Mentoring Pod - Graduate Mentor Fellow Bios

Current Graduate Mentor Fellows

Lauren Timmins

Biomedical Engineering

My name is Lauren Timmins and I am a second year PhD student in Biomedical Engineering under Dr. Biju Parekkadan. I am a GAANN Fellow and am originally from Boston where I completed my Bachelor's in Chemical Engineering from UMASS Amherst. My current research focuses on genetically engineering cellular therapies, particularly the improvement in manufacturing processes surrounding this breakthrough field in regenerative medicine. Topics that interest me include the future of genetics and cell transplants, particularly where people are looking at CRISPR and similar technologies in order to improve the way in which we treat blood cancers and immune disorders. Outside of the lab I like to teach, travel and play video games. I've mentored students from high school to the senior college level from general help with learning and career progress as well as advising them on ways to become successful at what they are passionate about. I'd be interested to discuss with you all parts of my research, life at Rutgers and as a undergraduate/graduate student, and in general ways to help shape a bright future for yourselves as well as for science in general.

Rafael Vizcaino

Comparative Literature

Rafael Vizcaino is a PhD candidate in the Program in Comparative Literature. He is also affiliated to the Advance Institute for Critical Caribbean Studies and has a certificate in Women's and Gender Studies. His research interests are very interdisciplinary, centering on Latin American and Caribbean philosophies, theologies, and literatures, particularly those critical of the socio-political and epistemic legacies of colonization. He is interested in analyzing the interconnections between colonization, modernity, religion, secularism, and decolonization, as well as how the lived experiences of race and gender are represented in art/literature. He is eager to mentor students interested in any of the above topics or in the critical humanities at large, especially those with an interdisciplinary lens. Rafael is a member of the editorial collective for: The Journal of the Latin American Philosophy of Education Society. His work has been published in the anthology Decolonising the University: Context and Practice, and in the journals Radical Philosophy Review, CLR James Journal, and Political Theology. He received his B.A with honors in Philosophy and minors in Critical Theory and Latin American History, from Northwestern University.

Louis Segura

Comparative Literature

Louis is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. He is currently writing a dissertation which examines the legacy of the Nazi Occupation of France and the Resistance in French Literature and Film. His general research interests include Cultural Memory, Film History, and the Holocaust. At Rutgers he has taught in the Department of Comparative Literature, the English Writing Program, and the Honors College. He currently teaches French at Caldwell University and continues to teach at Rutgers such courses as Introduction to Myth, World Literature, Short Fiction. As an educator his goal is to educate students in both character and content and to motivate them to work independently. Prior to Rutgers, he was a High School teacher for 7 years where he taught a variety of subjects including French, Latin, Spanish, and English. He is originally from California and attended the University of California, Santa Cruz as an undergraduate. He has lived in France and returns as often as possible to travel and to visit friends. He enjoys films and reading comic books in his spare time. As an Honors College Mentor he is interested in areas of Diversity and Culture, Art and Social Justice, as well as Food Sustainability and Food Insecurity.

Rudrani Gangopadhyay

Comparative Literature

Rudrani is a PhD student at the Program in Comparative Literature, where she works on the textual city in multimodal literature and cinema. She was raised in India and Canada, and received her B.A. (Honors), M.A., and M.Phil in English literature. She is also the digital coordinator for the Program in Comparative Literature, and is an archivist and digital humanities enthusiast, and is currently working on a digital archive of literary mappings of Delhi with a Seed Grant from the Rutgers Digital Humanities. Rudrani would be happy to advise anyone interested in the fields of academia, archiving, or editing and publishing. She is also happy to talk about life as an international student or a graduate student. In her spare time, Rudrani enjoyed discussing obscure pop culture references, playing the ukulele, or trying to learn languages on DuoLingo.

Alex Yonk

Cell Biology and Neuroscience

I am a Ph.D. student in Neuroscience. My research focuses on the cortical and thalamic inputs to the striatum and its implications in further understanding movement disorders such as Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, and dystonia. Prior to graduate school, I received my BS from the University of Iowa in Psychology. I worked in Dr. Mark Blumberg's lab for four years during my undergraduate years. His research focuses on the development of the sensorimotor system through twitching during REM sleep in infant rats and mice. After graduation, I worked as a laboratory technician in the same lab for another year. During my five years in the Blumberg lab, I worked on numerous projects including one project that is published focusing on correlating primary visual cortex activity with the animal's behavioral state. I would be happy to talk with students interested in my research or in the Neuroscience field. My specialty tends to be in the sensorimotor system and development, but I can also provide guidance to those interested in other Life Sciences. I am originally from Illinois and I enjoy reading, playing sports, and lifting weights in my spare time.

Jiqun Liu

Library and Information Science

Jiqun is a Ph.D. student majoring in information science at School of Communication and Information, Rutgers University. His research mainly focuses on user modeling and task modeling in interactive information retrieval. Before joining the Ph.D. program, he earned his M.S. in information science from Peking University and double B.S. in Finance and Library Science from Nankai University. Jiqun enjoys discussing all things related to information science, technology, user study, and arts. He is open to advising students on interesting and innovative projects related to the application of information technology for social good, user behavior analysis, human-computer interaction, and data science in general.

Scott Harris


Scott is a Ph.D. student in English. His research and teaching focus on late-20th and early-21st-century British literature and culture, especially the novel and popular theater. Originally from the United Kingdom, Scott has found his time living "across the pond" invaluable for studying the peculiarities that distinguish national cultures from each other. Scott is interested in the political and social influence of art and literature in contemporary life. Since he was an undergraduate in England, Scott has seen literary study as a way of understanding how diverse communities come together and represent themselves in the public sphere through art. This work is often utopian in nature, but Scott is interested too in the historical and political antagonisms that frequently underpin cultural institutions and the work they choose to exhibit. Scott lives in Brooklyn, NY, and spends his time visiting museums, libraries, and theaters in the city. He would love to meet with students who are interested in contemporary politics and culture, and who want to understand how humanistic study connects to the world around them.

Kailana (Nani) Durnan


Nani Durnan is a doctoral student in the English department of the School of Arts and Sciences. Her research focuses on the history of radical politics as it is represented in British novels at the turn of the twentieth century. Nani loves teaching classes in literature and writing here at Rutgers. She also directs the Nineteenth Century Graduate Interest Group, which hosts workshops and events for student and faculty in the field, and works as a tutor and research assistant. Nani hails from Nashville, Tennessee. Before coming to Rutgers, she attended Bowdoin College in Maine, where she completed a double major in English and French. After receiving her degree, Nani spent a year teaching English in a university in Clermont-Ferrand, France, where she learned a lot about language and culture (and cheese). She is currently embarking on the fifth year of her PhD. program. When she isn't working on her dissertation, Nani can be found practicing yoga and running, reading memoirs, volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters, or exploring Jersey City with her hound mix, Darwin. While she is especially enthusiastic about British literature, Nani is an avid student of writing in all genres and disciplines, and she is particularly passionate about using the tools of writing to amplify marginalized voices in the complex cultural conversation that we share. She welcomes the opportunity to discuss her interests in language, literature, teaching, and writing with students from all backgrounds! She also looks forward to conversations about strategies for creating a balanced and enriching student life.

Mary Alcaro


Mary Alcaro is a second year PhD in the English Department, where she works mostly with 14th century British texts, particularly those related to gender, sexuality, and the medical humanities. Mary received her MA in English and American Literature from NYU (2017) and her BA from Fordham University, where she was a member of the Honors Program (2012). Prior to attending graduate school, Mary worked an English teacher at an all-girls school in Bergen County, New Jersey. While originally from New Jersey, she lived for several years in New York City, and has recently moved to Philadelphia. Mary is interested in connecting with students for whom college life may feel like a tough adjustment-- she can relate to being a first generation college student, as well as the struggle to define oneself outside of one's own academic ability. She's also an experienced, sympathetic ear for those who might be dealing with anxiety, depression, or struggling with questions of sexual identity. But she's also interested in connecting with anyone who shares her interests: overanalyzing great books, movies, and television; laughing at robots performing human tasks badly; exploring the wonders of outer space and human anatomy; and traveling whenever and wherever possible.

Nirmala Thomas

Environmental Science

Nirmala "Nimmi" Thomas is a 4th year Ph.D. student in the Environmental Science program - Exposure Assessment option. She is a member of the bioaerosol laboratory run by Dr. Gediminas Mainelis. Her thesis work is on indoor air quality (IAQ) assessment and quantitative measures of bioaerosol exposure using novel samplers developed at Rutgers. She has conducted field studies to assess the IAQ in NYC residential buildings along with colleagues. In December 2017, she was part of a Rutgers team that studied air quality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, trying to connect environmental issues to health impacts in local communities. She moved to the US four years ago to attend graduate school after completion of an undergraduate degree in biotechnology engineering. From an early age, she was given the opportunity to live with her family in Australia, United Arab Emirates and India, which helped her learn about different cultures, customs and improve on interpersonal skills. Nirmala would be happy to speak to students interested in her research, or in the environmental science/ microbiology field. She is also very interested in community work and is part of two NGOs enriching social and educational programs for children, families, and adults in the community, and contributing to the development of science labs in developing countries. In her spare time, she loves watching movies, playing with her cat, learning the ukulele and practicing yoga.

Michelle Doose


Michelle Doose, MPH is a doctoral candidate in Epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health where she is focused on reducing cancer care disparities through research and health policy. Her current research is examining patient, provider, and health system level factors that influence optimal diabetes and hypertensive care management among breast cancer patients. She earned her Master of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, where her studies focused on health education and health promotion because she wanted to create interventions that would empower diverse communities to improve their health. Prior to her PhD program, she worked as a research coordinator focused on improving post-treatment care for children, teens, and young adult cancer survivors. Her experiences taught her to think beyond the individual patient and to use research to identify and hold systems accountable that prevent people from being their healthiest. As a Health Policy Research Scholar supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Michelle is learning how to use research, connections, and leadership to inform and influence policy toward a Culture of Health. Michelle is passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders, researchers, and change-agents. When Michelle is not working, she loves time for self-care, traveling, and spending time with her dogs.

Robyn Miranda

Food Science

Robyn is a doctoral student in the Food Science Graduate Program. She is specifically focused in the area of food microbiology and is currently researching various Norovirus prevention strategies throughout the farm to fork continuum. Robyn is a New Jersey native and has completed her B.S. in Food Science at Rutgers as well. During her time at Rutgers she has had the opportunity to be involved in several clubs including being President of the Food Science Graduate Student Association and the Craft Chair for Project Sunshine. She has also had the opportunity to have several internships. Robyn interned at the NJ Department of Health researching the risk of V. parahaemolyticus in NJ waters. She has also most recently completed an internship at Consumer Reports where she worked on food safety projects geared towards advocating for consumers. Robyn is passionate about helping students navigate through Rutgers and beyond and learn how to conduct research. When outside of the food microbiology lab, Robyn enjoys volunteering at a local bird rescue, practicing yoga or volunteering at the children's hospital.

Rachel Dickler

Learning Sciences

Rachel is a doctoral student studying artificial intelligence in education as part of the Learning Sciences program at the Graduate School of Education. Her research is centered on the development and implementation of an Intelligent Tutoring System using machine learning/educational data mining, natural language processing, and eye-tracking techniques. Prior to graduate school, Rachel received her BS from the College of New Jersey in Special Education and Psychology. Her undergraduate research was on cognitive psychology and video game play (i.e. Portal and Portal 2). Rachel would be excited to talk to students about any area of education (especially special education, science education, educational technologies), artificial intelligence, areas of interest to students, and the graduate school/research process in general! She also enjoys food, travel, jokes, and of course games.

Caterina Agostini


Caterina Agostini, a Ph.D. student at the Department of Italian, is doing research in the early modern scientific writing and the medical humanities. Caterina loves sharing her research in the classroom and promoting cultural events through the Italian Graduate Society, where she acts as the Vice President. Prior to graduate school at Rutgers, she earned a B.A. and an M.A. in Classics, with a concentration in Paleography and the History of Science, from the University of Padua (Italy). She taught at Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and North Carolina State University, where she also was an adviser for Honors theses in the history of science and technology. In the scholarly debate, she published articles in journals and in edited volumes; she has also served in the editorial committee for academic journals, history of science textbooks, and Italian historical novels based on Galileo, medieval alchemists, and the relationship between science and religion. Caterina is developing projects in the digital humanities, including a conference panel in Washington DC, where she will explore text and data mining and visualization techniques. She developed and curated projects on cultural learning, Italian-American story-telling through songs, the Italian Jewish community, and museum pedagogy. She has been a judge for the US National Junior Classical League Creative Writing Contest and the Rutgers Aresty Research Symposium. Caterina is happy to guide students who are interested in texts, deciphering old scripts, and interpreting literary and scientific sources through analysis and critical methods. She is looking forward to facilitating ways to communicate through networks and professional associations of which she is a member, such as the Northeast Modern Language Association, the Renaissance Society of America, and Phi Sigma Iota, an honor society for foreign languages, literatures, and cultures.

Emily Kelly-Castro

Neuroscience and Cell Biology

My name is Emily C. Kelly-Castro. I'm originally from Puerto Rico and I got to New Jersey on July 2016 to start my Ph.D. in the Neuroscience program. I have a B.S. and an M.S. in Microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. Through many years of research I've the opportunity to mentor other students. Being able to guide others is what drives me to continue doing research. I currently work in Dr. Huaye Zhang's laboratory with the molecular mechanisms that regulate dendritic spine plasticity. The lab works with molecular biology, behavioral experiments and confocal microscopy. When I'm not in lab I enjoy cooking, doing yoga and dancing.

Thanawat Rattanawitoon

School of Public Health

My name is Thanawat Rattanawitoon, a scholar student from Thailand. I am currently a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health, Rutgers. As for my thesis, I am going to study about the risks of maternal exposure to the pesticide in Thailand since this is a serious issue in my country, especially the north of Thailand. The majority of Thais are farmers and female farmers exposure to the pesticides and this lead to adverse health effects, particularly neurodevelopment, among their children. For my educational background, I received a bachelor and masters degrees in public health in Thailand. For my work experiences, I worked in the community level, Nan province, the north of Thailand. My responsibilities were to educate people regarding health education, enhance people for health promotion such as healthy diet and an aerobic exercise, prevent communicable diseases such as HIV, Dengue fever, Malaria, Flu, SARS and also set up the health club in the community such as healthy youth club and elderly club. As a mentor, I would like to share my experiences in the public health fields, at the international level, with my mentees. Besides my study, I like doing exercise. I go to the gym almost every day. I like photography. The most favorite activity is cooking. I cook Thai food and I am a good cook, therefore, I also want to share my cooking recipes and teach Thai language for my mentee.

Julia O'Connor

Social Work

Julia O'Connor is a doctoral candidate at the Rutgers University School of Social Work and a Graduate Assistant at the Center of Violence Against Women and Children. She has many years of experience as a domestic and sexual violence advocate. Additionally, she served in the Peace Corps twice: once in Guyana and before that in Uganda. She holds a MSW from the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Social Work and a MPH from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research interests include violence against women namely primary prevention. Julia is passionate about mentoring students around topics related to social justice and social work particularly violence against women and children as well as research and international work. She loves cooking, reading, yoga, running and international travel (especially coupled with international eating!).


Previous Graduate Mentor Fellows | 2017-18

Cosmas Mwikirize; Biomedical Engineering
Caroline Pantazis; Neuroscience
Nattawan Junboonta; Theory, Organization and Policy
Na'ama Av-Shalom; Learning Sciences
Eve Reilly; Microbiology & Molecular Genetics
Richard Voepel; Mathematics
Caitlin Bronson; Social and Health Psychology 
Shaojun Zhu;Computer Science 
Catie Raney; Physics & Astronomy 
Morgan Moyer; Linguistics

Previous Graduate Mentor Fellows | 2016-17

Tawanda Hubbard; Social Work
Rachel Rubinstein; Psychology
Yilin Wu; Economics
Na'ama Av-Shalom; Learning Sciences
Nattawan Junboonta; Education Theory, Organization and Policy
Sonia Razavi; Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
Caroline Pantazis; Neuroscience
Cosmas Mwikirize; Biomedical Engineering
Fei Wang; Molecular Biology & Genetics
Maria Qadri; Biomedical Engineering & Quantitative Biomedicine
Urmimala Basu; Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

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