Our IRACDA Cohorts

2022 Cohort

Cristina Flores-Arenas

Research mentor: Susan Carpenter

Cristina received her B.S degree in Biology from University of California, San Diego and her PhD from University of California, Riverside.

Currently, she is a new IRACDA postdoctoral fellow in the Carpenter lab at UCSC. Her research project focuses on characterizing long noncoding RNAs (lncRNAs) that are essential for macrophage viability using an established cell line model in addition to a primary stem cell derived macrophage model.


Melanie LeGro

Research mentor: Bin Chen

Blending computational tools with wet-lab investigations, Melanie is an early career researcher contributing to the fields of stem cell biology and genomic instability. Her dissertation work characterizes the transcriptional landscape driving cell fate decisions resulting from genomic instability. These unknown cellular decisions ultimately drive the formation of tumors. Previously, Melanie worked as an Environmental Scientist for the California Department of Water Resources and as a distinguished genomics graduate intern at the Joint Genome Institute of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. She is defending her dissertation in December 2021 with significant contributions to multiple fields of study. At UCSC she will establish a model for pediatric glioblastoma and investigate the neural stem cell lineages driving this cancerous phenotype.

Richard Dickson

Research mentor: Euiseok Kim

Richard completed his undergraduate degree in Sports Science and Physiology at the University of Leeds, UK. During his undergraduate, he also studied Neuroscience in a year exchange program at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. His PhD at the University of Leeds was spent in the lab of Ronaldo Ichiyama. While there he investigated combinational treatments for spinal cord injury. This investigation of combinatorial epidural electrical stimulation, plasticity enhancing anti-Nogo-A antibody treatment, and treadmill training led to increased behavioral recovery after severe spinal cord injury in rats. Functional, electrophysiological, and structural changes were observed across different treatment combinations. Gamma motor neurons in the spinal cord were also characterized and their location in motor pools was investigated using tissue clearing and light sheet microscopy.

As a post-doc in Euiseok Kim’s lab, Richard will study the developmental origins of the neuronal circuits for higher brain functions. The goal is to understand how different types of excitatory projection neurons in higher visual areas emerge from neural progenitors during brain development. He will use viral tracers for circuit mapping combined with single nucleus RNA sequencing to characterize these neurons and uncover which proteins are used to specify the different cell fates.

Alison Mills

Research mentor: Bill Sullivan

I’m currently wrapping up my PhD in Biochemistry at the University of California, Riverside. I use live cell imaging to investigate division plane orientation in plants. Specifically, I look at how division site proteins and their interactors contribute to the correct placement of the new cell wall when plant cells undergo cell division. I’m also passionate about science education and getting students excited about research. During my time at UCR, I also helped design and lead course-based undergraduate research experiences through the Dynamic Genome Program. I’m looking forward to continuing to develop my skills as a researcher and educator through the IRACDA postdoctoral fellowship program at UCSC.

For my postdoctoral research, I plan to examine how animal cells maintain their genomic integrity when they have chromosome fragments that lack kinetochores (acentric chromosomes) as a consequence of DNA damage. I’ll use live cell imaging approaches to observe cellular mechanisms and adaptations in response to acentric chromosomes in dividing cells of different cell types.

2021 Cohort (our inaugural cohort !)

Benjamin Reyes Topacio

Research mentor: Ali Shariati

Ben grew up in the SF Bay Area and completed his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley. He is interested in protein kinases and cell-fate decisions in stem cells and reproduction. During his PhD at Stanford University, Ben studied cell cycle control by cyclin-dependent kinases in Jan Skotheim’s laboratory and characterized a novel kinase-substrate interaction between the cyclin D-Cdk4/6 kinase complex and the Rb tumor suppressor. As an IBSC/CSUMB IRACDA fellow, Ben is working with Ali Shariati and Seth Rubin to study the dynamics and regulation of MAP kinases during differentiation.


Bryce Manso

Research mentor: Camilla Forsberg

Bryce is a new IRACDA postdoctoral fellow in the Forsberg lab at UCSC. He received his B.Sc. degree in Biology from Pacific Lutheran University and subsequently worked for several years in HIV vaccine research at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington. After obtaining his Ph.D. in Immunology from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he joined the Forsberg lab to study the effects of aging and inflammation on hematopoiesis.


Kelsie Rodriguez

Research mentor: Seth Rubin

I received my B.S. in Biology from California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) in 2015. During my undergraduate career, I participated in research programs at UC Berkeley, University of Oregon, and UC Santa Cruz. During these experiences, I developed a passion for chemical biology and biochemistry. I began graduate school at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, OR in 2015. I joined the lab of Professor Michael Cohen to study the post-translational modification, ADP-ribosylation. While in the Cohen Lab, my main thesis project was focused on using a chemical genetics proteomics strategy to identify protein targets of Poly-ADP-ribose polymerase 7 (PARP-7). I also developed a PARP- 7 specific small-molecule inhibitor. As I transition into my post-doctoral research in the lab of Professor Seth Rubin, I intend to apply the proteomics skills I learned during my graduate career towards a new project. I will use a chemical genetics strategy to identify changes in phosphorylation events mediated by Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 2 in the context of stem cell differentiation.

Since my first year of college at CSUMB, I have been interested in pursuing a career as a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. I am very excited to begin the IRACDA post-doctoral fellowship program; to perform rigorous research at UCSC, while also learning how to teach a diverse student population from the professors that taught me at CSUMB.

Gina Mawla

Research mentor: Olena Vaske

Gina completed her undergraduate degree in Molecular, Cell and Developmental Biology at UC Santa Cruz and subsequently went on to complete her PhD at the Department of Biology at MIT. Her PhD training focused on the biochemical underpinnings of bacterial AAA+ proteases and their roles in bacterial virulence. As a postdoc in Olena Vaske’s lab and a member of the Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative at UC Santa Cruz, Gina uses both genome-wide and single-gene studies to understand the molecular etiologies of rare pediatric cancers.


Jessica Sevetson

Research mentor: Sofie Salama

Jess Sevetson received her B.S. from Lehigh University, and her PhD from Brown University, both in Neuroscience. She is currently a postdoctoral scholar with Dr. Haussler and Dr. Salama, where she works with researchers at UCSC and UCSF to study the development of activity in human brain organoids. She uses activity-based metrics in a cortical organoid model to uncover genetic and cellular factors guiding functional human cortical development, and to investigate the ability of brain organoids to model emergent circuit-level phenomena.