in Pattern Separation Functions of the Perirhinal Cortex: A Cross-species Consensus.” Behavioral Neuroscience 125.6 (2011): 836-47. Print.
  • Burke, Sara N., Andrew P. Maurer, Saman Nematollahi, Ajay R. Uprety, Jenelle L. Wallace, and Carol A. Barnes. “The Influence of Objects on Place Field Expression and Size in Distal Hippocampal CA1.” Hippocampus (2011): 783-801. Print.
  • Burke, Sara N., Jenelle L. Wallace, Saman Nematollahi, Ajay R. Uprety, and Carol A. Barnes. “Pattern Separation Deficits May Contribute to Age-associated Recognition Impairments.” Behavioral Neuroscience 124.5 (2010): 559-73. Print.
  • Chung, Kwanghun, Jenelle Wallace, Sungyon Kim, Sandhiya Kalyanasundaram, Aaron Andalman, Tom J. Davidson, Kelly A. Zalocusky, Joanna Mattis, Sally Pak, Viviana Gradinaru, Hannah Bernstein, Julie Mirzabekov, Charu Ramakrishnan, and Karl Deisseroth. “CLARITY: molecular interrogation and fine structure of fully-assembled biological systems.” Nature.
  • Goshen, Inbal, Matthew Brodskey, Rohit Prakash, Jenelle Wallace, Viviana Gradinaru, Charu Ramakrishnan, and Karl Deisseroth. “Dynamics of Retrieval Strategies for Remote Memories.” Cell 147.3 (2011): 678-89. Print.
  • Schneider B., Wallace J., Pea, R. & Blickstein P. Preparing for Future Learning with a Tangible User Interface: the Case of Neuroscience. IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies.
  • Wallace, Jenelle. “Optogenetic activation and whole-brain imaging for astrocytes.” Stanford University Biology Department honors thesis. 10 May 2013.

Presentations:

  • Wallace, Jenelle. “Optogenetic activation and whole-brain imaging for astrocytes.” Poster presentation. Biology Achauer Honors Symposium. 17 May 2013.
  • Wallace, Jenelle. “Optogenetic activation and whole-brain imaging for astrocytes.” Poster presentation. Symposia of Undergraduate Research and Public Service. Stanford University. April 2013 (expected).
  • Schneider, B., Wallace, J., Pea, R., & Blikstein, P. BrainExplorer: An Innovative Tool for Teaching Neuroscience. ACM International Conference on Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces, ITS ’12. Boston, MA, USA: ACM.
  • Wallace, Jenelle. “Optogenetic Deconstruction of Dynamic Retrieval Strategies for Long-Term Memories.” Poster presentation. BioX Summer Research Symposium. Stanford University. 27 August 2011.

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