Student Profiles - Current

Alise MuokAlise Muok
Crane lab
BMCB (entered program 2012)

From: Stockton, CA
Undergraduate: UC Davis, BS Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

What I enjoy most about being a graduate student at Cornell is the warm and accepting atmosphere brought upon by the professors and students. As a second year graduate student, I have personally experienced the willingness of my peers to teach incoming students new techniques and assist them in research. As for the city of Ithaca, there are very few places that can compare to the natural beauty seen here. Since I love the outdoors, I knew that Ithaca was going to be a great place for me to live. I feel extremely fortunate for my opportunity to be in the BMCB program while living in such a gorgeous town.

About my research
To change swimming direction in response to the chemical environment, bacterial cells contain transmembrane receptors that transduce signals into the cell to control flagellar rotation. In the Crane lab, one of our goals is to determine the structure and function of proteins involved in bacterial chemotaxis (bacterial movement)—a system that is necessary for host infection. In my experiments, I use both biochemical assays and x-ray crystallography to elucidate protein mechanisms that regulate chemotaxis.

Pooja GudibandaPooja Gudibanda
Schroeder lab
BMCB (Biochemistry, entered 2012)

From: Mumbai, India
Undergraduate (BSc, Biotechnology): University of Mumbai, India
Masters (MS, Biotechnology): State University of New York at Buffalo

What I like most about Ithaca: Ithaca is friendly and close-knit, and hence makes me feel at home! Its old stone architecture, bridges, gorges, plantations and trails are paradise surrounding an intellectually stimulating setting.

What I like most about Cornell: Its scientific environment coupled with the warm and friendly faculty and students fosters an ideal learning environment.

Top reason for choosing Cornell: Cornell’s MBG department was one of the few programs to offer ‘lab rotations’ prior to joining a lab. This encouraged me to explore my scientific interests and taught me the importance of multidisciplinary research. The faculty are very down-to-earth and take personal interest in your work and development.

Thing you didn't know about Cornell before you came: Cornell has a lake and a waterfall inside the campus! Its just mesmerizing to sit by the lake after a long day or star gaze on the Libe slope by night.

Most exciting (scientific) person you've met since coming to Cornell: Nobel laureates: Roger Kornberg and Randy Schekman

About my research
The Schroeder lab is interested in the structural characterization of small molecules using NMR and MS analysis and elucidating their biological functions. One of our key areas of research is understanding the “dauer” stage in C. elegans, wherein the worm enters a seemingly “non-ageing” state of metabolic arrest. My project focuses on understanding the mode of action of Daf12 and Din1, the 2 key proteins involved in triggering this dauer formation. Additionally, I am also working on identifying the endogenous small molecule ligand(s) for the nuclear receptor AHR, which is known to play a critical role in immune response and tumorigenesis, by using a high-content metabolomics approach, coupled with protein-protein interactions and functional in-vitro binding assays.

Robert FragozaRobert Fragoza
Yu lab
BMCB (entered program Fall 2011)

From: Tucson, AZ
Undergraduate: University of Southern California, BS Chemical Engineering

What I like most about Ithaca: the scenery. Waterfalls, gorges, and hiking trails encompass Ithaca and are always worth the visit.
What I like most about Cornell: supportive faculty who are invested in your personal growth as a scientist. Cornell has just about every resource you need to succeed as a graduate student and your professors are there to help you achieve it.
Top reason for choosing Cornell: diverse research fields. My background is relatively unique so it was refreshing to find an institution that is active in such a wide array of biological researcher. Scientists at Cornell use their unique backgrounds and experience to tackle biological questions in innovative ways.
Something new you have done while at Cornell: Attend a Cornell hockey game. Back home, ice only exists in fountain drinks. Cornell faithful show up in masses for hockey games to support their team, win or lose.

About my research
The Yu Lab integrates both experimental and computational approaches to help understand how biological networks are organized and regulated. Our lab is particularly interested in predicting the impact of disease-associated variants on protein functions through their effects on protein interaction networks. To this end, our lab combined thousands of atomic resolution co-crystal structures with tens of thousands of known protein interaction to construct three-dimensional protein interaction network models to investigate where disease variants reside within these networks. Using this approach, we are exploring the potential impact of newly uncovered coding variants identified by large scale sequencing projects.

Najla Al-SweelNajla Al-Sweel
Alani lab
BMCB (entered program Fall 2011)

From: Saudi Arabia/Virginia
Undergraduate: King Saud University (Saudi Arabia), BS Clinical Laboratory Sciences.
Graduate: Georgetown University (Washington DC), MS Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

What I like most about Ithaca: the friendly and hospitable Ithacans. Coming from a big city like DC where no one says good morning or hello, the warm, small-town feel in Ithaca is truly refreshing.
What I like most about Cornell: the enriching scientific and academic environment that only an Ivy League school can provide.
Top reason for choosing Cornell: world-renowned scientists with very small egos. The camaraderie between faculty and students is something I did not sense at other schools I interviewed in.
Things you didn't know about Ithaca before you came: the winter is not that bad! Not to mention how beautiful the summers are.
Things you didn't know about Cornell before you came: the wonderful variety of PE classes available. I took Karate one semester and Salsa the next!
Most exciting scientific person you've met since coming to Cornell: Nobel Prize laureate Aaron Ciechanover. 

About my research
Genomic integrity is critical for tumor suppression and propagation of genetic information from one generation to the next. In the Alani lab, I am using the model organism S. cerevisiae to elucidate the role of Mlh3 protein in two genomic stability pathways: mismatch repair (MMR) and meiotic crossing over (CO). Mlh3 forms a complex with Mlh1 and is recruited to sites of meiotic CO and insertion deletion mismatches by Msh proteins. It contains a highly conserved putative endonuclease domain predicted to facilitate its role in the above processes. I aim to uncover the mechanism of its action through a combination of mutational analyses, biochemical assays, and localization studies.

Alex WangAlex Wang
Tumbar Lab
BMCB (entered program Fall 2010)

From: Jacksonville, FL
Undergraduate: University of Florida, B.S. in Chemistry

For me, BMCB was the perfect balance of everything I wanted in a PhD program, offering great science while fostering a supportive and close-knit community. Certainly, one of the highlights that attracted me most to the program was the wide spread of research to explore, from stem cell biology to x-ray crystallography to organic synthesis. This was particularly useful for me, since I was not at all certain of what I wanted to study coming in. Although life up north took some getting used to (i.e., lifelong Floridian dealing with a REAL winter for the first time), I’ve learned to love Ithaca, snow and all.

The Tumbar lab is mainly interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms of stem cell activity and fate choice, using epithelial skin stem cells of mice as a model system. My research focuses on aspects of hair follicle stem cell maintenance using mouse genetics to ablate individual transcription factors and genomic approaches to examine the global patterns of transcriptional regulation.

FoSheng Hsu
Fosheng HsuMao Lab
BMCB (entered program fall 2009)

From: Seattle, WA
Undergraduate: University of Washington


I joined this program for its interdisciplinary focus and wide range of research opportunities. As a second year graduate student, I have already learned so much about the incredible range of contemporary research that is happening through various interactions with faculties, classmates and participating in the Friday seminars. In addition to these great resources, I am also impressed with the professional working environment and congenial collaboration among faculty members across different fields.

As a result, I am highly motivated to excel and broaden my horizons at Cornell, not to mention the surrounding natural beauty puts me in the best of two worlds!


I am now a member of Yuxin Mao’s laboratory.  We are interested in understanding the process of membrane trafficking in the cell, in particular, the mechanism of phosphoinositide (PI) metabolism. My project focuses on a human protein called Sac2, which is a phosphatase that contains a Sac domain required for the hydrolysis of PI(4,5)P2 and PI(3,4,5)P3. This enzyme is unique in that, unlike other Sac-domain containing proteins, it hydrolyzes the phosphate from the 5-position of the inositol ring. My goal is to obtain the first crystal structure of Sac2 complex with its cognate substrate in order to better understand its substrate specificity.


Carolyn FisherCarolyn Fisher
Nicholson Lab
BMCB Field (entered program fall 2009)

From:Rochester, New York
Undergraduate: St. John Fisher College, Rochester, NY; BS Biology & BS Chemistry, with a concentration in Biochemistry


With a background in a small liberal arts college education, I wanted to pursue research in a larger university for graduate school. Cornell's prestigious reputation and diverse interdisciplinary programs helped motivate me to apply to graduate school here. After the immediate culture-shock from touring Cornell's immense and beautiful campus during interview weekend, I quickly discovered that although the university is large, the field of BMCB feels small because everyone was so friendly and welcoming. The professors and faculty were really nice, easy to talk to, and extremely helpful. The fellow students were friendly and, although we were all applying for the same program, we all had different interests, experiences, and backgrounds. Besides Cornell, the entire Ithaca area was beautiful and full of college life; I felt like I could really see myself living here. After interview weekend, Cornell quickly became my first choice for graduate school and I was thrilled when I learned I had been accepted. Now, after being a part of the Cornell community for a little over a year, I feel more of a connection to this university than ever before.


I am in my second year of graduate study and my research focus is the molecular signaling in the proteolytic processing of the amyloid precursor protein (APP) and its implications for Alzheimer's Disease. Currently, my project is in collaboration with Frank Schroeder's Lab (Graduate Field of Chemistry & Chemical Biology), where I am synthesizing a diketopiperazine organic molecule to hopefully mimic the cis-isomer of the phospho-Thr668-Pro669 motif in the APP cytoplasmic tail. I will then determine its molecular effects on the protein Pin1--a prolyl isomerase that promotes the cis/trans isomerization of a phosphorylated Thr-Pro motif within target proteins. This past April, I was awarded the 2010 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship for a proposal that I wrote and submitted for this project. I really enjoy my research project because it integrates my passion for biology and chemistry, and I am excited to be a part of the supportive and friendly Cornell community while I complete my doctorate.


Jon PaczkowskiJon Paczkowski
Fromme Lab
Weill Institute of Cell and Molecular Biology
BMCB Field (Fall 2008)

From: South Kortright, NY
Undergrad: Hartwick College, (BA Biology, 2008)


As someone who came from a small, but research oriented program I was looking to expand my academic and research horizons in search of something that I could see myself realistically enjoying for many years to come. Cornell University provided me with such an opportunity due to its wide range of research areas that are promoted by very enthusiastic and helpful faculty. The collaborative nature of not only the Weill Institute, but also the entire program, has allowed me to try my hand at a number of techniques that I would not have thought to use upon joining a lab. Not only has it moved my specific project along, it has helped improve my scientific thought process and skills.


Work in the Fromme lab deals with Sec7-depdent Arf1 activation as well as coat protein assembly and sorting at the trans-Golgi network. We use the Arf1-dependent, yeast specific coat complex named Exomer as a model by which to study trans-Golgi to plasma membrane transport and sorting. My project focuses on the architecture of the complex, which consists of a single core protein and four ancillary homologous proteins that act as adaptor proteins. Using X-ray crystallography and the facilities at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source, we have begun to elucidate the overall architecture of this 2 MD complex.



Student Profiles - Recently Graduated