Students Present Their “Wicked Smaht” Research

This January, seniors Yanhan Ren, Sarah Joseph, and Nirlipta Panda, along with junior Harris Weber traveled to Boston to attend the National Collegiate Research Conference (NCRC). The Harvard College Undergraduate Research Association began this conference in 2007 to provide a platform for undergrads to share their research.

While the main event was the poster session, the Innovation Challenge brought groups of students from different backgrounds together to discuss radical ideas and potential solutions to national and global issues. “Getting to know other students created endless possibilities of collaboration,” said Ren, a liason for future NCRC events. Every event promoted the sharing of ideas and collaboration with a variety of people, both things that U of R loves its students to do!

Ren is an international student from Nanjing, China studying molecular genetics. He presented his research, Functions of the Fun30 Chromatin Remodeler in DNA Postreplication Repair and Heterochromatin Structure in Saccharomyces cerevisiae. His research with Dr. Bi Xin from the Biology Department suggests that a gene from yeast is required for a new pathway for DNA damage repair. He plans to apply to medical school but will be taking a gap year to study medical science and public health at Boston University.

Joseph, who majors in molecular genetics, presented her topic, “Elucidating the mitochondrial targeting sequence of the yeast flap endonuclease (RAD27).” In layman’s terms, making mutations in the gene to figure out how it gets transported into the mitochondria.

Panda’s topic was on the impact of peripheral radiation on cognition and neurogenesis. This neuroscience major’s poster won the honorable mention in the Category of Biology.

NCRC 2Weber majors in cell and developmental biology while also pursuing a minor in business. From his experience in the Nedergaard Lab, he presented research about the newly discovered “Glymphatic” waste-clearance system with a focus on spinal cord injury.

The excitement of the student-run conference did not stop at poster sessions! Many keynote speakers were in attendance, such as Stephen Wolfram of Wolfram Alpha and John Mather from NASA. By attending the conference, Ren found many networking opportunities within his peers, potential employers, and members of higher education. He was inspired by the influential minds around him. “Talk to attendees and talk with the keynote speakers, you will find their words and ideals will change your mind.”

For any further information on the conference, please contact Yanhan Ren at yren6@u.rochester.edu.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Katherine Lelli

lelliName: Katherine Lelli ’06

Occupation: Graduate Student

Education (UR and additional): UR: B.S. Molecular Genetics and B.A. German; Columbia: M.A., M.Phil. and soon Ph.D. in Genetics and Development

Current city/state of residence:  New York, NY

Community activities: I am involved in a mentoring program through the New York Academy of Science teaching after school science labs. I’ve also volunteered as an SAT tutor for students from low income households and as a science fair judge.


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?  

Out of all the schools I was accepted to, the University of Rochester had the strongest programs in both science and language studies. I also liked the flexible course set-up, which didn’t restrict me to a required set of core classes my first year.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved in several activities around campus including a panhellenic sorority and the Ballet Performance Group. Not only did I have lot of fun, but participating in these groups also laid the foundation for many lasting friendships. Additionally, holding leadership positions also taught me important managerial and communication skills.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation I spent two months in Germany before heading to graduate school in the fall.  I spent six weeks in Berlin with a program through the UR German department and two weeks traveling around the country. It was a great experience and I highly recommend spending some time traveling after graduation.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am finishing my Ph.D. at Columbia University in Genetics and Development. I chose to go to graduate schedule because I have always been intrigued by science and enjoy being on the cutting edge. After I defend I will move to a new lab for a postdoctoral fellowship, where I hope to gain the credentials necessary to open my own lab as a professor at a university.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

How do you balance your work and professional life?

This can be precarious, especially if you go on to any kind of professional school after undergrad. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind but I make sure to schedule time for activities I enjoy. In addition to just hanging out with my fiancé and puppy or reading a good book, I also attend yoga, pilates and dance classes every week. It’s important to manage your spare time wisely being sure to balance more relaxing activities with more active ones.

What advice do you have for current students?

My best advice to current students is to enjoy your time in undergrad. Take interesting classes, meet new people, try something new and most importantly study something you love. Don’t spend so much time preparing for the future that you forget to live in the present.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Michael Bozzella

BozzellaName: Michael J Bozzella

Class year: 2007

Major: Biology, Molecular Genetics

Occupation: Medical Student

Education (UR and additional): current student at University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine

Current city/state/country of residence: Old Orchard Beach, ME


What were a few of the organizations, activities or pursuits you were involved in at the University of Rochester? Tell us about your experience in your favorite activity.

I was heavily involved in my Class Council, OBOC, and the Ski Team. Honestly its hard for me to pick any one from the three that I enjoyed more than the others. It was great working to develop programs for my class and getting to know the inner workings of the university. I loved (and still do) performing. To this day, if the weather (and my schedule) allows, you can probably find me on the mountain (though these days its Sugarloaf and Sunday River instead of Bristol or Whiteface).

What advice do you have for the current class of Keidaeans?

Take full advantage of your time at Rochester. Make connections, have fun, try to figure out just who you are. I’ve found its much better to have the experience (good or bad) than to think back and say “what if?”

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Right after graduation, I worked as a lab tech over in the Gorbunova Lab where I had done my senior research. It took me a little while to figure out just what I wanted to do with my life (aka research or medicine), so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to finish the work I had started as an undergrad. I was able to work in a field I was passionate about, spend a little more time in Rochester, and build my resume for application to Med Schools.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

Right now I’m a medical student at UNECOM. Once I finally graduate, I plan on entering a pediatrics residency, followed by an infectious disease fellowship. I have always been fascinated by biology, and my passion to help those in need lead me towards medicine. I’ve always to enjoyed/preferred working with children (old people are boring), and it was actually viral infections that first garnered my interest in medicine.

How do you continue embodying spirit of Meliora, ever better, in your daily life?

 I have actually taken my “4th” year and postponed it to add a pre-doctoral fellowship to my program. I’m spending this year between my clinical years acting as a teaching fellow in our anatomy, osteopathic principles and practices, and clinical skills courses. I work closely with our 1st year students to help them learn the material to the best of their abilities, and hone my own knowledge and skills base. 

Anything you wish you had pursued in college but could not for one reason or another?

I wish I had pursued study abroad. Although I was a science major, I feel as though with a bit more foresight, I could have arranged my schedule to spend a semester in Italy.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Mary-Frances Garber

garberName: Mary-Frances Garber ’86

Occupation: Genetic Counselor in private practice, Executive Director of New England Regional Genetics Group, per diem prenatal genetic counselor Newton Wellesley Hospital

Education: UR 1986 BS Molecular Genetics, Sarah Lawrence College 1988 MS Human Genetics

Current city/state of residence: Needham, MA

Family: Married to Mark Garber, ’86, daughters Olivia, Claudia and Emma

Community activities: Tennis instructor Needham Park and Recreation


What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

As an undergrad I played on the women’s varsity tennis team, joined Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority, gave tours as a Meridian, and worked in a genetics laboratory.  Phi Sigma Sigma provided me with life-long friends and introduced me to philanthropy and volunteering for a cause, something one can do their entire life.  The opportunity to work in Dr. Prakash’s lab, introduced me to genetics research and allowed me to discover that it was not research or molecular genetics that I wanted to pursue, but human genetics.

What resources did you use on campus that you recommend current students use?

I can remember going to career services to inquire what I could do with a degree in molecular genetics.  I think it was there that I discovered the field of genetic counseling.  The staff at career services informed me that there were genetic counselors at Strong, with whom I was able to make contact. I arranged to do an independent study in the genetic counseling department and determined that this would be my career choice.

What did you do immediately after graduation?

After graduation I attended Sarah Lawrence College for two years to pursue a Masters in human genetics.  With this degree, I would be able to graduate and practice as a genetic counselor.  After working for a year I took the board certification exam to become a board certified genetic counselor.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

After working for eleven years at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in high risk obstetrics, I chose to stay at home with our three daughters.  I was fortunate to find the Executive Director position of the New England Regional Genetics Group, NERGG, Inc., which can be done from home.  Missing the contact with patients, I opened a private practice in 2010, focusing on supportive counseling and bereavement.  I help patients deal with their emotional responses to their genetic diagnosis or loss.  I also run support groups for various disease specific organizations and give lectures on various genetic topics.  Most recently I began working per diem as a prenatal genetic counselor again and continue to be amazed at the advancements in the science of my field.

Where would you like to be in five years?

In five years, I would love for my practice to be thriving.  At present there is not reimbursement for the services I provide, even though genetic counselors in Massachusetts are now licensed.  With reimbursement, it would be my hope that more patients could take care of their emotional needs and my services would be more utilized.

How are you still connected with the University?

I am connected to the University of Rochester by an umbilical cord!  Honestly, I feel extremely connected to the U of R, through deep friendships, my volunteer work as an admissions interviewer, by attending regional and local events, through sorority and by the communication that our school sends our way almost weekly.  Having attended Meliora Weekend in October for our 25th reunion, the sense of love and pride I feel for UR was ever more apparent.  Now with our oldest daughter as a sophomore, we are starting the second generation; it is genetic!!!

Spotlight on Natural Sciences Alumni: Xin Yi Chan

ChanName:  Xin Yi Chan
UR Major:  Molecular Genetics
Other UR Majors/Minors: Japanese
Additional Education: PhD in Biology
Current City, State of Residence: Baltimore, Maryland
Job Title: Post Doctoral Fellow
Employer: Johns Hopkins Medical Institute


How did you choose your major(s)?

I have always loved biology ever since I was in high school.  The one experience that reinforced my passion in biology was when I worked in a zebrafish lab the summer of my freshmen year, helping out with lab chores and having a little side project of my own.  Looking at the zebrafish embryos made me realized how amazing it is to observe the developmental process of a living organism and make sense of it.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

As a student, I worked in three different research labs, helping out with lab chores and having my own project. These experiences gave me a head start in research and the opportunity to have hands-on experience of multiple laboratory techniques. They also helped me determine my future direction as a scientist.

Who were your mentors while you were on campus? Have you continued those relationships?

My mentors are Dr. David Lambert and Dr. Cheeptip Benyajati.  Personally, I believe that the mentor-mentee relationship lasts “forever” (as long as the two are alive) because a good mentor would always help shape a part of the mentee’s life and their teaching will always influence the mentee in the future.

What are some specific skills students should develop during an internship?

Asking questions. This is something you do not learn from textbooks.  Remember to constantly ask questions of yourself and others while you are working on a project.  “Why do I do this?,” “What is the impact of this project?,” “Is this the best method to approach the problem?,” etc. Probing the right questions always lead to exciting ideas and it is also a great way to realize what you are enthusiastic about. And remember, there are no stupid questions!!!!

What did you wish you had known before graduating? What would you have done differently?

I wished I had done more research about academia before graduating. When I was an undergraduate, I was naïve to think that academia is better than industry because it is less political and offers more opportunities. Turns out, this is not the case. Anyway, there is nothing I would have done differently because I love doing research in the academic setting but I just wished that I had known about the ‘not so pretty’ side of academia.

Spotlight on Natural Sciences and Humanities Alumni:Katherine Lelli

Name: Katherine Lelli
Age: 27
Occupation: Postdoctoral fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Education (UR and additional): B.S. in Molecular Genetics and B.A. German, University of Rochester; Columbia: M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D. in Genetics and Development
Current city/state of residence: New York, NY
Community activities: I am involved in a mentoring program through the New York Academy of Science teaching after school science labs. I’ve also volunteered as an SAT tutor for students from low income households and as a science fair judge.


Why did you choose to attend the University of Rochester?

Out of all the schools I was accepted to, the University of Rochester had the strongest programs in both science and language studies. I also liked the flexible course set-up, which didn’t restrict me to a required set of core classes my first year.

What activities were you involved in as a student and what did you gain from them?

I was involved in several activities around campus including a panhellenic sorority and the Ballet Performance Group. Not only did I have lot of fun, but participating in these groups also laid the foundation for many lasting friendships. Additionally, holding leadership positions also taught me important managerial and communication skills.

What did you do immediately after graduation? How did you decide to take that path?

Immediately after graduation I spent two months in Germany before heading to graduate school in the fall.  I spent six weeks in Berlin with a program through the UR German department and two weeks traveling around the country. It was a great experience and I highly recommend spending some time traveling after graduation.

What do you do now and why did you choose this career?

I am finishing my Ph.D. at Columbia University in Genetics and Development. I chose to go to graduate school because I have always been intrigued by science and enjoy being on the cutting edge. After I defend I will move to a new lab for a postdoctoral fellowship, where I hope to gain the credentials necessary to open my own lab as a professor at a university.

What skills, tools, or knowledge from your major have been most useful to you since graduation?

How do you balance your work and professional life?

This can be precarious, especially if you go on to any kind of professional school after undergrad. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily grind but I make sure to schedule time for activities I enjoy. In addition to just hanging out with my fiancé and puppy or reading a good book, I also attend yoga, pilates and dance classes every week. It’s important to manage your spare time wisely being sure to balance more relaxing activities with more active ones.

What advice do you have for current students?

My best advice to current students is to enjoy your time in undergrad. Take interesting classes, meet new people, try something new and most importantly study something you love. Don’t spend so much time preparing for the future that you forget to live in the present.


Theater in England: A New Perspective over Winter Break

Univ. Communications – Theater has long been a vibrant and visible element of students’ academic and extracurricular experience at the University of Rochester. Through the International Theater Program productions at Todd, classes in the English department, student groups like The Opposite Of People (TOOP), Drama House, and many other avenues, students here have the opportunity to engage in all levels of the production and research of drama and the performing arts. But perhaps the jewel in the school’s theatrical crown is the annual Theatre in England course which has, for the past twenty-one years, brought students to London over winter break for the ultimate theater-going experience.

The course, which has been taught by Professor Russell Peck since the late 1980s, combines a condensed study abroad experience with a four-credit workload and one to three play attendances per day. “The students sometimes feel lonely if they saw only one play that day,” said Peck with a laugh. This year, twenty-two students collectively attended thirty-five plays.

Each morning starts off with breakfast and a class at the Harlingford Hotel, which has been the London home base for Peck’s group for years. The previous day’s plays are discussed, scripts sometimes read, and performances are evaluated on everything from technical execution to metaphysical issues.

“It’s really nice to be in a room with thirty intellectual people who have all seen the show and to be able to have a multifaceted conversation about all the different aspects of it,” said Jessica Chinelli ’12, an English major with a concentration in theater. Chinelli was formerly the artistic director of TOOP and has worked on Todd productions in both a technical and performance capacity.

After class, the students have a few hours to relax and explore the city before the matinee performances begin. Peck schedules as many plays as he can, some mandatory for all students and many optional, providing a range of choices for each day. Seeing such a large number of plays can be overwhelming, but ultimately the program pushes students to make connections and develop perspective that cannot emerge from seeing just one play.

“The course really builds on itself,” Peck explained. “It’s always good to see several plays together, whether they have anything to do with each other or not.” Though he does not plan the program based on any particular theme or common element, the students quickly begin to weave the connecting threads on their own.

“I think that probably more than any course it helps people to see and to recognize how visually oriented their mental activity is,” Peck said. “They learn to see and judge things from different points of view.”

The students participating come from all academic backgrounds. This year, less than half were English majors. Some have been interested or involved in theater for years and others enter a theater for the first time in their lives when they arrive in London.

“It’s probably one of the greatest experiences that I will ever have in my life,” said Dongdong Han ’12, who is majoring in molecular genetics and had no knowledge of theater prior to the trip. “I know that the theater majors that went, and the folks who are interested in theater really got a lot out of it, but for somebody like me it was a tremendous learning experience.”

Though he plans to pursue graduate school and a further career in research, Han believes that it is vital for scientists to develop interests beyond the lab. “I know a lot of my science and engineering friends have a thing, kind of this unnatural fear for the humanities and I think this is the best way to get someone into theater with no background and it’s one of the best ways to learn,” he explained. “I’ve always believed that the scientific field itself is not meant to stand in isolation. In other words, if you look at all of the top scientists, all of them cultivate [an interest for] something that’s not in the sciences.”

For chemistry major Jonathan Raybin ’12, the program was such a fruitful experience in his freshman year that he went this year for a second time. Since the program of plays is different every year, the course has the advantage of offering a unique experience to every group of students. Raybin has always loved theater but his major curriculum afforded little time to become more academically involved. Nevertheless, he finds that theater enriches his scientific studies. “The analytical skills you use watching are completely applicable. It’s also just…it can be a relief to not be thinking about science!”

“It teaches people how to read and to assess their reading, whether they’re science people or brain and cognitive people, or linguists, and it teaches them how to look,” Peck explained. “As long as they’re alive and people [this is something] that will have bearing on them.”

The group attends performances in a wide range of venues from black box theaters, to small fringe auditoriums, to the world’s most technically advanced Olivier Theater, which is part of the National Theater complex. There, the students even got a backstage tour.

The trip also includes a visit to the legendary Stratford-upon-Avon to view Shakespearean plays in their original setting and attendance to the New Year’s Eve mass at Westminster Abbey. Students sit in the choir and observe the performance of religious rites which are at the root of modern English and French theatrical traditions.

Besides the abundant number of theaters and acting companies in London, another advantage to conducting the program there is the affordability of the experience of British theater. For example, plays at the National Theater are LE12.50 (about $20). “In New York for that play, if it comes to New York, we’d be paying between $100 and $125,” said Peck.

Students do pay for their own air fare but since the class counts as an overload of credits for the fall semester and students sign up in the fall, financial aid packages apply to the cost of the credit hours. Some limited financial aid also is available to cover the $2,750 fee for housing and play tickets. “I’ve been saving for this program since I heard abut it as a freshman,” said Chinelli. “But I made it and Professor Peck was really great about scholarships.”

She added enthusiastically: “It’s a once in a lifetime experience and it will change the way that you view things. [For the University] it’s not a financial investment, it’s an investment in the students, and that should tell you what it is worth.”

For more information about study abroad visit http://www.rochester.edu/college/abroad/.

Article written by Maya Dukmasova, a Take 5 Scholar at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. She majored in philosophy and religion and focused her Take 5 year on researching the way American media covers current events in the Muslim world. An aspiring journalist, Dukmasova has freelanced for Rochester Magazine, the Phoenix New Times, and the Daily News Egypt in Cairo. She also maintains two blogs, one devoted to culture and society in Russia (www.out-of-russia.com) and the other to photography (www.myorientalism.com).