July 7, 2015


Sixteen students have graduated from the program with Ph.D’s since 2007, four of those in 2012, two in 2013, three in 2014 and one in 2015. Five others have left early with Master’s degrees.

Program Graduates (Doctorates)


sarah_cormanSarah Corman Crosby, a student in the Brown Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Dept.,  received her PhD from Brown University in the spring of 2015. In August 2014, she defended her thesis entitled ‘Salt Marshes in a Changing Climate’.  She was co-advised by Dr. Linda Deegan at MBL’s Ecosystem Center and Dr. Heather Leslie at Brown University. Sarah’s dissertation examined the impact of increasing temperatures and rates of sea-level rise on salt marsh ecosystems. Her research focused on the growth and reproduction of Spartina alterniflora (smooth cordgrass), a salt marsh foundation species that is highly important for the development and persistence of salt marshes. Her research showed that climate change will drive shifts in biomass allocation, mortality, and decomposition, which will alter marsh elevation gain processes. In addition, she examined additional impacts of rising temperatures on cordgrass seed output and phenological impacts of rising temperatures on elevation gain. Sarah now works at an environmental non-profit where she is leading a marine research and education program in Connecticut.


Akash SrivastavaAkash Srivastava received his PhD from Brown University in the fall of 2014. On August 18th 2014 he defended his dissertation entitled “Transdifferentiation of Liver to Pancreas”. Akash, a student in the Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry Department (MCB) at Brown University, conducted his research at MBL’s Eugene Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering under the advisement of Dr. Marko Horb. His PhD research focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms involved in transdifferentiation of liver to pancreas in Xenopus laevis. He identified a previously unknown role of a highly conserved beta-catenin inhibitor protein Chibby in transdifferentiation of liver to pancreas and in normal pancreas development. His research also provided a better understanding of the function of Wnt/beta catenin signaling in pancreas development. He has gone on to work as a consultant in the pharmaceutical industry.


Xi Yang received his PhD from Brown University in May 2014. His dissertation was titled “The Times They Are A-Changin’: Scaling Seasonality of Plant Physiology from Leaf to Satellite and Implications for Terrestrial Carbon Cycle.” He was a student in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and co-advised by Professor Jack Mustard from Brown University and Jim Tang at MBL. His research focused on the observation of shifting vegetation phenology using remote sensing and ground-based cameras, the internal and external drivers of vegetation phenology, and the changes in the carbon cycle due to shifting vegetation phenology. Xi combined a detailed study of leaf optical properties with remote sensing and modeling techniques to understand the seasonality of plant physiology and its environmental drivers.  Xi now works as a Post-doc at Brown University with Dr. Jung-Eun Lee (Brown U) and Dr. Joe Berry (Carnegie Institute for Science) using fluorescence to understand the response of tropical ecosystems to water stress.


Justine Allen received her PhD from the Department of Neuroscience at Brown University in April 2014. Her dissertation was entitled ‘Adaptive edge design for visual camouflage: Biomechanics of morphing 3D skin papillae in cephalopods and changeable cryptic body patterning in the slender filefish.’ She was advised by Dr. Roger Hanlon at the Program in Sensory Physiology and Behavior at MBL. Justine studied the functional morphology of the changeable, 3-dimensional skin papillae in several species of octopus and cuttlefish and found that most types of papilla are muscular hydrostats where movement and structural support are provided by muscles. One type of papilla was found to function by a buckling mechanism. Justine also performed a comparative study on the fixed, 3-dimensional dermal flaps of the slender filefish. Her work contributed to our understanding of soft tissue actuation and the use of complicated skin projections for camouflage.


LindsayBrinLindsay Brin received her PhD from Brown University in September 2013. Lindsay, a student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, worked and studied under Assistant Professor Jeremy Rich at Brown and Anne Giblin, MBL Ecosystems Center Senior Scientist . Her research focused on the relationship between environmental factors and microbially-mediated nitrate reduction processes in coastal sediments, particularly denitrification, anammox and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA). Her work illustrated the role of temperature, organic matter and nitrate in determining rates of nitrate reduction in New England coastal sediments, providing some of the first seasonal data on these processes. Lindsay will continue her research as a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Biology at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, NB, Canada, to study the effects of climate change, particularly altered snow cover, on N cycling in agricultural soils.


cbiloganCassandra Bilogan received her PhD from Brown University in August 2013. She was working in Dr. Marko Horb’s lab at the MBL’s Bell Center for Regenerative Biology and Tissue Engineering. Cassandra’s research focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms involved in endoderm development and pancreatic organogenesis in Xenopus laevis. Specifically, she identified a novel role for a well-conserved RNA-binding protein during endoderm development. This research provided new insights into a previously unappreciated role of the spatial-temporal regulation of germ layer patterning during gastrulation. Cassandra is a postdoctoral fellow at the Cleveland Clinic in the lab of Dr. Takuya Sakaguchi.



Anupriya Dutta received her PhD in the Fall of 2012. Dutta, advised by David Mark Welch at the MBL, studied genome evolution of bdelloid rotifers. Her research focused on understanding the importance of sex for long-term evolutionary success. Bdelloid rotifers are microscopic invertebrates that make up one of the few known ancient asexual lineages among animals. Unraveling the reasons for their remarkable asexual evolution by using a comparative genomics approach will provide the essential clues needed to answer this fundamental question in biology.

Read more about Priya’s dissertation work here.


Yuko Hasegawa received her PhD in Fall 2012. She was a PhD student in the Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry Department at Brown. At the MBL, Yuko was jointly advised by Gary Borisy and Mitch Sogin. Her dissertation work involved developing an imaging technique to analyze micron-scale spatial distribution of a synthetic human gut bacterial community using a mouse model. Yuko analyzed multiple target bacterial groups by (1) by using a molecular biology technique called fluoresce in situ hybridization (FISH) to fluorescently label specific bacteria of interest and (2) by performing spectral imaging analysis of fluorescent dyes. Yuko is a Research Coordinator at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST), Marine Science Resources Section in Japan.



Susanna Theroux works with Yongsong Huang in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown and Linda Amaral Zettler at in the Josephine Bay Paul center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution at the MBL. She is interested in the use of molecular biological tools to answer paleoclimate questions. Susie currently studies Arctic species of haptophyte algae and their organic biomarkers.

Read more about Susanna’s dissertation research here.



Shelby Hayhoe Riskin received her PhD in Spring 2012. Hayhoe-Riskin, advised by Stephen Porder in Brown’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Chris Neill at the MBL Ecosystems Center studied the impacts of agricultural expansion and intensification in the Brazilian Amazon. Specifically, she studied the biogeochemical and hydrological differences in streams and soils between primary forest and soy agriculture.

Read more about Shelby’s dissertation work here.

Shelby’s work on phosphorous in soybean fields in Brazil, the US and Argentina was recently featured in Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121217152649.htm.


Alex Valm received his Ph.D. in early 2012. Valm, advised by Andrew Campbell at Brown and Gary Borisy at MBL,  worked with a team at both institutions to develop  a multi-color fluorescent labeling technology that allows scientists to distinguish the spatial arrangements and interactions of dozens of microbes in a given location (the oral cavity, in this case). Dr. Valm is a post-doctoral fellow at the Human Genome Project of the National Institutes of Health.



Gillian Galford received her Ph.D. in November 2009 in the field of terrestrial remote sensing with Brown Professor of Geological Sciences Jack Mustard. At the MBL, she collaborated with Ecosystems Center co-director Jerry Melillo to use remote sensing as a tool to understand temporal and spatial patterns of land cover and land use change in a region of Southwestern Brazil. Dr. Galford was a post-doctoral research associate at the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is a GUND fellow / Climate Scientist at the GUND Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.



Erica Lasek-Nesselquist worked with Mitchell Sogin exploring the population biology of Giardia duodenalis, including the genetic exchange, prevalence, and geographic and host species distributions of Giardia duodenalis lineages using molecular techniques, with an emphasis on elucidating the status and zoonotic potential of Giardia duodenalis in marine systems. She is interested in the population biology and transmission dynamics of parasites in marine systems as well as the molecular evolution of protists. Dr. Lasek-Nesselquist was a post-doctoral researcher with the Gogarten Laboratory at the University of Connecticut working on the Tree of Life. As of June 2014, she is now an Assistant Professor in the Biology Department at the University of Scranton, Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Yawei Luo received his Ph.D. in August 2009. He was co-advised by Hugh Ducklow at the MBL’s Ecosystems Center and Warren Prell at Brown University.  His major scientific interest is ecosystem modeling and microbial ecology of the open ocean. Dr. Luo is a post doctoral researcher in Marine Chemistry & Geochemistry at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.





Justin Widener received his Ph.D. in 2007.  He was co-advised by Stephen Hajduk at the MBL and Andrew Campbell at Brown, His dissertation was entitled, ‘ Biogenesis of Trypanosome Lytic Factor and Mechanism of Trypanosome Killing.’  Dr. Widener is currently a Research and Development Project Leader at Merial, a global company producing animal drugs and vaccines.





April Shiflett received her Ph.D. in May of 2007.  She was co-advised by Stephen Hajduk at the MBL and Andrew Campbell at Brown. Her dissertation was entitled, ‘Susceptibility and Resistance to Human TLF in African Trypanosomes.’  She studied the African trypanosome, the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness, and was a member of the MBL’s Global Infectious Diseases Program. Dr. Shiflett is currently a Scientist at Amgen and  and President at AWIS LAVC .

MBL News Release: First Student in Brown-MBL Joint Program in Biological and Environmental Sciences Receives Ph.D.


Program Graduates (Master’s Degrees)

Mengdi Cui, advised by Jim Tang at MBL and Meredith Hastings at Brown, received her MS in Geology from the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences in the spring of 2014.

Kristin Meyers, advised by Hugh Ducklow at the MBL and Jeremy Rich at Brown, received her MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2009.

Marselle Alexander-Ozinskas, advised by Gus Shaver at the MBL and Osvaldo Sala at Brown, received her MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2008.

Angela Allen, advised by  Bruce Peterson at the MBL and Osvaldo Sala at Brown, received her MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2008.

Seeta Sistla, advised by Jerry Melillo at the MBL and  Osvaldo Sala at Brown, received her MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2008.