Meet the 2017 First Years!

This news feature was prepared and written by Neurosciences Program Communications Reps, Arielle Keller and Avery Krieger.

Wondering who our new students are this year? We were psyched to meet the 2017 first years, and had the pleasure of asking some of them a few fun interview questions! Bet you didn’t know that one of our first years was a professional poker player in a past life, that another founded a 3D printing startup company, and that another grew up in four countries (U.S., Canada, Chile, and Nicaragua)! Interested to learn more about these students who hail from far and wide? Read on!

2017 First Year Class - White Coat Ceremony

Front Row: Kathy, Ellie, Chung-Ha, Sam, Victoria, Michelle , Beatriz

Back Row: Tony Ricci (Program Director), Sofia, Minseung, Gabe, Alex, John K., Daniel, John W., Josh, Tyler, Kei

Photo Credits: Michelle Drews

Each of our first years has various interests in each of the many domains within neuroscience. Let's hear what they had to say:

Tyler has interests in neurotechnology, while Sam’s passion lies in neurodegeneration and aging. Kei, after previously studying olfaction, started looking at mouse behavioral research with some jealousy, saying, “you can literally see an animal behave.” We understand, Kei, we totally understand. Alex is all about systems level neuroscience, and John K’s computational background inspired him to attempt to “bridge the gap” between basic science and circuitry. Beatriz and Ellie are interested in translational neuroscience, with Ellie specifically desiring data-driven ontology and brain-based diagnosis of psychiatric illnesses. Can you imagine? Josh is all about two-photon and neural network modeling approaches to topics like sensory transduction and single-cell physiology, and Sofia has her eyes set on understanding the details of the synapse from a cellular and molecular standpoint, especially in disease models. Gabe and Kathy are interested in vision, with the former wanting to integrate computational neuroscience and the latter zeroing in on opthamalogical pursuits (retina and optic nerve health). Kathy urges everyone to google “frog pupils” to help spur their interests in marvelous species variations of the eye. Chung-Ha wants to use molecular genetics to answer neuroscience questions, and Minseung just wants to study neuroscience, period (he’s currently thinking about computation in sensory systems).

Answering difficult questions in succinct ways is a challenge all scientists have to face. In that spirit, the first years were asked to summarize their favorite scientific results in two sentences or less:

Minseung answered with not two sentences, but two words: semiconservative replication. Talk about succinct! Chung-Ha was quoted as saying that “the correlation of TUNEL labeling with acidified mitochondria in the mouse optic nerve head” was his favorite. Gabe relayed the timeless “if you have a four-legged table that wobbles, you can always rotate it into a position where it sits perfectly on the ground.” Bring Gabe to the bar next time your table will not stay flat and folded napkins won’t do the trick. Ellie related how a 2016 paper had subjects in an fMRI listen to episodes of The Moth Radio Hour. They found that there were not only individual differences in how semantic domains were tiled across the cerebral cortex, but also that there was a consistent representation of words related to people in the lateral parietal cortex. Next on the list is probably letting people binge shows on Netflix in the fMRI. Josh’s favorite two-sentence result also clocked in under the limit. He simply states that “induction of plasticity at a single synapse lowers the threshold for plasticity at nearby synapses.” Beatriz followed suit with “male fetuses are less sturdy than female fetuses” and Kei told us that some blind people can dodge objects that are thrown at them due to different visual pathways. Their answers did not disappoint and reflected the variation in interests across their class!

First Years staring off thoughtfully. Kei knows it's photo time.

Pictured: Kei, Alex, Daniel
Photo Credits: Avery Krieger

Who inspired this new group of students to get to where they are today?

When asked about their science heroes, Chung-Ha told us about Jeremy Nathans who cloned M- and L-cone opsins and played a critical role in shaping our understanding of the molecular/genetic/evolutionary logic of primate trichromatic color vision. Ellie told us about Helen Mayberg, a physician scientist who has worked to translate neuroscientific findings into novel treatments for depression. Other famous scientists mentioned were Christoph Koch (John K.), Rosalind Franklin (Beatriz), Marie Curie (Sofia), and Hodgkin/Huxley (Tyler). Some students were most influenced by their personal mentors. Alex was inspired by his mentor at Bates, and Sam by the director of her summer research program. Gabe seems to have chosen the right place to attend graduate school, as his science heroes include Tony Ricci, John Huguenard, Jun Ding, Shaul Hestrin, and Sui Wang (hmm, what do these faculty all have SIN common?).

Victoria peers into Sam's mind-- is she thinking about hiking again?

Pictured: Sam, Victoria
Photo Credits: Avery Krieger

When asked about their interests outside of science, the first-years revealed a wide range of activities they enjoy: 

This included John K. running barefoot, Ellie writing poetry, and Kei brewing coffee. Minseung told us how much he likes to sing as part of the Stanford Chamber Chorale and said, “I can sing the Pokemon theme song for you -- email me with requests.” We hope someone will take him up on this! Chung-Ha enjoys drumming and trying to hit golf balls, and Sofia told us she likes traveling, cooking/baking, scrapbooking, and yoga. Josh provided us with perhaps the most surprising answer to this question, “I like weakly-electric fish, Bach Partita No. 2 for Unaccompanied Violin, and ‘Extreme Acupuncture’” -- you’ll have to ask him to find out more! Running and hiking are very popular activities among the first-years. Keep your eyes out for GabeEllieJohn, and Tyler running from place to place, and next time you’re hiking know that you may encounter SamAlex, and Kathy.


Intrigued by all the interesting activities our first-years engage in outside of the lab, we wondered about what career paths they might choose to pursue if science was not an option.

In a world without science, Sofia would be found running her non-profit, Sam would be teaching social studies, and Kei would be podcasting about technology. Beatriz said she’d like to do film music composition, and Josh said that he would be a classical violinist. Minseung and Kathy would both tap into their cooking skills, with Minseung as an experimental chef and Kathy as a pastry chef. Tyler told us that he would like go spelunking, and explore uncharted caves. Alex said he would be an author, and we look forward to reading his autobiography! Chung-Ha would of course be a drummer for Shania Twain’s touring band, and John K. said he would be a shepherd. Gabe told us, “I’d start a company that creates clever company names. I’d call it ‘The naming company’” - with startup ambitions like that, it’s a good thing he’s in Silicon Valley!

Tyler says, "Hold my beverage" as Gabe ponders intensely about whether invincibility and wearing peanut-butter flavored underwear in Yosemite is a good idea.

Pictured: Gabe, Tyler

Photo Credits: Avery Krieger

We ended our ended our interviews with a wildcard question: what would you do if you were invincible for a single day?

We left the parameters as open-ended as possible and let the first years set the scene! Minseung started us out with his lifelong desire to battle a wild Pikachu and patch it with his bare hands. What a shocker! In a similarly animal-oriented fashion, Chung-Ha’s immortal goal would be to “go to Africa and wrestle large animals.” Not much to say there as everyone can immediately relate to this desire. To change it up, the task that Kathy wants to tackle during her day of immortality is her thesis defense. Great idea, KathyGabe similarly wants to laugh in the face of danger by “finally wearing [his] peanut-butter flavored underwear in Yosemite.” Honestly, this seems like a win-win for Gabe and the bears. Josh laid out an entire scenario for his immortal day. To start, he’d skydive without a parachute over the Mariana Trench. Upon impact, he’d head straight for the bottom just to re-enact choice scenes from his favorite sci-fi horror film The Abyss. We would all pay to see that summer movie! Kei would go the other direction, aiming for space instead, while Sam would perform memory experiments on herself (assuming she could recover the ones lost in the process).

We sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this multifaceted look at our incredible first-year neuroscientists. Make sure to ask them about their favorite results, interests, or weird invulnerability goals!

Our Neurosciences Program Communications Reps

Arielle Keller

Arielle is the human incarnation of recurrent excitation. She loves reading, baking, petting dogs, and trying to understand how the brain allocates attention.

Avery Krieger

Experimentalist, Boxer, Photographer – Avery strives to leverage his photos and experiments to capture the endless complexity that exists in nature (both in and outside of the brain).