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The CSHL School of Biological Sciences’ class of 2023

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Urey Cottage, home of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory School of Biological Sciences.

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The Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) School of Biological Sciences (SBS) takes an innovative approach to advanced science education. Graduates of the doctoral program go on to pursue diverse careers. This year, the SBS awarded 11 Ph.D. degrees. Here, members of the class of 2023 share memories and experiences from their time at CSHL.

Lyndsey Maray Aguirre

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The University of Texas at Austin
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
William Randolph Hearst Foundation Scholar
Entering Class of 2017
Thesis: “Dissection of quantitative epistasis in tomato meristem development”

When I first arrived at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, I had a relatively limited view of what all science could entail. After encountering the unique environment provided at CSHL in the School of Biological Sciences, I gained a valuable perspective and insight to the variety of approaches to the scientific practice which helped to shape my scientific and professional thinking to this day. Moreover, in my years at CSHL, I had the distinct privilege of meeting and working with a brilliant group of scientists who also turned out to be amazing friends. Their guidance and encouragement of my intellectual growth have ultimately shaped me into the fine scientist I am today.

First and foremost amongst these individuals I must thank is my mentor, Zachary Lippman. With his support, I was able to confront the challenges of my projects with confidence, and tackle the most novel and interesting open questions in the field of genetics. I must also thank the lovely members of the Lippman lab and the many collaborators I worked with throughout my time at CSHL. Without them, some of my deepest scientific insights would certainly have been lost. Finally, I share my deepest thanks with my family and friends. I am both honored and unfathomably privileged to have so many people who have cared about and encouraged me. Their endless support throughout my life is ultimately what allowed me to achieve my dreams.

Sara Elizabeth Boyle

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Northwestern University
Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Predoctoral Trainee
Entering Class of 2017
Thesis: “The central amygdala encodes nutritional properties and modulates weight gain”

My six years at Cold Spring Harbor were a transformative experience, both personally and professionally. I am grateful for the guidance and support I received from Dr. Bo Li and the members of the Li lab, who encouraged me to follow my interests and engage in the science around me. I want to thank Bo for his willingness to let me drop everything to pursue a completely new and exciting research direction, which proved to be a turning point in my career.

Despite the challenges I faced (like a global pandemic), I learned to persevere and develop resilience that I will carry with me throughout my future endeavors. I feel fortunate to have worked alongside brilliant scientists who inspired and challenged me. I am also deeply grateful for the support of my friends and family, who stood by me during the ups and downs of graduate school. I am proud of my accomplishments during my time at CSHL, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Ilgin Ergin

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Bilkent University
Starr Centennial Scholar
Entering Class of 2018
Thesis: “Metabolic regulation of anti-tumor immunity”

Five years ago, I expressed my aspirations of becoming a scientist and a lifelong learner in my graduate school application. Today, as I conclude my Ph.D., I am grateful to the CSHL School of Biological Sciences for teaching me the core principles of critical thinking and training me as a rigorous scientist. The multidisciplinary nature of the program has been instrumental in shaping me into a well-rounded scientist with an appreciation for fields beyond my specialization. I would like to thank the School for their unwavering support throughout my Ph.D. training.

My Ph.D. research was focused on the intersection of multiple scientific fields: cancer biology, metabolism and immunology. I have been working to understand how metabolism regulates immune responses against cancer. My experience not only taught me to learn from the experiments that went as planned, but also how to take lessons and move forward from the ones that did not. I had the opportunity to work alongside brilliant minds from different scientific disciplines, and I am thankful to have learned from their distinct perspectives.

The collaborative environment of CSHL equipped me with the skills to learn, understand, and effectively communicate virtually any field of science. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of such a remarkable institution, and I am excited to see what the future holds as I continue my career.

I would like to thank the School, my thesis committee, my research adviser Dr. Semir Beyaz, as well as my friends and family for their unique contributions to my Ph.D. journey.

Amritha Varshini Hanasoge Somasundara

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University of Pennsylvania
Bristol-Myers Squibb Fellow
Entering Class of 2018
Thesis: “Investigating the role of changes to the mammary gland immune microenvironment in pregnancy-induced oncoprotection”

I applied to the graduate program at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory partly as a joke because I was so sure I wouldn’t stand a chance. But my friend and I had talked about how much we wanted to visit the Lab as we read books describing the place, and I figured that if I got invited to interview, at least I’d get to visit. I quite literally fell for the beauty of the campus—right before my first interview, I fell down as I walked down from Blackford to McClintock admiring the view of the harbor. Perhaps it is fitting that I received my acceptance email on Valentine’s Day 2018.

One of the most appealing things about the Ph.D. program at CSHL is that it doesn’t limit you to a certain discipline. Even though I knew I was interested in studying cancer immunology, I was more interested in finding the right mentor. Joining the lab of Dr. Camila dos Santos will remain one of the best decisions I have ever made. Not only were my intellectual curiosities satisfied, I also found the most supportive and nurturing community in the dos Santos lab. Most importantly, I had the privilege of learning from Camila, who serves as an inspiration to me, both as a scientist and as a human being.
I would like to thank the staff of the School of Biological Sciences for all of the behind-the-scenes work they do every day to make sure that we can focus on research. I would also like to express my gratitude to friends and family for their unending love and support through this journey.

Asad A. Lakhani

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University of Cambridge
Starr Centennial Scholar
Entering Class of 2018
Thesis: “The role of recurrently observed aneuploidy in tumorigenesis”

The undergraduate research program was my introduction to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and it showcased everything that made this place unique—from its spirit of scientific inquiry and collaboration, to its Meetings & Courses program; from its international diversity and tight-knit community, to beach volleyball being a defining feature of summer. Therefore, the decision to pursue my Ph.D. here was a relatively easy one.

Ultimately, a place is defined by the people who work there. And over the past 4.5 years, I have cherished working alongside some remarkable personalities. I am grateful to my advisors, both formal and informal, for ensuring that scientific inquiry is pursued rigorously. I have also appreciated the support I have received from all corners, be it supporting staff, colleagues, or lab leadership. In particular, I am thankful to the School of Biological Sciences—to have an institution dedicated towards student welfare is what makes this program incredible. And of course, I am deeply indebted to family and friends who have been supportive throughout this journey. As I take the next steps in my career, I will remain grateful to CSHL for providing this transformative experience.

Diogo Maia e Silva

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University of Lisbon
Robert and Teresa Lindsay Fellow
John and Amy Phelan Scholar
Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds Student
Entering Class of 2017
Thesis: “Mechanisms of gene transcription by TP63 and the Mediator complex in squamous pancreatic cancer”

Having been to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium in 2016, I learned early on what makes CSHL such a special place. A hub for scientists from all over the world, the energy and enthusiasm for new discoveries on campus was palpable. After getting to know the community, and especially its lack of stiff hierarchical structures, joining the graduate program was an easy decision.

My time at CSHL has been an exciting journey of discovery. In the laboratory, I have been fortunate to have freedom to explore new ideas and develop new technologies. Through the cycles of excitement and frustration of experimental research, I have matured into a better and more critical scientist. One of the big lessons learned is that a scientific question is an ever-unfinished endeavor, and that there is always more to pursue as long as one remains curious.

I leave with a true sense of gratitude. I am thankful for the support I have gotten from my thesis advisor, Christopher Vakoc, as well as many terrific colleagues, friends, and mentors I have been lucky to work with. The outstanding support from the CSHL School of Biological Sciences, which is entirely due to the dedication of everyone involved, makes it possible for students to maintain the necessary focus on our research. Finally, and most importantly, I am extremely fortunate to have caring and supportive family and friends who always lift me up and provide welcome advice and encouragement. I am especially grateful to them for brightening my life with laughter, love, and kindness.

Kathryn Shea O’Neill

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University of California, Davis
NSF Graduate Research Fellow
William Randolph Hearst Foundation Scholar
Entering Class of 2016
Thesis: “Investigations into the contribution of retrotransposon activation in neurodegenerative disease”

Everything is an experiment. This is one of my favorite truths I encountered during my time at Cold Spring Harbor, and I find it to be a peaceful one. I began my doctoral journey eager for guarantees and a list of experiments that were sure to work, but realized acceptance of my capacity for failure and confusion was the surest path to success. I aspire to deepen in this acceptance and know that at the heart of every investigation is a sweet and innocent curiosity. I believe our task as scientists, and human beings, is to balance the skillful play intrinsic to discovery with a sobriety towards the world in which our curiosity dances. Perhaps in this way, we might ultimately produce a work inspired by humility, rather than ideological onanism. I felt Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory encouraged this humility by stewarding many informal gatherings of analytical minds, and am grateful for these opportunities to explore ideas I never may have encountered otherwise.

I am also deeply appreciative of my mentor, Molly Gale Hammell, who supported me through many incredible years of life with her incisive intellect, noble leadership, and open heart. I was trained to think nimbly, experiment fearlessly, and remember myself. I would also like to thank my past lab mates for our camaraderie and delightful conversations through unprecedented times. This journey would not have been possible without the loving support of my friends, family, and reverence for life.

Alexa Hope Pagliaro

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Wellesley College
Jordan and Thomas A. Saunders III Neuroscience Fellow
NIH F31 Predoctoral Fellow
Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Predoctoral Trainee
Entering Class of 2018
Thesis: “Disrupted parvalbumin network state impairs maternal behavior in a mouse model of Rett syndrome”

Coming from a liberal arts background, I was intrigued by the breadth of the biological disciplines represented amongst scientists at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. For an institution of its size, the biological expertise is vast. Couple that with a culture rooted in discussion and collaboration, and it is no surprise that my liberal arts training left me feeling right at home in this interdisciplinary environment. I knew that pursuing a Ph.D. meant intense specialization, but I have truly appreciated the unique opportunity to explore other disciplines and their intersection with my own work that could have only been possible here at CSHL.

In the spirit of immense breadth, I have many people to thank as this journey comes to an end. I am indebted to my advisor, Steve Shea, for his mentorship, support, and kindness over the years. He expertly navigates the balance between trainee independence and guidance, and it has made me into the scientist that I am today. I must also thank my academic mentor, John Inglis, for his steadfast support and our many chats that I will dearly miss, and the School’s administrative team for the unparalleled work that they do on the behalf of students. I am also deeply thankful to the most incredible colleagues and friends that I have been privileged to work with, and who have truly made this experience memorable and fun. Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family for all that they have done to help me get to this point, and for their unwavering support throughout this journey.

Jenelys Ruiz Ortiz

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University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Predoctoral Trainee
William Randolph Hearst Foundation Scholar
Entering Class of 2018
Thesis: “Characterizing models to study cellular composition changes across pregnancy cycles in the mammary gland”

My passion for developmental biology began during a summer internship, prompting me to broaden my skills beyond my undergraduate background in bioinformatics. The interdisciplinary nature of the CSHL SBS program stood out amongst other graduate programs, allowing me to expand my horizons and develop new laboratory skills along the way. I joined the dos Santos lab, where I focused on characterizing models to better understand how the mammary gland changes during pregnancy in preparation for lactation, honing my wet-bench and computational techniques while transforming my approach to research.

Alongside my scientific pursuits, I also had the opportunity to take a leadership role in the CSHL Diversity Initiative for Advancement in STEM (DIAS) affinity group, connecting with amazing individuals dedicated to making science accessible to all. My time at CSHL has been a transformative experience, both personally and professionally, and I am grateful for the opportunities it has given me.

Julia Huiming Wang

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Stanford University
Jenny and Jeff Kelter Neuroscience Scholar
Entering Class of 2019
Thesis: “Interpretable brain state manifold discovered by unsupervised methods”

I first came to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as an Undergraduate Research Program participant in the summer of 2018. At the time, I wasn’t sure about pursuing a Ph.D. yet and thought I would take at least a year after undergrad to decide. At the end of the summer, I became absolutely sure that I would pursue a Ph.D. and applied to programs just a couple months later during the fall of my senior year. CSHL showed me an environment where brilliant scientists gathered from all over the world to discuss, and collaborations and friendships were made in just an instant. In addition, I felt immediately at home with the care and dedication I saw the graduate program had for its students. It didn’t surprise anyone when I eventually chose CSHL for my Ph.D. studies.

My time as a Ph.D. student at CSHL has been unexpected in many ways, from the COVID-19 pandemic hitting during rotations, to Alex Gann retiring as our fearless dean. However, these changes only made me more grateful that I chose CSHL, where the scientists remained dedicated to their research and the School remained dedicated to its students.

I would like to thank my mentor, Tatiana Engel, for providing me with guidance and support throughout these years. She has encouraged me to continue growing as a research scientist and to always stay curious. I’d also like to thank all the people that I have met here, from professors who were always down to chat to admins who did thankless work for everyone, and most importantly, to my classmates for keeping me sane. Lastly, I’d like to thank my family and friends throughout my life for always supporting me and rooting for me.

Chengxiang Yuan

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Imperial College London
A*Star National Science Scholar
Entering Class of 2016
Thesis: “Applications of oligonucleotide ligation in sequencing”

When I arrived at CSHL, my exposure to the breadth of science was relatively small, and I had little experience in the intricacies of what was required for a research project to succeed and thrive. Throughout my course, the unique environment at CSHL allowed me to collaborate extensively with multiple other laboratories, learning from their best methods and in turn explaining my own research to them. This process helped me to develop as a scientist, and provided me with a much greater appreciation for the complex and interconnected nature of a successful scientific research project. At the same time, the rigor of the course and the difficulties I experienced through my research also provided me the opportunity to grow as a person and be able to handle adversity in a manner that I never could have previously imagined.

I would like to thank my family for their unwavering support, encouragement, and love. I would also like to thank my mentor, Daniel Fürth, who has provided the mentorship that I required at the most critical time of my studies. Finally, I would like to thank my dean, Alex Gann, my thesis committee, and the School of Biological Sciences staff for all of the irreplaceable support through the final years of my studies.

Written by: Communications Department | | 516-367-8455

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