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Is a Ph.D. for Me? Symposium Speaker Bios

Susan Marqusee is a Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, at the University of California, Berkeley. Marqusee Susan Marquseereceived her A.B. in Physics and Chemistry from Cornell University in 1982, and her M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University in 1990. After a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT, she joined the UC Berkeley faculty as Assistant Professor in 1992, advancing to Associate and Full Professor in 1998 and 2001, respectively. Her research interests are in the field of protein folding, and in particular focuses on deciphering the structural and dynamic information encoded in the linear sequence of amino acids.  In addition to her academic and research roles, Marqusee serves as Berkeley’s Director for the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences and as Education Director for the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center.

Diana Bautista is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Bautista grew up in the inner city of Chicago. She is the first member of her family to graduate high school and attend college. She was initially a fine arts major but became interested in biology and chemistry after attending a public hearing in Chicago about dioxin in the Great Lakes.  She then moved to Eugene, Oregon, took Diana Bautistacommunity college classes and worked full time so that she could transfer to the University of Oregon. She received her Bachelors degree in Biology from the University of Oregon in 1995, her Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Stanford University in 2002 and was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Francisco from 2002-2007. She joined the faculty at UC Berkeley in 2008. Dr. Bautista’s lab studies the molecular mechanisms of itch, touch and pain. 

Shaila Kotadia is the Education and Outreach Manager at the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc), where she directs numerous programs at the pre-college through postdoctoral levels. Her strong interest in promoting undergraduate research within STEM fields is reflected in her stewardship of programs such as the Synberc Research Experience for Undergraduates and the “Paving the Way to Graduate School” workshop. Prior to joining Synberc, Dr. Kotadia was a Policy Fellow at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, where she coordinated advocacy Shaila Kotadiaactivities between academics and policymakers. Dr. Kotadia received her Ph.D. in genetics and development from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Her postdoctoral work at the University of California, Santa Cruz focused on cell division and chromosome segregation.

Catalina Casillas was born and raised in El Paso Texas where her interest in science was sparked by exploring nature, visiting museums, and reading books. Her love of science continued to grow with her, and after high school Catalina attended the University of Texas at Austin to pursue a degree in biology.  During college she worked at the University’s non-vertebrate paleontology lab for some time, and then had an amazing opportunity to do research in a fly development lab. After earning her Bachelor’s degree, Catalina immediately entered the MCB PhD program at UC Berkeley. She is currently working in Henk Roelink’s lab where she studies cell signaling in a developmental context.  In graduate school she has Catalina Casillasbecome more than just a scientist, she has become a mother, a writer, and a volunteer at preschools and elementary schools in Berkeley. After graduate school Catalina is interested in pursuing a career in science communication and education. 

Roberto Falcón-Banchs was born and raised in Puerto Rico where he did his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering (2014) at the University Of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM). He worked three years in the Diaz Lab (Rubén E. Díaz-Rivera, P.I.) designing and characterizing Roberto Falconmicrofluidic devices for hydrodynamic particle trapping. Roberto joined the UC Berkeley-UCSF joint Bio-Engineering Ph.D. program in 2014, currently doing research rotations. His research interest is the development of micro-devices aimed for both: point-of-care diagnostics and the integration of a variety of scientific tools. 

Sabriya Rosemond is the Diversity Fellow for Synberc where she works with Synberc’s diversity team to develop initiatives that are aimed to increase diversity in synthetic biology and in STEM fields at large. She is a recent graduate from University of California, Berkeley’s Molecular and Cell Biology program. Sabriya’s doctoral thesis focused on how distant regions of a protein Sabriya Rosemondare able to communicate and allow the protein to fold as a single unit. Her undergraduate education was completed at Hampton University. Sabriya is looking forward to a career that includes continued work to increase diversity in STEM fields, science education and science education research. 

Jennifer Soto is originally from Miami, FL, where she received her bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering from Florida International University. Eager to expand her research skills, Jennifer worked as a research associate for two years before moving to California. She is currently a fourth year graduate student pursuing a Jennifer SotoPhD in the UC Berkeley-UCSF graduate program in Bioengineering. As a member of the Cell and Tissue Engineering Lab, Jennifer's research focuses on understanding the role of biophysical factors on cell reprogramming. 

Elias Valdivia was raised in Los Angeles, California, where he started community college at Chaffey College. Then he transferred to UC Berkeley to earn a bachelor's degree in Microbiology. While attending Cal, he joined Elias ValdiviaDanielle Tullman-Ercek's lab, became fascinated with synthetic biology, and is a part of the Synberc Scholars cohort. Elias also participated in the MIT Summer Research Program in the lab of Ron Weiss. He plans to start graduate school in Fall of 2015 to earn a PhD from UC Berkeley.  

Jay Keasling received his B.S. in Chemistry and Biology from the University of Nebraska in 1986; his Ph. D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1991; and did post-doctoral work in Biochemistry at Stanford University from 1991-1992. Keasling joined the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley as an assistant professor in 1992, where he is currently the Hubbard Howe Distinguished Professor of Biochemical Engineering. Keasling is also a professor in the Department of Bioengineering at Berkeley, a Sr. Faculty Scientist and Associate Laboratory Jay KeaslingDirector of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Chief Executive Officer of the Joint BioEnergy Institute. Dr. Keasling’s research focuses on engineering microorganisms for environmentally friendly synthesis of small molecules or degradation of environmental contaminants. Keasling’s laboratory has engineered bacteria and yeast to produce polymers, a precursor to the anti-malarial drug artemisinin, and advanced biofuels and soil microorganisms to accumulate uranium and to degrade nerve agents.

Stacy-Anne Morgan was born in Toronto, Canada but raised in Kingston, Jamaica. Stacy completed her MSc. (2005) and Ph.D. (2010) degrees in the laboratory of Professor Andrew Woolley in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Toronto where her thesis work focused on Stacy-Anne Morganengineering photocontrolled DNA-binding proteins. Since November 2011, she has been a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. David Savage's group at the University of California, Berkeley where she works on developing genetically encoded fluorescent sensors for various metabolites.

Kara Helmke is the Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Systems and Synthetic Biology at the University of California San Francisco. Originally from Texas, she attended the University of Texas at Austin for her undergraduate studies in both Biology and Liberal Arts. From there, she moved directly into a PhD program in Molecular and Cell Biology at the University Kara Helmkeof California Berkeley where she received her doctorate on research on mechanisms of cell division. Her position at UCSF helps to put graduating high school seniors and interested undergraduates in research positions in quantitative biosciences, and she also acts as the coordinator for the UCSF iGEM team.

David A. Weisblat is a Professor of Cell & Developmental Biology in the Dept. of Molecular & Cell Biology at Berkeley. His research group studies the developmental biology of leech embryos, and the changes in developmental processes associated with the evolution of different animal body plans. These scientific David Weisblatinterests are based in a natural history background acquired growing up in rural Kalamazoo County, Michigan. After undergraduate and graduate studies at Harvard College and Caltech, he came to Berkeley in 1976 for postdoctoral studies, during which he pioneered the development of techniques for high resolution embryonic cell lineage tracing. From 2006-2013, he was Program Director for an NSF REU Site in Cell, Developmental and Evolutionary Biology at Berkeley; in 2014, he was recognized with Berkeley's Leon A. Henkin Award for efforts in the educational development of students from groups under-represented in academia. Outside interests include carpentry, cooking, cycling and native plants gardening.Pam McLeod

Pam McLeod, Ph.D. is the Education & Outreach Director for the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (ERC) for Re-inventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (ReNUWIt). She works in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department at Stanford University [ReNUWIt lead institution], supporting ReNUWIt Pam McLeodresearchers and programs at Stanford, UC-Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines, and New Mexico State University. She holds a PhD in Environmental Engineering from Stanford. Her professional interests include using water science and engineering to inspire young learners, and applying improvisation techniques to increase the effectiveness of science communicators.

Yulianna Ortega is the STEM Diversity Programs Acting Director at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). She completed her undergraduate studies in Biology and Latin America Latino Studies at UCSC. Yulianna has been working with the STEM Diversity programs since 2005 and has former experience as a participant in the Yulianna Ortegaprogram during her undergraduate science career. The STEM Diversity programs are funded by NIH, NSF, and UCOP and are comprised of MARC, IMSD, PREP, CAMP and UC Leads. Through these programs, Yulianna provides year-round student support and services to advance under represented students in science research careers. These services include but are not limited to student financial assistance for research training, professional development opportunities, workshops and advising students on selecting and applying to graduate programs.

Meltem Erol is the Director of Engineering Graduate Outreach in the College of Engineering at UC Berkeley. She advises undergraduates on how they need to Meltem Erolprepare in order to be competitive for graduate engineering programs, both MS and PhD. She offers workshops both on campus and at other institutions on the graduate admissions process as well as provide advising to  students individually. Prior to joining the College of Engineering, Meltem worked for a multi-campus NSF nanoscience center, the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems (COINS) for 5 years as their Education, Outreach and Diversity Director.

Blake Riggs is an assistant professor in the Department of Biology at San Francisco State University (SFSU).  Dr. Riggs grew up in South Los Angeles and through volunteer efforts with his father in the American Cetacean Society; he initially wanted to be a marine biologist.  He attended UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) and became a Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) scholar and did undergraduate research in Dolphin physiology.  He received a Bachelors degree in Marine Biology from UCSC, but was fascinated with the idea of cell Blake Riggsdivision.  After several exhaustive attempts on applying to PhD programs in Marine Biology without any success, he decided to switch fields and pursue this interest in cell biology.  He applied to both doctorate and master’s programs in cell and molecular biology and was accepted in the Master’s program in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology (MCD) at UCSC.  He continued in the program, eventually receiving a PhD in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology on research involving role of intracellular membrane transport on cell division.  Dr. Riggs was postdoctoral fellow from 2006 – 2009 at UC Berkeley and joined the faculty at San Francisco State University in 2010.  Dr. Riggs’ laboratory studies the molecular pathway involved in organelle inheritance during cell division.

Carisa Noelani Orwig is a graduate student advisor who manages the Chemical Biology Graduate Program at UC Berkeley. She works with QB3's interdisciplinary graduate programs to recruit and retain diverse students, and is an advisor to the Berkeley undergraduate chapter of the Society For the Advancement of Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).  She attends the SACNAS and American Biomedical Research Conference for Minorities in Science (ABRCMS)Carisa Orwig conferences annually, so please stop by the Berkeley booth and say hi!  Originally from Hawaii, she received her degree from Texas A&M University, has taught English to grades 1-12 and worked at several biotech companies before joining UCB where she has been answering questions about how to apply to graduate school and how to select which graduate program to apply to for the past 10 years.