Our graduate student ambassadors are a dedicated group of current students serving as liaisons between the Biological and Biomedical Sciences (BBS) graduate program and prospective students all over the world. They are here to share their personal perspectives and experiences as a BBS graduate student with you via email. Please feel free to contact them by clicking on their name or picture.
Please note that questions related to administrative matters can be directed to the BSS Office of Graduate Education.
|Wisler Charles||Ph.D. Candidate in Immunology and Infectious Disease|
|Ezen Choo||Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology|
|Sara Cohen||Ph.D. Candidate in Immunology and Infectious Disease|
|Elizabeth Craig||Ph.D. Candidate in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation|
Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology
|Dr. Alice Lee||DVM, Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Biomedical Sciences|
|Sabine Mann||Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Biomedical Sciences|
|John McElwee||Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Biomedical Sciences|
|Dr. Sunish Mohanan||MS, DVM, Diplomate ACVP, Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Biomedical Sciences|
|Lara Mouttham||Ph.D. Candidate in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation|
|Jennifer Nagashima||Ph.D. Candidate in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation|
|John O'Donnell||Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology|
|Kristeen Pareja||Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology|
|Siddhartha Sinha||Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular and Integrative Physiology|
|Melissa Toledo||Ph.D. Candidate in Molecular and Integrative Physiology|
|Jocelyn Wang||Ph.D. Candidate in Pharmacology|
I am originally from Palm Beach, FL and ended up in San Diego, CA via the military (USMC). Once I had completed my contract with the military, I attended the University of California, San Diego for my undergraduate degree. I majored in Biochemistry and Cell biology. It was there I had my first experience in research in UCSD’s department of surgery. This experience helped guide my interests in heat shock proteins and their roles in Immunology in relation to various stresses and infections. My experiences at UCSD afforded me the opportunity to work as a research assistant at BD Biosciences Pharmingen. My involvement at BD motivated me to further pursue a PhD. On my down time I enjoy travelling, tinkering around with and repairing electronics, and hanging out with my fellow grad students.
I decided to come to Cornell because I have access to great faculty and advisors that I can periodically reach out to. Everyone is very approachable and collaborations are super easy to setup. With many great facilities here, I have access to many tools that I can use to continue my research. At this time, in collaboration of two labs, I am pursuing my interest in mCMV and its mechanism of infection in the brain and its possible ties to neurological disorders. In parallel, I am learning how to use new and innovative imaging tools to add to my arsenal.
I am originally from California and completed a B.S. in Environmental Toxicology at the University of California, Davis. As an undergraduate, I was fortunate enough to conduct independent research in the UCD Department of Environmental Toxicology. After graduating, I pursued my interests in research and worked as a research assistant for ArKal Medical, a bio tech start up in Silicon Valley. Before coming to Cornell, I also worked in science education for WestEd, a nonprofit in education research and development. I decided to come to Cornell University because of the many resources available to get me through graduate studies as smoothly as possible such as the faculty, administration, peers, on and off-campus research facilities, teaching workshops, professional development, and more.
am originally from San Francisco and went to Cornell for my
undergraduate career where I majored in Microbiology. After graduating I
spent 1.5 years in the Tennessee Department of Health as an EID fellow
where I examined the prevalence of tick-borne and mosquito-borne
diseases throughout the state. Having always had a strong interest in
disease pathogenesis, I came to back to Cornell for my graduate studies
to better understand the immune system's role in preventing disease. I
was attracted to the program by the depth of faculty research on
I am now studying the mechanisms of host defense against the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, a ubiquitous parasite that can be fatal to immunocompromised individuals, such as AIDS patients. It elicits a potent T-cell mediated immune response, that in healthy individuals, can protect from disease. One aspect of my research is examining the role of a chemokine receptor (CXCR3) in promoting resistance to disease by regulating the recruitment of T-cells to sites of inflammation. I'm also using T. gondii as a model for inflammatory bowel disease as it induces necrosis of the small intestine resembling Crohn's disease. Using this model, I am particularly interested in the role of the Wnt signaling pathway in mediating intestinal inflammation versus tolerance following infection.
Elizabeth Craig, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Paul Curtis
My name is Elizabeth Craig, originally from Mendham, New Jersey. I studied as an undergraduate at Columbia University in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology. As an undergraduate, I conducted research on the influences of waterbirds (specifically cormorants, herons and egrets) on the understory environments beneath their nests on islands in New York Harbor. This led to a series of projects on New York City waterbirds, and inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in Zoology and Wildlife Conservation at Cornell.
Based on my experience working with waterbirds in New York Harbor, I decided to pursue further research on waterbirds in New York City and beyond for my Ph.D. I use stable isotope analysis to explore the foraging behavior and diet of birds, and use this information to make further inferences about the influence of diet and foraging habitat on the condition and reproductive success of these animals. I began my dissertation research in New York Harbor, using stable isotope analysis to determine the predominant foraging habitats of a suite of waterbird species nesting on several islands in the lower New York Harbor, East River, and Croton Reservoir system. This study has provided resource managers with new and valuable information about the critical foraging habitat types used by these urban waterbirds. I am currently focusing on using stable isotope analysis to determine the predominant winter foraging habitats of Double-crested Cormorants (foraging in marine, aquaculture, and/or natural freshwater habitats), and linking this with the condition and reproductive success of these birds on the breeding grounds. This research has applications for the mediation of human-wildlife conflict, particularly concerning cormorant interactions with aquaculture, and also addresses basic biological questions about the influence of seasonal interactions in the life histories of migratory birds.
Sachi Horibata, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Scott Coonrod
I am a Japanese-Filipina who spent most of my childhood in Asia. I obtained my undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and it was here I decided to do ovarian cancer research when my grandmother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer; I hope to help her in any way I could but she later passed away. I also have research experience working at an Ebola and avian influenza virus lab, a nanotechnology lab (where I used antibody coated colloidal gold nanoparticle to target cancer with hyperthermia), and was a medical laboratory technologist. I love to balance my life, so aside from science, I enjoy watching baseball, baking, having picnics, watching movies, and going shopping with my friends!
Under the guidance of Dr. Scott Coonrod, I have started a project focusing on elucidating the mechanisms regulating the differential expression of the PAD2 isoforms during mammary tumor progression and its potential role in regulating HER2 mediated transcription. PAD2 is the ancestral homologue and one of the peptidylarginine deiminases (PADs) family, which are calcium-dependent enzymes that post-translationally convert positively charged arginine to neutrally charged citrulline in a process called citrullination. The modification results in wide-ranging effects on target protein structure, function, and protein-protein interactions, and dysregulation is often associated with multiple diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, we found that PAD2 expression and activity is sharply elevated in several aggressive forms of breast cancer and interestingly, my preliminary studies suggest differential expression of two PAD2 isoforms, PAD2 long (PAD2L) and PAD2 short (PAD2S). I hypothesize that the differential expression pattern appears to correlate with tumorigenicity of the cells and specifically, the induction of PAD2L is involve in cellular transformation in mammary tissues.
Dr. Alice Lee, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Dwight Bowman
I was born in Taiwan and grew up in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from veterinary school, I briefly entered general practice before deciding to delve into research, which naturally led me into the PhD program here at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine. My ultimate goal is to remain in academia where I can help train future veterinarians and find better ways to diagnose and prevent parasitic diseases in animals. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, music, world travel, and playing intramural sports with my fellow students and colleagues!
I currently have two research focuses. One project explores the effect on mice of a co-infection with the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, which produces a Th1 immune response in its host, and the helminth Toxocara canis, which induces a Th2 response. Studies have demonstrated the immunomodulatory effects that various parasitic infections can have on pre-existing conditions (e.g., patients with the Th1-mediated Crohn’s disease experience clinical improvement after infection with Th2-promoting whipworms). T. gondii and T. canis are common veterinary parasites that are of particular interest because they can also cause disease in people. I am investigating how the host immune response to one parasite is affected by pre-infection with the other, how parasite kinetics change under those circumstances, and whether co-infection results in greater morbidity/mortality compared to either parasitism alone. My second project is the development and validation of a non-invasive means of determining the efficacy of canine deworming medications. Current FDA standards for dewormer licensure require that dogs be euthanized to recover adult worms from treated and untreated groups in order to prove efficacy. I am evaluating alternative quantification methods – such as using conventional and capsule endoscopy to image the small bowel of live dogs – in the hopes of one day replacing the accepted standard.
As a vet, I enjoyed working with many different animal species. After graduating from Hanover School of Veterinary Medicine in my home country of Germany, I did my internship and started my residency at the Ambulatory department of Cornell working with large animals. to experience a different setting, I continuted my residency in bovine heard health management in the runimant clinic of the LMU Munich, Germany. I completed my residency in 2011 and became a Diplomate of the European College of Bovine Health Management in 2012. But, I could not stay away from Ithaca and the many things Cornell has to offer, so when I had decided that I wanted to pursue a PhD to reach my goal of obtaining a position in academia, I knew this was the place to go. I am currently enrolled in the first year of the Comparative Biomedical Sciences program here at Cornell.
To enhance the knowledge in veterinary medicine and helping to find strategies for the prevention of cattle diseases are the primary objectives of my graduate work. Right now I am focusing on the epidemiology and mechanisms of the metabolic disease around the time of calving. Through Cornell's possibilities of collaboration both within the BBS program and across the whole university I have an ideal environment to achieve my goal.
John McElwee, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Scott Conrood
I first came to Cornell University after graduating from Binghamton University, as my first job was as a laboratory technician in the Aguirre/Acland lab studying the genetics of canine hereditary disorders affecting the eye. To experience different areas of research, I also worked in the laboratories of Dr. Alex Travis and Dr. Antje Baeumner, where I studied reproductive biology and biotechnology/biosensors respectively. While my time at Cornell was both educational and enlightening, I wanted to experience what science had to offer outside of the Ivory Tower, and moved on to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. It was at Regeneron, where I worked on mouse models of disease, including cancer, that I decided to return to Cornell University to pursue a PhD in Comparative Biomedical Sciences (CBS) concentrating on the field of cancer research.
The primary goal of my current research, conducted in the laboratory of Dr. Scott Coonrod, is to elucidate the role of peptidylarginine deiminases (PADIs) in the development and progression of breast cancer. The PADIs are a family of enzymes that catalyze the citrullination, or deimination, of positively charged arginine residues to uncharged citrulline. This biochemical change can cause wide-ranging effects on target protein structure, function, and protein-protein interactions. Protein citrullination, a poorly understood post-translational modification, has recently gained increased attention due to its proposed role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, and various adenocarcinomas in humans. To elucidate the role of PADIs in breast cancer, I have investigated breast cancer cell-lines, tumor xenografted mice, and transgenic mouse models of breast cancer using a combination of genetics, genomics, and molecular biology approaches. Through my work, I have been able to show that PADI2 expression is upregulated during breast cancer progression, is highly correlated with HER2 expression in tumors, and that specific inhibition of PADI activity using the small-molecule Cl-amidine has anti-tumor effects both in vitro and in vivo. Currently, I am in the process of validating transgenic mice I have generated that will specifically overexpress PADI2 in the mammary epithelium under the control of the MMTV promoter. Given the critical role of EGFR mediated-signaling in vertebrate development and oncogenesis, I believe my current mouse studies will ultimately demonstrate that PADI2 functions as a downstream mediator of EGFR and/or HER2; thus, firmly linking PADI biology with mammary tumor progression in vivo.
Dr. Sunish Mohanan, MS, DVM, Diplomate ACVP, Mentor - Dr. Scott Conrood
I obtained my veterinary doctoral degree from India. Following graduation, I completed a Masters program in muscle biology from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a two year post-DVM research fellowship in smooth muscle molecular pathology from University of Pennsylvania. My anatomic veterinary pathology residency training from Wake Forest University School of Medicine focused on nonhuman primate and rodent pathology and I went onto successfully complete the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) Board examination. My broad research interests include cancer epigenetics and therapeutics, three dimensional models of metastasis, and role of obesity in increased recurrence of breast cancer.
The excellent translational research team and the collaborative research environment at Cornell University attracted me to join CBS Ph.D. program. My current research as a post-DVM graduate student in Cornell Biomedical Sciences focuses on the role of inflammatory microenvironment in breast cancer progression.
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer related deaths for the women in the US. The Coonrod lab studies the role of peptidylarginine deiminases (PADIs ,also called PADs) in development and cancer progression. These are a family of calcium dependent PTM enzymes that convert positively charged arginine residues to neutrally charged citrulline on target proteins. We had discovered that specific isoforms of PADI enzymes are being altered during breast cancer progression, especially in comedo-DCIS. This is a more aggressive and invasive form among the early breast cancer lesions, in which cancer cells grow rapidly within a duct and show large intraductal necrosis. My main project focuses on the role of citrullination by PADIs in modifying the breast cancer microenvironment and assisting in progression to invasive carcinoma.
I have successfully developed collaborative research initiatives with Biomedical Engineering and Biophysics departments. As a board-certified pathologist, I also enjoy providing histopathologic input towards various ongoing projects in collaborating labs both at the Ithaca campus and at the Weill School of Medicine.
Lara Mouttham, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Joanne Fortune
My passion in life is studying exotic animals, and in particular reproduction and conservation of endangered species. As part of my Master's degree, I worked in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Zoo to study the reproductive physiology of African elephants. Since then, I have dedicated myself to researching assisted reproductive techniques that will benefit wildlife conservation. I am thrilled to be a part of the Cornell-Smithsonian joint program in the field of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, where I am studying gamete rescue in carnivores and will be able to have an impact on numerous animal species.
My research project centers around gamete rescue. It consists of retrieving the ovaries from recently deceased or spayed females, and growing the eggs in vitro until they are mature enough for in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer into a surrogate mother. It allows us to pass on that female's genes despite her not being alive anymore, and as such can have huge impacts on wildlife conservation of endangered species. In addition, we are developing cryopreservation protocols which would allow us to indefinitely preserve ovarian tissue containing the eggs until a suitable match can be found for that female, or as genetic banking for safekeeping
Jennifer Nagashima, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Alex Travis
I am from sunny warm Southern California (Palm Spring region, to be specific). I am currently a second-year in the field of Zoology and Wildlife Conservation, and one of the students in the new Joint Graduate Training Program with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. I was an Animal Science major at Cornell for undergrad as well, so I am happy to answer any questions about my second home (Go Big Red! :)
Nine of the 36 species of canids are listed as either threatened or endangered; any many more will likely be in danger soon due to habitat loss, persecution and domestic dog diseases. I am looking at mechanisms controlling oocyte/egg development in the domestic dog, information which could then be applied to species survival programs in animals like the Maned Wolf or African Wild Dog. My project is a combination of in vivo work in hormone monitoring, artificial insemination, etc., and in vitro work in follicle and oocyte culture, as well as in vitro fertilization (IVF). My goal is to better understand female dog reproduction in order to develop assisted reproduction techniques for use in endangered animal conservation.
John O'Donnell, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Holger Sondermann
I grew up in middle of nowhere Pennsylvania and continued this geographic theme during my college years at Juniata College where I studied Molecular Biology and Art History. This is when I fell in love with the complexities of life and the physical laws that govern it. I decided on Cornell University for multiple reasons, but the most important are the caliber of research being conducted and the magnitude of interdisciplinary and collaborative projects. Having access to leaders in dissimilar fields of study and being able to use their expertise in order to answer unique questions in the life sciences is invaluable. Outside of science, most of my time is spent outdoors, aspiring to be a chef, and reading everything I can get my hands on.
My first taste for research was at Juniata College where I was interested in the regulation of an endogenous yeast retrotransposon. My work delineated a regulation pathway between proteins that suppress dNTP concentrations and retrotransposon mobility. For my second undergraduate research experience, I held an internship with the Department of Homeland Security. My project was to optimize assays that could be used for the detection of pathogens and biological toxins. At Cornell University, I have rotated with Dr. Rick Cerione, Dr. Carolyn Sevier, and Dr. Holger Sondermann. With Dr. Cerione, I worked on a novel signal transduction mechanism to understand how plasma membrane lipid composition influences the activity of a potent tumor suppressor. While working with Dr. Sevier, I was interested in the structural basis for how cells protect themselves against redox imbalances. To answer this, I used x-ray crystallography to solve the structures of four interesting Hsc70 variants. These structures will help explain a novel post-translational modification and the subsequent functional changes of HSP-family proteins. I joined Dr. Sondermann’s laboratory for my PhD and aim to characterize how a particular group of proteins can synthesize and degrade the compound c-di-GMP in bacterial cells. The level of c-di-GMP is indicative of the formation of biofilms; thus, we strive to solve a unique molecular mechanism and potentially elucidate an entry point for combating these networks of bacteria.
Kristeen Pareja, Ph.D. Candidate, Mentor - Dr. Carolyn Sevier
I was born and raised in the Philippines and moved to California when I was 15. After surviving high school and experiencing research through summer internships at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, I attended University of California in Davis, where I majored in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Post graduation, I was fortunate enough to be able to work in a protein chemistry lab at Novozymes as an intern and later in an electrophysiology lab at Touro University as a research assistant.
I decided to come to Cornell University for my graduate studies because of the diverse research areas that I could explore through rotations. Through these very rotations, I have worked in Dr. Ruth Collins’ and Dr. Carolyn Sevier’s yeast labs as well as Dr. Toshi Kawate’s crystallography lab. I will be doing my thesis project in Dr. Sevier’s lab, which focuses on oxidative stress signaling in the endoplasmic reticulum.
Hi! My name is Siddhartha Sinha (call me Sid), and I am a graduate student in the field of Molecular and Integrative Physiology in the BBS program, where I am hoping to study cancer- and stem-cell biology. I am originally from India, and I got my Bachelor's Degree in Science in Bioengineering from the University of Washington in Seattle. The innovative research in my field of interest and the spirit of collaboration at Cornell made it my logical choice of graduate school. When I'm not at work, I'm catching up on my diverse reading interests or taking advantage of the beautiful weather to hike around Ithaca.
Hola! My name is Melissa Toledo and I am from the small town of Colonia located in central New Jersey. I am first generation Colombian in the United States, which means that I can speak, read, and write in Spanish! I completed my undergraduate career at The College of New Jersey where I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Biology and a Bachelors of Arts in Sociology. Even though I enjoy studying the different theories associated with multiple types of societies around the world, my true love is biology, specifically reproductive physiology. I fell in love with the reproductive sciences when my mother became pregnant with her third child while I was in high school. Since then, I read textbooks and articles on gamete physiology, fertilization, and the different stages of pregnancy. While my undergraduate research had nothing to do with reproduction (I studied the effect of prenatal nicotine on serotonin cells in the brainstem of neonatal mice), I still enjoyed learning multiple laboratory techniques that can be used in many different fields of research.
I decided to enroll in the BBS Program (Molecular and Integrative Physiology) at Cornell University because of the great variety of opportunities for rotation labs and courses associated with reproductive genomics and physiology. After completing my rotations, I finally found a home in the lab of Dr. Paula Cohen where I will be characterizing the meiotic defects of CNTD1 female mice.
I was born in China and moved to Toronto, Canada with my parents in 2006. I obtained my bachelor degree at University of Toronto where I majored in pharmacology and human biology. As an undergrad, I devoted most of my junior and senior year in research. I conducted two independent research projects during my last two years in undergrad. One was looking at the correlation between obesity and problem gambling within mood disorder population, and another was trying to figure out the expression pattern of a newly identified gene Sfmbt2 in mammalian extraembryonic tissues. These experiences inspired me to pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology at Cornell.