The Shurl and Kay Curci Foundation is pleased to introduce the 2021 Curci PhD Scholars. The Curci Foundation worked with The University of California Berkeley, The University of California San Diego, and The University of Washington School of Medicine, each of which selected incoming PhD students in Life Sciences to receive funding to assist with tuition and living expenses.
Janet Peace Babirye
Janet Babirye grew up in Uganda, Africa. Before starting her Ph.D. program, Babirye obtained a bachelor’s degree in biomedical laboratory technology from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. She then received a scholarship from the Fogarty International Center in the U.S. National Institute of Health and returned to Makerere University to pursue a master’s of science in immunology and clinical microbiology. After graduating in 2019, she received a fellowship from the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases at UC Berkeley.
Lidia Llacsahuanga
Janet Babirye grew up in Uganda, Africa. Before starting her Ph.D. program, Babirye obtained a bachelor’s degree in biomedical laboratory technology from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda. She then received a scholarship from the Fogarty International Center in the U.S. National Institute of Health and returned to Makerere University to pursue a master’s of science in immunology and clinical microbiology. After graduating in 2019, she received a fellowship from the Center for Emerging and Neglected Diseases at UC Berkeley.
Juliana Martins
Juliana Martins was born and raised by her mother and grandmother in Londrina, a small town in the countryside of Brazil. There was nothing more fascinating to Martins than understanding how nature and the universe worked. Her interest in science led her to write a letter to NASA at age 11, expressing her interest in unraveling the mysteries of space and time. Martins holds a bachelor’s of science in physical and biomolecular sciences from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and a master’s in science in cancer biology from the Ludwig Cancer Research Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
James Mbata
James Mbata, who was born in Maseru, Lesotho, is a Ph.D. student in the molecular and cell biology program at UC Berkeley. Mbata attended Cornell University and received his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in genetics, genomics and development and a minor in business for the life sciences. In his undergraduate studies, he worked in the lab of John Schimenti under the direction of his doctoral student mentor, Marquita Winters. The group studied the role of the ARID1A gene in mammary tumorigenesis using the Chaos3 mouse model.
Rithu Pattali
Rithu Pattali is from Mumbai, India, where she received her undergraduate degree in biotechnology engineering. Pattali’s interest in research burgeoned while she was investigating mitochondrial dynamics in Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) motor neurons that were differentiated from patient derived iPSCs during her master’s thesis at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is broadly interested in epigenome and gene editing and truly believes that leveraging nature’s cellular toolbox for genetic manipulation will provide new avenues for combating debilitating diseases in the future.
Serim Yang
Serim Yang was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea. Yang went to the Seoul National University, where she earned a bachelor’s of science in chemistry and biological sciences. For her undergraduate thesis in chemistry, she studied and engineered the biosynthesis of a subfamily of Ribosomally Synthesized and Post-translationally modified Peptides(RiPPs) called Omega-Ester containing Peptides (OEPs) in Professor Seokhee Kim’s lab. Her current research interest involves harnessing the tools of chemistry to address challenges in biology, more specifically in cellular metabolism.
Alexia Fabiani
Nation of origin: Italy
Bachelor’s degree: Fundamental and Applied Physics, Nagoya University, Japan
Personal statement: Maynard Malcolm Miller, a renowned explorer and glaciologist, used to say ‘nature is screaming at you’ to his students on their expeditions to the Juneau Icefield. He inspired many to engage in intriguing research unraveling Earth’s mysteries. My goal is to investigate on microbial communities inhabiting Earth’s most inhospitable ecosystems.
Michelle Munguía Figueroa
Nation of origin: Mexico
Bachelor’s degree: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Universidad Autonoma del Estado de Morelos
Research interests: Neurobiology and cell biology
Personal statement: I gravitate toward the UCSD graduate program in Biological Sciences because of its commitment to promote students’ growth, flourishing and success by providing enriching opportunities, like Boot Camp, peer mentorship and research at outstanding facilities. Moreover, I am attracted to the program because its students have a wide choice of laboratories, elective courses and specialized training programs to choose from, which maximizes their academic freedom to customize their curriculum and learning experience to their needs and particular interests.
Shivani Khosla
Nation of origin: United States
Bachelor’s degree: Molecular and Cell Biology, UC Berkeley
Personal statement: I have also had time to reflect on how I entered research, and where I would like to go from here. Growing up in a small agricultural town in California’s Central Valley, I have seen the ‘leaky pipeline’ metaphor impact my community. Though I have been fortunate to attend a research university, many students in my hometown face barriers to higher education. Leaks in the pipeline occur at every stage, and there are significant inequities that exist in education and research. It is my goal to work toward patching the pipeline during my graduate studies, through both teaching and mentoring undergraduate students. I wish to pursue a PhD in the UC San Diego Biological Sciences program, as it would allow me to work toward both my scientific and mentorship goals.
Xiandu (Phoebe) Li
Nation of origin: China
Bachelor’s degree: Biological Sciences, Sichuan University, PRC
Personal statement: I am attracted to UCSD because the Biological Sciences program has leading research, excellent faculty and many unique initiatives inside and outside of campus. Moreover, the environment of life science research and development in San Diego is world-famous. In fact, the founder of Zhongguancun (the Silicon Valley of Beijing) was inspired by the San Diego model, which changed the whole landscape of life science.
Wanying Tian
Nation of origin: China
Bachelor’s degree: Biochemistry and Cell Biology, UC San Diego
Personal statement: I aspire to a tenure- track research career in academia, and I am motivated to develop my research skills to progress toward my goal of using multidisciplinary approaches to understand the fundamental biological principles, especially the gene regulatory networks. The qBio track in the biology program at UCSD will be the perfect place for me to achieve my goals.
Elizabeth (Lizzie) West
Nation of origin: United States
Bachelor’s degree: Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities
Personal statement: While research interests and coursework were two key factors in my decision to apply to your program, I am also drawn to the career development and diverse campus organizations available which will further prepare me for a career in academia. I will work to make science approachable and accessible for all through tutoring, mentorship and community outreach programs such as BioEASI.
Geervani Daggupati
My name is Geervani, and I am from Hamilton, Canada. I completed my undergraduate degree in pharmacology at McGill University and my master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology at Johns Hopkins University. After completing my master’s program, I had a wonderful opportunity working as a research tech in Dr. Prakash Srinivasan’s lab at the Hopkins Malaria Research Institute. While conducting exciting research on malaria parasite invasion into host cells, I became interested in the complex dynamics of immunological responses to infectious diseases. Through the Immunology Ph.D. program at University of Washington, I am excited to continue disease-based research aimed at developing clinical applications. Apart from scientific endeavors, I also enjoy playing piano and singing.
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Sara Gonske
I grew up in Barron, Wisconsin. I received my undergraduate degree in biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse and grew very interested in research after studying a protein from Salmonella enterica. With a newfound goal of attaining a career in research, I applied for the biochemistry graduate program here at the University of Washington. Currently, I’m enjoying being exposed to new types of research and thought processes
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Karthikeya Gottimukkala
I am from Hyderabad, India. I completed my undergraduate in Biotechnology from Sreenidhi Institute of Science and Technology, Hyderabad, where I got to publish my first author paper in the field of Nanotechnology in my second year of undergraduate. I went on to do my master’s in Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering from Cornell University, Ithaca and was awarded Phool Prakash Graduate Sahai Fellowship for my academic excellence. I want to do my Ph.D. in the field of gene therapy with a focus on delivery methods using Nanotechnology. With the recent advent of various gene therapy technologies, the need for developing tissue-specific gene therapy is vital to cure many diseases.
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Shruti Jain
I am an international student from India, where I studied Biological Sciences and Bioengineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur (IITK). I started my research journey in developmental biology. Since then, I have been fascinated by intricate gene regulatory networks that define the development of an organism. I am particularly interested in deploying cutting-edge genomics techniques to better understand gene regulation.
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Maryanne Kihiu
I am Maryanne Kihiu and I’m originally from Kenya. I moved to the US in 2015 for college at Bryn Mawr where I majored in biochemistry & molecular biology. Following college, I worked as a research technician which was a crucial experience that inspired me to pursue pharmacology in graduate school. My hope is to use the knowledge I learn here to help build an independent drug industry in my home country.
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Kayleen Lederman
I received a B.S. in Microbiology from the University of California, Davis, and am now starting my Ph.D. in Microbiology at UW. I credit the catalyst for my interest in pursuing a Ph.D. to the town I was raised in. Growing up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, a small, isolated town with a national laboratory and consequently one of the highest per-capita concentrations of people with Ph.D.’s was anything but a typical childhood experience. It was through regular interactions with family friends and community leaders who were renowned researchers in their fields that I became inspired to pursue a career in government or non-profit research. I am specifically interested in researching bacterial communication and its contribution to pathogenesis and antibiotic resistance.
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Nolawit Mulugeta
My name is Nolawit Mulugeta and I was originally born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and emigrated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, Massachusetts where I studied Biological Engineering with a concentration in African and African Diaspora studies. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Pathobiology program at University of Washington. I am excited to study infectious disease in a strong global health department. Although my interests are broad in terms of specific disease areas, I am inspired by the multidisciplinary approach to research into public health and infectious disease offered at the University of Washington and hope to apply that to my work going forward!