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Is a Ph.D. for Me? 2016 Symposium Speaker Bios

Program is available here. Speakers are listed in order of the program.

Susan Marqusee is a Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, Division of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, at the University of California, Berkeley. Marqusee received 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 Associate 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 community 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. 

Brian Castellano’s parents emigrated from the Philippines and he was born and raised in Central California. The first of his family to attend a four-year university, Brian received a degree in Chemistry with a Concentration in Biochemistry from San Jose State University (SJSU) in 2013. Brian has conducted undergraduate research at SJSU, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before attending graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB). Brian also has been involved in a variety of diversity outreach programs in the sciences: (1) a coordinator of the UCB NIH Bridges to Baccalaureate Program, (2) a local chapter board member of the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SJSU SACNAS and UCB SACNAS), (3) a steering committee member of Synberc Expanding Potential Program, and (4) a 2013 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Gilliam Fellow for his commitment to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the sciences.

Elaina Graham is a Ph. D student in Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography at the University of Southern California.  She received her B.S. in Cell and Molecular Biology, and her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of South Florida. While in undergrad she initially was following a pre-medical track with a dual focus in medical anthropology. After getting an opportunity to work with an environmental microbiology lab looking at karst estuaries she found a passion for the exploratory aspect of studying unique marine environments and shifted focus in her junior year. Following this she conducted research with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration through the Center for Coaster Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research on ecotoxicology of oil spill dispersants. She entered the program at USC immediately after graduation and is currently researching subsurface and deep sea microbial ecology with an emphasis on computational modeling and development of bioinformatics tools. 

Adena Issaian is a second year chemistry graduate student at the University of Irvine-California. Adena was a student at the Glendale Community College, after which, she transferred to the University of California-Los Angeles, where she received her B.S. degree in chemistry in 2014. Adena has been involved in research both at GCC and at UCLA as an undergraduate student. After starting graduate school at UC-Irvine in 2014, she joined the Blum lab where she is currently pursuing her Ph.D. Adena’s research involves developing synthetic methodology for organic reactions. Her recent project focused on the catalyst-free synthesis of borylated lactones through electrophilic oxyboration, which was published as a communication in Journal of American Chemical Society. 

Hurik Muradyan transferred from Glendale Community College in 2012 to UC Berkeley where she received a B.S. in Chemistry in the May of 2014. During her undergraduate studies, she worked in the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry in collaboration with Re-Materials, a start-up company whose goal was to develop an affordable and environmentally friendly roofing material for low-income areas in India. She then spent a year at City of Hope working on the development of a drug discovery platform. Currently, she is a graduate student at UC Irvine in Prof. Zhibin Guan’s lab focusing on the development of self-healing materials.

Irma Ortiz is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Riverside. Irma received her B.S. in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology from UCLA in 2011. She studied the interactions of a new plant growth-promoting bacterium (Bacillus simplex) and peas in Ann Hirsch’s laboratory. This full-time, research-intensive experience confirmed her passion for plant and biotic interactions and a life in research. She is currently a graduate student in Linda Walling’s laboratory. Her current research focuses on understanding resistance mechanisms to insects. In response to wounding and insect attack, tomato plants express toxic chemicals and anti-nutritive proteins that interfere with insect growth and development.

Alexandra Seletsky is a fourth year graduate student in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at the University of California, Berkeley.  She received her A.B. in Chemistry and Biology from Dartmouth College in 2009.  Following Alexandra’s undergraduate studies, she spent time as a research technician in the Bioprocess Development Department at Merck & Co, and the Genetic Perturbation Platform of the Broad Institute.   As a graduate student in the lab of Jennifer Doudna, Alexandra focuses on characterizing novel bacterial defense proteins and developing these proteins into research tools.  Beyond the lab bench, Alexandra is the finance co-chair for Expanding Your Horizons, a STEM conference for middle school girls.

Todd Yeates is a Professor at UCLA in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.  After attending Crescenta Valley High, he earned both his bachelor’s degree and PhD in biochemistry at UCLA.  He did postdoctoral research in San Diego at the Scripps Research Institute and then returned to UCLA as a member of the faculty in 1990.  Research in his laboratory combines molecular biology, computing, mathematics and engineering.  One of his main interests is in large subcellular structures formed by the assembly of many protein subunits.  His research group has elucidated the structure and function of extraordinary protein-based containers present in many bacterial cells, referred to as bacterial microcompartments.  These giant protein shells, composed of a few thousand protein subunits, encapsulate a series of enzymes, thereby functioning as metabolic organelles inside bacterial cells.  His laboratory has also developed methods to design novel protein molecules to self-assemble into specific geometric shapes, including cages and shells, with potential future applications in biomedicine and nanotechnology.  He also serves as the Associate Director of the Department of Energy Institute for Genomics and Proteomics at UCLA.

Kara Helmke Rogers is a Lecturer in Bioengineering at Stanford University. 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 of California Berkeley where she received her doctorate on research on mechanisms of cell division. She's spent the last several years educating high school and undergraduate students in biological research methods in a hands-on way, and in addition to teaching, she also works with students on career advising to prepare and help them find places in academia, industry, or elsewhere!

Carlos G. Gutiérrez, University President’s Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at California State University, Los Angeles (Cal State LA), grew up in Los Angeles and was educated in its public schools. As an undergraduate at UCLA (1967-71) he pursued interests in art, film, and literature before completing the BS in chemistry. He earned the PhD at the University of California, Davis in1975. He was appointed to the Chemistry & Biochemistry faculty at Cal State LA in 1976, and promoted to professor in 1984. Gutiérrez is a synthetic organic chemist. He and his students have developed new chemistry to design and synthesize molecular probes to study the details of iron acquisition, transport, and utilization by bacteria; and also selective magnetic resonance imaging contrast agents.

In partnership with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, Cal State LA established the Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE) Programs, with Gutiérrez as its founding director. Cal State LA MORE students have been very successful: they have co-authored over 800 publications in refereed journals. There are Cal State LA MORE alumni in PhD programs at top research universities nationwide, and scores have earned the PhD, including 116 in the past dozen years. He was the founding chair of the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Minority Affairs. The ACS Scholars Program was established during Gutiérrez’ tenure. Since 1995 this effort has helped develop the careers in the chemical sciences of 2,700 talented minority undergraduates.

Significant honors to Gutiérrez include a 2005 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching U.S. Professor of the Year, and a 1973 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Award in animation for the educational film “Antimatter”. President William J. Clinton honored him with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in 1996. He is a 2001 National Associate of the National Academies of Science; a 2002 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; and a 2013 Fellow of the American Chemical Society.

Additional Networking Lunch Participant(s):

Sherry Tsai is the Educational Outreach Director and Assistant Faculty at the Oak Crest Institute of Science in Monrovia.  She works to increase science literacy, engagement, career interest and preparedness among K-14 students in the Greater Los Angeles area.  Utilizing her expertise in the development, coordination, and evaluation of science education programs, she is involved in a wide variety of projects that serve local K-14 students and educators.  Sherry received a BS in Chemistry from Yale University and earned her PhD in Bioorganic Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology.  

Asmik Oganesyan, co-organizer of this symposium, is an assistant professor of chemistry at Glendale Community College. After completing her graduate work in electrochemistry and anti-corrosive coatings at Academy of Science of Armenia, she moved to US, where she continued her
education in the field of organic chemistry, earning M.S.  Prior to joining GCC, she managed research lab at CSULA where she mentored underrepresented students pursuing their career in STEM. At GCC, she pioneered and promoted undergraduate research, establishing the first hands-on organic synthetic research program in 2010. Since then, she trained about ninety students, who successfully continued participation in research at four-year universities. The program has received high recognition and the work of the students was presented at multiple regional and national conferences.  An evidence of the success of this program is the fact that ten alumni of the program are now working on their M.S./PhD in chemistry/biochemistry. 

Shelley Thai, co-organizer of this symposium, is an Associate Professor of Biology in the Biology Division at Glendale Community College. She received both a B.S. degree in Biology (1996) and a Ph.D. degree in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology (2004) from the University of California, Los Angeles. She was originally interested in medicine, but changed her career goal after conducting independent research in a plant lab as a second year undergraduate. After receiving her doctorate degree, Dr. Thai taught and helped to develop the curriculum for an undergraduate research-based course in the Life Sciences at UCLA and also taught Biology courses for the majors there and at CSULA. She then joined the faculty at GCC in 2007 where she used her innovative and creative ideas to establish a student-lead anatomy tutoring program and an undergraduate research program, which she is currently the coordinator. Many of her students have presented at research conferences. Dr. Thai and her students are studying the regulation of flagella biosynthesis by a master regulator in a plant growth-promoting bacterium Burkholderia unamae.