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Student & Postdoc Assoc.

Welcome to Synberc’s Student and Postdoc Association (SPA)! Our students and postdocs represent many of the best and the brightest in our field, and are an important part of the Synberc community. SPA membership is open to all interested students and postdocs in Synberc, including those from affiliated PI and non-PI laboratories. Download the SPA Insiders Guide

Contact the Executive Committee to get involved:

Kat Tarasova (MIT, Co-President). Kat is a fifth year graduate student in the Prather lab at MIT. Her research is focused on protein engineering an enzyme for improved substrate selectivity. She is excited to continue as Co-president of the SPA.


Rene Davis

René Daer (ASU, Co-President) René is a fifth year graduate student in Dr. Karmella Haynes' lab at Arizona State University. She studies the crosstalk between N-acyl homoserine lactone quorum sensing networks in bacteria as well as ways to engineer chromatin in mammalian genomes. She served as the SPA Social Chair last year and is excited to join Kat as Co-president.


Willy Voje (UW, Treasurer) - Willy is a graduate student in the Carothers Lab at UW. Willy's research is focused on rational engineering of RNA for predictable RNA part integration and novel RNA part design. He also served for the last two years as the SPA treasurer. Willy is responsible for managing the SPA budget.


Alex Westbrook (Cornell, Industry Liaison) Alex is a third year Ph.D. student at Cornell in the Lucks Lab. She uses RNA networks to construct bacteria that sense and respond to temporal pulses of inducers. As part of the SPA, Alex is responsible for managing the IAB-Student Mentoring program.


Ben Oakes (UC Berkeley, West Coast Industry Liaison) Ben is a third year, joint graduate student, in the labs of Dave Savage and Jennifer Doudna. He is interested in to using comprehensive protein engineering approaches to expand the functional repertoire of CRISPR associated proteins. Ben is responsible for organizing industry site visits on the west coast.


Sebastian Palacios (MIT, East Coast Industry Liaison) Sebastian is a Ph.D. student at MIT in the Synthetic Biology Center (SBC) and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL). His research focuses on engineering robust biomolecular sensing and computation in human cells.


Bernardo Cervantes (MIT, Diversity Liaison) Bernardo is a Ph.D student at MIT with research interests in the Synthetic Biology field. He has been a member of the Synberc community for the past 4 years as an undergraduate and staff researcher in John Dueber's Lab at U.C. Berkeley.


Prabha Ramakrishnan (Rice, Social Chair) Prabha is a graduate student in Jeff Tabor's lab at Rice University, working on engineering new optogenetic tools for controlling gene expression in bacteria. She is looking forward to organizing social events at upcoming Synberc retreats.


Christian Boehm

Christian R. Boehm (US-EU Liaison, University of Cambridge) Christian worked with Pam Silver (Harvard University) as an undergraduate and is now a PhD candidate with Jim Haseloff. Christian is Founder and Chair of the European Association of Students and Postdocs in Synthetic Biology (EUSynBioS), and responsible for developing transatlantic connections between young researchers in synthetic biology.


The SPA fosters interaction among postdocs, students, and PIs across Synberc labs and institutions. We also promote students’ professional development. Our executive committee oversees and plans our activities, often working closely with Synberc staff to coordinate events at conferences and retreats.

Everyone working in a Synberc-affiliated lab is considered a member of our community. You don’t have to be funded by Synberc to participate in our retreats, and in fact we often invite outside guests and potential new collaborators. Synberc has a “big tent” policy that allows for a diverse and inclusive research community that shares the goal of advancing the field for maximum benefit to researchers, our industry partners, and the general public. Each student and postdoc is encouraged to participate in SPA activities and is eligible to serve in a leadership or organizational role.