5 Rice Academy Postdoctoral Fellows recruited

Five distinguished postdoctoral students have been recruited for the first group of Rice Academy Postdoctoral Fellows.

Diana Chirinos, Glen Hood, Carl Keiser, Temiloluwa “Temi” Olubanjo and Elizabeth Sweeney will conduct research with faculty at Rice for two years starting Sept. 1.

Provost Marie Lynn Miranda announced last fall the inaugural program of the Rice University Academy of Fellows, which was created to significantly raise Rice’s overall research profile as part of the $150 million investment to increase research competitiveness broadly across the university.

The five postdoctoral fellows were chosen from 12 finalist candidates who were brought to campus for an interview symposium, where they presented their research and their proposals to the 10 Rice Academy Faculty Fellows and to each other.

“We are delighted with the inaugural cohort of Rice Academy Postdoctoral Fellows,” said Seiichi Matsuda, dean of graduate and postdoctoral studies. “The five fellows are exceptionally talented and dynamic scholars who will forge new areas among the departments of BioSciences, Computer Science, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Psychology and Statistics and Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience. We look forward to their tremendous advances while at Rice and beyond.”

The postdoctoral fellows will be able to build collaborative relationships with the faculty fellows, and each postdoctoral fellow will develop a close, mentored relationship with two specific faculty members whose research is relevant to theirs.

photo of Diana Chirinos

Diana Chirinos

Chirinos, a native of Arequipa, Peru, is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Miami, from which she already has an M.S. in health clinical psychology. While living in Peru, she worked on a large epidemiological study of cardiovascular disease prevalence that sparked her interest in the relationship between biopsychosocial factors and health. At the University of Miami, Chirinos continued to develop her interest in the bio-behavioral determinants of cardio-metabolic risk among Hispanic Latinos, both in the context of large epidemiological studies and within structured lifestyle interventions.

At Rice she plans to examine the role of bereavement, an acute stressor, as a moderator in the association between socio-economic or minority status and important precursors of heart disease. Her mentors will be Christopher Fagundes, assistant professor of psychology, and Marina Vannucci, professor and chair of statistics.

photo of Glen Hood

Glen Hood

Hood, a native Houstonian, has an M.S. in population and conservation biology from Texas Sate University and a Ph.D. in biological sciences from the University of Notre Dame. His Ph.D. research concentrated on understanding the evolution and maintenance of new insect species via sequential divergence, a process in which a new species of one organism induces sequential divergence events of associated organisms. His research showed that ecological and genetic divergence of a single species of fruit fly induced the sequential ecological and genetic divergence of an entire community of insect parasites attacking the fly.

At Rice Hood will focus his research on combining emerging genomic techniques in conjunction with population genomics tools to identify diagnostic DNA sequences to rapidly and reliably detect and distinguish emerging biological threats linked to human health. His mentors will be Scott Egan, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Luay Nakhleh, associate professor of computer science, of biochemistry and cell biology and of ecology and evolutionary biology.

photo of Nick Keiser

Nick Keiser

Keiser grew up in rural western Pennsylvania and has a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from the University of Pittsburgh, where he studied the behavioral ecology of animal societies. His dissertation focused on animal personality, collective behavior and bacterial transmission dynamics in social spiders. His research has taken him across North American and Southern Africa, where he studied the ecological consequences of animal personalities across multiple scales, from individuals to communities, with an emphasis on invertebrates.

At Rice he aims to test the degree to which variation among hosts in key disease susceptibility traits, such as immunity and behavior, can drive disease prevalence at the population level. He will use the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model system in hope of linking multitrait intraspecific variation in individual disease risk and population disease prevalence in novel experimental frameworks. His mentors will be Julia Saltz, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and Volker Rudolf, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.

Photo of Temiloluwa “Temi” Olubanjo

Temiloluwa Olubanjo

Olubanjo, originally from Lagos, Nigeria, worked as an instrumentation engineer for Dow Chemical Co. in Houston before earning her graduate degrees at Georgia Institute of Technology, from which she has an M.S. in electrical and computer engineering and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Her Ph.D. research was geared toward developing robust signal-processing algorithms for objective monitoring of dietary behavior toward obesity management. She is particularly interested in developing preventive, diagnostic and assistive health technology.

At Rice she will evaluate when and to what extent quantitative digital data, such as smartphone usage, correlates with the actively queried mental status for depressed patients. Voluntary interactions like using a smartphone can provide an inlet to tracking the user’s emotional state, especially for depression and other mental illnesses, and contribute to behavioral interventions. Her mentors will be Ashutosh Sabharwal, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Ashok Veeraraghavan, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; and David Wetter, the Elma W. Schneider Chair in Psychology, professor of psychology and chair of the Department of Psychology.

Photo of Elizabeth Sweeney

Elizabeth Sweeney

Sweeney is currently a resident of Baltimore, where she is completing a Ph.D. in biostatics at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her research has made contributions to the improved analysis of neuroimaging data by developing much-needed biomarkers. For example, she has developed algorithms for identifying multiple-sclerosis brain lesions from structural magnetic resonance images. Her interest in this area began with a traineeship at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She also has an M.S. in biostatistics from Johns Hopkins.

At Rice Sweeney plans to focus on Alzheimer’s disease and develop neuroimaging, epidemiological and genetic biomarkers of cognitive reserve, or the difference among individuals that enables some to be more resilient to the pathological brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s. Her mentors will be Genevera Allen, the Dobelman Family Junior Chair and assistant professor of statistics, and Joshua Shulman, assistant professor of neurology, neuroscience and molecular & human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.

For more information on the Rice University Academy of Fellows, visit www.riceacademy.rice.edu/.




About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.