Postdoc of the Month – July 2023
Vikas Malik (left) is a postdoc at the Department of Medicine of Columbia University Irving Medical Center in the Wang Lab and co-vice president of CUPS. His research focuses on understanding the mechanisms and therapeutic applications of human pluripotent stem cells. He was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by Pallavi Gaur, who explains below why she nominated Vikas.
Who are you?
Pallavi Gaur, Associate research scientist in the lab of Dr. Menon at CTCN, Department of Neurology, CUIMC.
How do you know Vikas?
I met Vikas at a holiday party at Columbia through some common friends.
How would you describe Vikas in three words?
Professional, helpful and social.
What do you like most about Vikas?
His capability of balancing work and social life.
Why did you nominate Vikas for Postdoc of the Month?
It’s been more than 3 years for me knowing Vikas and I have never seen him complaining about his work life. It does not mean that he doesn’t face any troubles, it just means that he deals with them professionally. He is a borderline workaholic but in a good way. You can walk in his lab at 8 in the morning and find him there already, not because of any requirements but his choice (and no, he does not leave early either). This shows his liking for science and commitment towards his profession. Having talked about his dedicated work life, I cannot miss to mention his strong participation in extracurricular activities. He is the vice president of CUPS and does a great job in organizing various activities and events to bring the postdocs together believing that networking and building a community is important (See the picture below of the board game evening that he organized/co-organized).
Postdoc of the Month – December 2022
Catherine (Katie) Insel
Katie Insel (left) is a postdoc in the Learning Lab led by Daphna Shohamy at the Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute. Here, she is studying how the multiple brain systems that support learning and memory functionally mature during adolescence.
She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her co-worker Celia Durkin, who explains why she nominated Katie below.
Who are you?
Celia Durkin, a 6th year PhD student in Daphna Shohamy’s lab.
How do you know Katie?
We work in the same lab.
How would you describe Katie in three words?
Brilliant, innovative, supportive.
What do you like most about Katie?
I admire Katie as a scientist– she has a very sharp mind, an incredible skill set, and an ability to clearly relay this skillset to others. I also appreciate Katie as a friend–she is supportive, open, and hilarious–making her wonderful to be around.
Why did you nominate Katie for Postdoc of the Month?
Katie has been a strong collaborative force in our lab–since she joined, she has brought researchers together on numerous projects, in addition to advancing her own. Katie is also very passionate about her research on adolescents, and uses her expertise to collaborate with lawyers to construct policy recommendations concerning juvenile prison sentences. Overall, Katie is an incredible role-model, and I’m lucky to have been able to work with her.
Celia Durkin (left) and Katie Insel (right) in Paris for a conference.
Postdoc of the Month – November 2022
Halle Dimsdale-Zucker (left) works as a postdoc in the Baldassano lab at the Department of Psychology of Columbia University. Here, she uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and computational modeling techniques to answer questions about how the brain represents memories. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her co-worker Hannah Tarder-Stoll, who explains why she nominated Halle below.
Who are you?
Hannah Tarder-Stoll, a 5th year PhD candidate in the labs of Dr. Mariam Aly and Dr. Chris Baldassano.
How do you know Halle?
Halle and I work in the same lab.
How would you describe Halle in three words?
Kind, wise, and tenacious.
What do you like most about Halle?
Halle is extremely knowledgeable and generous with her expertise and time. She’s always willing to provide help, insight, or advice to others in the lab or in the department. She does great science but is also fun and prioritizes creating a community with those around her.
Why did you nominate Halle for Postdoc of the Month?
Halle is an all around lovely person and colleague. She makes the lab feel like a warm and welcoming place, and her passion for science, her own research, and community building shines through in everything she does. She is also extremely resilient in the face of challenges. She is a true role model to many in the lab.
The Baldassano lab at lab dinner, with Halle as fourth from the left.
Postdoc of the Month – October 2022
Serra Favila (left) is a cognitive neuroscientist interested in visual perception and memory. She currently works as a postdoc in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University, under the supervision of Dr. Mariam Aly and Dr. Josh Jacobs. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by Mariam Aly, who explains why she nominated Serra below.
Who are you?
Dr. Mariam Aly, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology; Serra is a post-doc in my lab and in the lab of Dr. Joshua Jacobs (she is co-supervised).
How do you know Serra?
I am one of her post-doc mentors, but I have known her for years because we conduct similar research. We first met when I was a post-doc at Princeton and she was a grad student at NYU, and we had overlapping academic networks.
How would you describe Serra in three words?
Brilliant, creative, generous.
What do you like most about Serra?
Serra is not only extremely intelligent, but also a kind and patient mentor, very generous with her time and support for others, and a strong advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in science and beyond.
Why did you nominate Serra for Postdoc of the Month?
Serra is a shining example of a great scientist: not only does she do amazing work, but she is a wonderful all-around person: an amazing mentor and teacher, a team player, a kind and funny individual, an advocate for under-represented and marginalized populations, and a perfect role model for the next generation of scientists.
The Aly lab, with Serra standing second from the left.
Postdoc of the Month – June 2022
Maëlle Kapfer (left) is a postdoc in the Dean lab, an experimental condensed matter physics group at Columbia University. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleague Johannes Geurs. Below, Johannes explains why he nominated Maëlle.
Who are you?
I’m a Belgian postdoc at the Cory Dean group in physics. Our group specializes in making high quality electronic devices out of two-dimensional materials, in which we investigate all kinds of quantum effects.
How do you know Maëlle?
Maëlle is one of the senior postdocs in the lab. She comes from France, and is very knowledgeable about device fabrication and measurements. Maëlle is working on bending graphene ribbons to study the effects of strain and quantum transport.
How would you describe Maëlle in three words?
Diligent, erudite, affable.
What do you like most about Maëlle?
She has a wide set of skills that she will happily help anyone with. From quantum mechanics, materials science, device preparation, measurement techniques, data analysis and programming technique, she is ready to help anyone with their problem.
Why did you nominate Maëlle for Postdoc of the Month?
Maëlle has been one of the cornerstones of the lab. She has been the driving force behind setting up the 10 mK dilution fridge, and has programmed the measurement suite that the entire lab now uses. These are tasks that are vital for the lab and benefit everyone, but usually go underappreciated. This nomination was a way to thank her for that!
Maëlle at the Dean lab
Postdoc of the Month – May 2022
Ohemaa Poku (left) is a postdoc at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleagues Redd Driver, Melissa Ertl, and Cho-Hee Shrader. Below, they explain why they nominated Ohemaa.
Who are you?
Our names are Redd Driver, Melissa Ertl, and Cho-Hee Shrader. We are post-doctoral fellows at the HIV Center (Redd and Melissa) and ICAP (Cho-Hee) at Columbia University.
How do you know Ohemaa?
We met Ohemaa through the HIV Center and we have formed a writing group.
How would you describe Ohemaa in three words?
Thoughtful, brilliant & generous.
What do you like most about Ohemaa?
Ohemaa is a great friend. We know that we can rely on her whenever we need anything- whether it’s a quick research-related chat or a hours long vent session on our stressful lives as postdocs. We see her as a peer mentor, as she is so generous with whatever she has to offer- whether it’s a cupcake or a valuable piece of golden life/research advice that we will most likely take.
Why did you nominate Ohemaa for Postdoc of the Month?
Ohemaa is one of the most hardworking and intelligent people that we know. By intelligent, we mean all of the intelligences- intellectual, emotional, social, creative, and so on. She is a creative thinker and a good human! She lives a life of service and has transformed thousands of lives across the world through her research. Her genuine love for humanity is apparent. She has a passion for mentoring and she is so supportive of others. People come to her for support and advice and she’s always able to be there for them- even students! She is also a bright scientist whose science speaks volumes. Ohemaa demonstrates the pillar of success that we would also like to embody!
Ohemaa and friends
Postdoc of the Month – April 2022
Andra Mihali (left) is a postdoc in the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, and an active CUPS member. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by fellow postdoc Jaan Altosaar. Below, Jaan explains why he nominated Andra.
Who are you?
I (jaan.io) am an officer of research working on women’s health and mental health with my machine learning and artificial intelligence skills. I am also slowly trying to take more actions aligned with my values, such as building the first database of group homes in the United States for people with serious mental illness (onefact.org/assisted-living), or writing essays about the incentives that affect our lives through technology and research.
How do you know Andra?
Andra and I met in Washington Square park through two dear friends, Gecia and Lee. I even have a photo of our first meeting (see below). After Gecia and Lee had to go, Andra, my friend Alessandra and I went to eat at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village. Over some delicious dairy, I slowly realized that I had met a kindred spirit: Andra didn’t mince words and when she didn’t get something was quick to get over the universal fear of asking about it. This quickly led to very vulnerable and emotional conversations about life, love, and science, and I remember thinking “I hope I know Andra for a good long time; she is one of the most sincere and kind people I have ever met“.
How would you describe Andra in three words?
Earnest. Determined. Sensual.
What do you like most about Andra?
Andra inspires me because of her resilience in the face of adversity, and her vulnerability in letting friends in on the journey. I remember running into her on the NYU campus when we were both there; she was trying to articulate the misery of toiling away at her thesis, a knell for my own thesis expedition. When I was knee-deep in struggling with my thesis, I could call Andra knowing she’d immediately ‘get it’. This has repeated itself many times, from relationship struggles to both of us struggling to apply for our green cards — a long and expensive process. I am grateful for the role model Andra is in my life, the people she connects me to, and the openness with which she shares her struggles; she has always been a few steps ahead, and I am lucky to know her.
Why did you nominate Andra for Postdoc of the Month?
In the postdoc Slack channel, I had casually suggested that we ask Jillian (thatjillian.com) to host an event for postdocs. At the time, I was struggling with symptoms of depression and anxiety due to events out of my control, and had just started SNRI medication out of desperation. I was lonely and practicing the approach of “if I’m having an issue, I’m probably not alone, so I should try solving the problem for myself and then it will hopefully help someone else.” Andra immediately jumped on this off-hand comment and organized not one but two events. The events were a major success with many postdocs in attendance, and I learned a lot through them that I have continued to reflect on.
Jaan, Andra, and friends in Washington Square Park, where they first met
Postdoc of the Month – March 2022
Eva Gil Iturbe
Eva Gil Iturbe (left) has been a postdoc in the Department of Psychiatry since 2019. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by active CUPS member Nicole Perry-Hauser. Below, Nicole explains why she nominated Eva.
Who are you?
Nicole Perry-Hauser, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Javitch Lab in the Department of Psychiatry.
How do you know Eva?
I am a colleague from a neighboring lab.
How would you describe Eva in three words?
Persistent, hard-working, and adventurous.
What do you like most about Eva?
Eva is always there to pick me up – she’s a fantastic friend and colleague!
Why did you nominate Eva for Postdoc of the Month?
Eva is a driven and motivated scientist. She helps her lab mates whenever she can by talking through experimental problems and sharing her expertise. She goes above and beyond what is expected of her in the laboratory and has persisted despite the pandemic.
Nicole (left) and Eva (right) together at a CUPS event for Aladdin.
Postdoc of the Month – February 2022
Michael Patrick Vaughn
Michael Patrick Vaughn (left) is a sociologist with expertise in sexuality, identity, trauma, and memory. As a postdoc at the HIV Center, Michael’s work centers the influence of medical mistrust as it relates to novel biomedical HIV technologies. He was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by fellow postdoc Emily Paine. Below, Emily explains why she nominated Michael.
Who are you?
My name is Emily and I’m a postdoctoral research fellow in the T32 program at the HIV Center for Clinical and Behavioral Studies, in the Division of Gender, Sexuality and Health.
How do you know Michael?
Michael is also a fellow in this program, and has been the Chief Postdoctoral Fellow since late 2020.
How would you describe Michael in three words?
Generous, energetic, brilliant.
What do you like most about Michael?
Michael is a bright light in our cohort and meetings. He brings a lot of energy to everything he does. He always invests in his co-fellows and his mentees, making sure to lift others as he advances in his own career. He offers incisive intellectual contributions. The past two years of remote work would have been much drearier without him!
Why did you nominate Michael for Postdoc of the Month?
Michael deserves recognition for his contributions and investment in his cohort and mentees!
Postdoc of the Month – January 2022
Pamela Graney (left) is a postdoc in the lab of Prof. Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic at the Department of Biomedical Engineering, where she is using a multi-tissue platform to model and delineate the contributions of tissue resident immune cells to pre-metastatic niche formation and tumor metastasis. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleague Naveed Tavakol. Below, Naveed explains why he nominated Pamela.
Who are you?
I am a fourth year PhD student in the Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic lab, and I work very closely with Pam on different projects in our “organs-on-a-chip” team.
How do you know Pamela?
Pam is in my lab, and has been working closely with me since she joined the lab right before the pandemic began in Spring 2020.
How would you describe Pamela in three words?
Meticulous, motivated, helpful.
What do you like most about Pamela?
Pam is always willing to help others in the lab and in the University community, no matter how small or large the task. She is compassionate and truly cares for the wellbeing of everyone in her life – and takes the extra step to make sure those who are struggling know that she is there to support them. During the early days of the pandemic, and just being in NYC for a few months, she joined the forces of postdocs eager to help in COVID-19 hospital efforts. Since then, she has been so adamant about supporting graduate students in our lab and department over her last two years at Columbia.
Why did you nominate Pamela for Postdoc of the Month?
I think Pam is a great member of our Columbia community, and it is often hard to recognize those who are working so hard during the pandemic since everything is virtual. Pam has taken the initiative to make her mark on our lab, department, and broader Columbia community, and I think she is extremely deserving of the Postdoc of the Month title!
Pamela (middle) with her coworkers.
Postdoc of the Month – November 2021
Kirsten Anderson (left) is a postdoc in the DOOR (Developmental Origins of Resilience) lab of Dr. Dumitriu, where she studies individual differences in response to stress. She was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleague Tatyana Behring. Below, Tatyana explains why she nominated Kirstin.
Who are you?
My name is Tatyana and I am a postdoc in the Dumitriu lab at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) of CUIMC.
How do you know Kirstin?
Kirstin is my coworker in the lab.
How would you describe Kirstin in three words?
Passionate, helpful and inspiring.
Why did you nominate Kirstin for Postdoc of the Month?
She is a passionate advocate and amazing coworker.
Postdoc of the Month – October 2021
Columbia postdoc Sonya Troller-Renfree (left) was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleague and CUPS executive member Molly Scott. Below, Molly explains why she nominated Sonya.
Who are you?
My name is Molly and I’m a postdoc in the NEED Lab at Teachers College.
How do you know Sonya?
We are postdocs in the same lab.
How would you describe Sonya in three words?
Determined, passionate, brilliant.
Why did you nominate Sonya for Postdoc of the Month?
She’s an incredibly hard worker and a great role model for everyone in our lab. Her ongoing work on EEG (see picture below) and young children’s development is a huge contribution to the field of psychological science.
Sonya (middle) practicing EEG capping with grad students from the NEED lab.
Postdoc of the Month – September 2021
Postdoc of the Month – August 2021
Columbia postdoc Craig Connolly (left) from the Mailman School of Public Health and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by no less than seven of his colleagues: Luca Telesca, Rachel Lupien, Matthew Jerram, Jennifer Middleton, Erin Black, and Mike Jollands. Below, Mike explains why they nominated Craig.
Postdoc of the Month – July 2021
Columbia postdoc and CUPS member Chloé Berland (left) was nominated for Postdoc of the Month by her colleague Francesca Copperi. Below, Francesca explains why she nominated Chloé.
Who are you?
My name is Francesca and I’m a postdoc working at CUIMC.
How do you know Chloé?
We work in the same building. Even though we are not properly in the same lab, we share some common research topics, and especially the joys and sorrows of our work!
How would you describe Chloé in three words?
Smart, resourceful and kind.
What do you like most about Chloé?
That even when s**t happens, she can keep calm and move on! Plus, she’s a great and cool scientist!
Why did you nominate Chloé for Postdoc of the Month?
Because thanks to Chloé’s colorful and highly trendy scrub caps (see picture below), now also the rest of the lab is a bit cooler and more fashionable!
Chloé’s labmates, Srikanth, Francesca, and Nachi, wearing the amazing scrub caps that Chloé bought them for doing surgeries.