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Annual Message from Our PhD Program Director

-February 2022-

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

The past year has brought significant change to the Berkeley Neuroscience community, and the coming years promise to bring even more. We are extremely fortunate to have Leleña Avila as our new Graduate Program Manager and Kailyss Freeman as our new Berkeley Neuroscience Manager. Leleña’s most recent position was as an Academic Advisor in the Office of Instruction & Student Affairs in the Rausser College of Natural Resources at UC Berkeley. She also has substantial managerial and student affairs experience from working in the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, the Haas School of Business, and the Lawrence Hall of Science. 

Leleña knows what it is like to be a graduate student in the life sciences, having obtained a Master’s degree in Evolution, Ecology, and Behavior, and a PhD in Biology. She has hit the ground running in her new position of Graduate Program Manager and is already fully immersed in admissions, training grant management, and getting to know our graduate students and faculty.

Before coming to Berkeley, Kailyss was the Administrative Supervisor in the Department of Surgery at UCSF. She has also worked at UC Davis and at Providence St. Joseph Queen of the Valley Medical Center, where she gained experience as a project and team manager and as a financial planner. Kailyss also has a strong background in biomedical science – she has a BS in Biological Sciences and a Master’s degree in Health Care Administration.

Leleña Avila (left) and Kailyss Freeman (right)

Candace Groskreutz, our previous Graduate Program Manager, and Natalie Terranova, our previous Berkeley Neuroscience Manager, have both taken new positions on campus. Candace is now the Graduate Student Affairs Officer for the Energy and Resources Group, and Natalie is an Academic Analyst in the MCB Department. Both Candace and Natalie played essential roles in Berkeley Neuroscience for many years, and they were beloved by students, postdocs, faculty, and staff. We are very grateful for the countless ways in which Candace and Natalie positively impacted our graduate program and community. We wish Candace and Natalie continued success in their new positions, and we extend a warm welcome to Leleña and Kailyss we look forward to working with you and getting to know you better!

Major life changes also occurred for the students that graduated from our program last year. Congratulations to Christine Liu, Colin Hoy, Greg Telian, Irene Grossrubatscher, Jacob Miller, Kevin Yu, Maimon Rose, Melissa Newton, Sara Popham, Tobias Schmid, and Vael Gates. You can read a Q&A with those students that graduated in Spring 2021 here. We are particularly proud of this group of graduating students for completing their dissertations amidst the many challenges of the pandemic.

Last fall, we also welcomed the entering class of 2021: Allison Nieto, Atehsa Sahagun, Corrina Fonseca, Dyana Muller, Eduardo Sandoval, Gergey Mousa, Jen Holmberg, Jing Jing Li, Odilia Lu, Tianhao Qiu, and Tyler Toueg. These students have already become very active members of the Berkeley Neuroscience community, participating in student recruitment and admissions, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives (see below), and social activities.

Our graduate students have made significant progress in promoting and enhancing DEI, both within Berkeley Neuroscience and beyond. Last year, they organized an “Ask us anything” session to demystify the graduate program application process and to expand and diversify our applicant pool.

Neuroscience Graduate Program 2021

Additionally, members of the Berkeley Neuroscience Student Advocacy Committee developed a proposal in which three graduate students/postdocs will be elected as Co-leads each semester, based on the DEI projects that they submit for consideration by their fellow students and postdocs. Importantly, Co-leads will be compensated by HWNI for the significant DEI work that they will do. Our students were the driving force in all aspects of this initiative, from initial conception, to proposal development, to convincing graduate program leadership and the HWNI Executive Committee to financially support these endeavors.

The Student Advocacy Committee is also organizing a DEI symposium that will take place on April 22, 2022. The symposium will be held on the Berkeley campus, and all members of the Berkeley Neuroscience community are invited to participate. We intend for this symposium to be an annual event that is integrated with our ongoing efforts to support DEI in Berkeley Neuroscience and in society.

The past year also included the addition of several new HWNI faculty members, many groundbreaking research achievements by Berkeley Neuroscience labs, numerous awards to our neuroscientists, and successes in fundraising. Please see HWNI Director Udi Isacoff’s annual message from the December 2021 newsletter for an overview of these accomplishments.

Planning is underway to create a Department of Neuroscience at UC Berkeley, including, for the first time, an undergraduate major in neuroscience. This will be the first new department on our campus in ten years. Establishing the Department of Neuroscience will expand and strengthen the neuroscience community at Berkeley and will bring additional resources from central campus. This department will have unparalleled breadth and depth across the scope of modern neuroscience, including molecular and cellular neuroscience, neuroengineering, computational neuroscience, systems and behavior, and human cognitive neuroscience.

After the Department of Neuroscience is established (projected for Fall 2023), the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute will retain its current form, and the Neuroscience PhD Program will be jointly managed by HWNI and the new department. The Neuroscience Department will provide greater opportunities for our graduate students to teach in undergraduate neuroscience courses as GSIs and more space for neuroscience labs on our campus. Our graduate students will continue to be able to join the labs of any faculty member in our program, regardless of whether those labs are in the Department of Neuroscience or not.

There is tremendous excitement on our campus surrounding the Department of Neuroscience, and we’re very grateful to MCB/HWNI faculty member Dan Feldman for his extraordinary efforts to build support for this new department and for the significant administrative work he has done to make it a reality.

As you can see from this message, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the Berkeley Neuroscience community, including our talented and accomplished new staff members, the continued research excellence of our students and faculty, the new initiatives to promote DEI, and a UC Berkeley Department of Neuroscience on the horizon. The future looks very bright indeed!

Image of Dan Feldman smiling

Dan Feldman