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Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences recognizes 41 new PhD candidates

Thesis research ranges from neural circuit development to ALS

The annual ceremony recognizes students for passing the qualifying exam, a significant milestone marking their transition to formal candidacy for doctoral degrees.

The Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMass Chan Medical School honored 41 PhD candidates during its annual Qualifying Exam Recognition Ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 14. Candidates are active in a range of research areas, including Huntington’s disease and ALS.

Mary Ellen Lane, PhD, the Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Chair in Biomedical Sciences, professor of neurobiology and dean of the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, said the candidates are partners and collaborators in UMass Chan’s research mission.

“Intellectual and personal development don’t end with candidacy, and don’t even end with graduation,” Dean Lane said. “I encourage you to embrace the opportunity to engage in a transformational developmental process, and to continue growing, learning and stretching out of your comfort zone.”

Passing the qualifying exam is a significant milestone for PhD students; it marks their transition to formal candidates for doctoral degrees. Milo Vantine is a PhD candidate from Middleton who does nanopore sequencing work in the lab of William Flavahan, PhD, assistant professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology. Vantine said the qualifying exam process helped him develop his confidence as a researcher.

“I now feel I have a solid grasp not only on my research topic, but on how to present my work for a wide audience. The feedback I received from my committee has helped me to develop my presentation, writing and overall professional communication skills,” Vantine said.

The new doctoral candidates received laser pointers and business cards. They will also receive Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences lab coats.

“This is one of the last major milestones in our curriculum, and it feels great to be on the other side of it,” said Samuel Liu, a PhD candidate from Las Vegas who focuses on neural circuit development in the lab of Michael Francis, PhD, professor of neurobiology.

Lane presented MD/PhD students Jillian Belgrad and Abigail Hiller with the Zelda Haidak Scholarship in Cell Biology. Belgrad, a Weston native, is studying Huntington's disease and how DNA repair accelerates disease progression in patients. Belgrad is mentored by Anastasia Khvorova, PhD, the Remondi Family Chair in Biomedical Research and professor of RNA therapeutics. Arlington native Hiller is conducting ALS research with Paul L. Greer, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine, and Robert H. Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, the Donna M. and Robert J. Manning Chair in Neurosciences and professor of neurology. Hiller is elucidating the impact of knocking out microglial-expressed genes in a mouse model of ALS.

   The following students became PhD candidates in academic year 2021-2022:

Ellen Acheampong, Samuel Behar lab
Vincent Azzolino, Celia Schiffer lab
Jillian Belgrad, Anastasia Khvorova lab
Esther Boama-Nyarko, Nancy Byatt lab
Kelsey Butler, Andres Colubri lab
Theodore Carrigan-Broda, Anastasia Khvorova lab
Chun-Wei Chen, Dorothy Schafer lab
Faith Conroy, Dohoon Kim lab
Kha Uyen Dam, Hong Zhang lab
Megan Fowler-Magaw, Daryl Bosco lab
Jason Freedman, Paul Greer lab
Chandler Friend, Roger Davis lab
Johan Girgenrath, Craig Mello lab
James Gooding, Robert Brown lab
Kaiyuan Hao, Ann Rothstein and Michelle Kelliher labs
Carly Herbert, Apurv Soni lab
Abigail Hiller, Paul Greer and Robert Brown labs
Jonathan Jung, Teng-Ting Lim lab
Ayush Kumar, Arthur Mercurio lab
Eui Jin Kwon, Chan Zhou lab
Donguk Lee, Gowthaman Uthaman lab

Ye Liang, Kenneth Rock lab
Jiangyuan Liu, Job Dekker lab
Samuel Liu, Michael Francis lab
Nathan MacGilvary, Sharon Cantor lab
Helen Magana, Hyun Youk lab
Pryce Michener, Peter Friedmann lab
Rachael Miller, Neil Aronin lab
Eli Min, Alexandra Byrne lab
Yen Anh Nguyen, Jonathan Watts lab
Veroniki Nikolaki, Fen-Biao Gao lab
Seun Osundolire, Kate Lapane lab
Zachary Racenet, Ann Moormann lab
Sydney Schock, Amir Mitchell lab
Anthony Sciaudone, Milka Koupenova-Zamor lab
Jacob Stillman, Dorothy Schafer lab
Milo Vantine, William Flavahan lab
Kelsey Wagner, Michelle Kelliher lab
Elenore Wiggin, Paul Thompson lab
Peng Zhou, Chan Zhou lab
Sarah Zvornicanin, Celia Schiffer lab