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Annual Message from Our PhD Program Director

-February 2023-

Michael Silver

Michael Silver
Director, Neuroscience PhD Program (2017-present)
Director, UC Berkeley Center for the Science of Psychedelics (2020-present)
Professor of Optometry and Vision Science and Neuroscience

Over the past year, we have been able to resume many of the interactions in our labs and classrooms that so many of us missed during the pandemic restrictions. It was especially heartwarming to return to an in-person Berkeley Neuroscience Conference this year at Asilomar, with record attendance and many smiling faces!

Leleña Avila, the Neuroscience Graduate Program Manager, has settled into her position during the past year, and she has proven to be a wonderful addition to our community. Leleña has completely redesigned and improved many of our systems for collecting and analyzing information about our program, including our training grant, admissions, academic records, and student financial support. She is also a reassuring, unflappable, and encouraging advisor and advocate for our students.

A major highlight for the Berkeley Neuroscience Program last year was the announcement that Bob Knight and his partner Donatella Scabini made a bequest of $500,000 to support Berkeley Neuroscience and Psychology graduate students. Bob played a critical role in the founding of HWNI, and he was its director from 2001 to 2011. Bob is a legendary mentor of graduate students, and we are very grateful to him and Donatella for their generosity. You can read more about their bequest here.

Also in the last year, we were thrilled to announce the creation of The Alper Fellowship in the Neurosciences, in recognition of the 55th anniversary of Mark Alper joining the MCB department (known then as the Department of Biochemistry) and his teaching in MCB until his retirement. The fellowship, which starts this year, will support students in the Neuroscience and MCB PhD programs whose proposed research projects involve basic research related to the causes and/or treatment of mental health conditions, including major depression, anxiety, and closely related illnesses. The fellow will receive an annual stipend of $48,000 for up to three years, starting in their third year. We are grateful to Mark and Christine Alper for their generous support of our graduate students!

In the fall of 2022, fifteen first-year graduate students joined the Berkeley Neuroscience PhD Program. This is the largest entering class in the history of our program, both in size and in the percentage of students that accepted our offer of admission. Our successful recruitment of these talented students is a testament to the strength of our program and community as well as the efforts of our faculty, students, and Leleña throughout the admissions process. 

We extend a warm welcome to our entering class of 2022: Deepthi Bannai, Skylar Brooks, Maya Feldthouse, Katharine Henn, Marcus Hogan, Samantha Jackson, Dosia McKinney, Max Pruner, Alina Tiemroth, Dario Tommasini, Mars Torres, Tiffany Tran, Cincia Tsai, Maddie Webb, and Kailin Zhuang.

15 students stand outside on steps.

Neuroscience PhD Program entering class of 2022

Also, we offer hearty congratulations to our students that recently completed their PhD: Krisha Aghi, Joe Aman, Zuzanna Balewski, Holly Gildea, Azure Grant, Arjun Mukerji, Ben Shababo, Emilio Soto Soto, Amanda Tose, Christine Tseng, Christiane Voufo, and Ellen Zippi. A Q&A with some of our recent graduates, including their research discoveries, future plans, and advice for current students can be found here.

The past year also brought several new faculty members to HWNI, numerous honors and awards to members of the HWNI community, and exciting partnerships with other universities and companies. Please see HWNI Director Udi Isacoff’s annual message from our December 2022 newsletter for an overview of these accomplishments. This will also be a good way for you to learn about planning for our new Department of Neuroscience, which has been approved by the College of Letters and Science and is currently undergoing campus-level review. I also encourage you to visit the News section of our website to read profiles of HWNI members, including graduate students and alumni of our program, and to learn more about the many accomplishments of our community.

6 graduates and 2 professors stand outside in graduation regalia.

Some of the Neuroscience PhD Program graduates at the 2022 commencement, along with professors Joni Wallis and Michael Silver.

My term as Director of the Neuroscience PhD Program will end in June 2023, so this will be my final Director’s Message. Serving as Director of this incredible program has been one of the highlights of my life in science and education. We are very fortunate to have Frédéric Theunissen as our next Neuroscience PhD Program Director. Frédéric will be outstanding in this role – he is deeply committed to graduate education and training, he is a brilliant neuroscientist, and he is extremely thoughtful and principled. With Frédéric and Leleña running our program, we are in excellent hands!