Public Displays of Appreciation

We want to recognize the work being done by fellow postdocs to improve the postdoc experience at the University of Minnesota and beyond. If you or someone you know is deserving of some public appreciation for your/their work on improving the lives of postdocs, nominate them here!

Spotlight postodocs April, 2021

Melissa Simone, PhD

I am an eating disorders T32 postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences and the Division of Epidemiology & Community Health. I obtained my Ph.D. in quantitative psychology and sociobehavioral epidemiology in 2018 from Utah State University. Shortly after completing my Ph.D., I moved to Minnesota to pursue additional training in multidisciplinary eating disorder research.

My research interests are centered on understanding the socio-ecological risk and resilience factors that contribute to disparities in mental health and well-being in queer and trans young people and investigating possible avenues by which such disparities might be rectified. My research considers mechanisms across multiple domains and levels of influence (e.g., interpersonal, community, structural) through the application of advanced statistical methods that illustrate the complexity of factors contributing to health disparities. As an applied methodologist, I aim to develop more nuanced psychometric tools in populations that have been historically excluded from psychometric research. Psychometric studies are crucial in the health disparities research as many of the commonly used measures were developed for and validated in largely homogenous groups (e.g., White, well-educated), and thus may underestimate or fail to detect pertinent factors as experienced by young people with socially minoritized identities. Thus, my quantitative research works to develop and validate psychometric tools that accurately reflect the experience of diverse populations.

As a first -eneration scholar, I am passionate about teaching and mentoring students who have been historically excluded from academic spaces and I am deeply committed to increasing access to research, mentorship, and sponsorship to trainees. When I’m not working, I enjoy spending time with my dog and partner, taking care of my houseplants, and outdoor activities like mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/m_simonephd

Researchgate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Melissa_Simone2

Department: Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

[Melissa and her dog, Trace, in Fruita, CO]

Spotlight postodocs March, 2021

[Ben enjoying the ski trails at Como Park]


Benjamin Tansi, PhD

PDA Representative to the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee.


I am a post-doctoral associate working under Prof. Steve Severtson in bioproducts and biosystems engineering. Prior to this, I earned my B.S. degree in Chemistry at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania before pursuing my Ph.D. at the Pennsylvania State University. While at Penn State, I explored artificial motility, especially by the use of plasmonic nanoparticles and various photochemistry. During this time, I had the opportunity to present my research domestically and abroad, having spoken at multiple ACS Colloids meetings as well as at a Gordon Research Conference in Les Diablarets, Switzerland.

Since coming to the U, I have taken on another colloids challenge by exploring the use of cellulose nanocrystals in inexpensive, green adhesives. I have also become involved with the UMN post-doctoral association within which I am eager to support continued efforts towards advocacy and professional development. To this end, I am honored to now serve as the representative to the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee.

Outside of the lab, I take every opportunity to play soccer, hockey, and music. It’s been a tough year for these, but Minnesota has turned me into an avid cross-country skier in the meantime.

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bentansi

https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=brPHA0YAAAAJ&hl=en

Department: Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering


Spotlight postodocs February, 2021

Catalina Picasso Risso, PhD, MS, DVM

I am a veterinary epidemiologist working as a postdoctoral associate at the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety, College of Veterinary Medicine, UofM. Additionally, I am an adjunct professor at the University of Uruguay teaching advanced statistics and epidemiology for veterinary students. I obtained my veterinary degree in 2009 in Uruguay and after working for 5 years as an official veterinarian at the Ministry of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries in my home country, I moved to MN to pursue my MS (2016) and PhD (2019) on the epidemiology of bovine tuberculosis.

My research interest is in the application of quantitative epidemiological methods with a participatory approach, to study infectious diseases and inform decisions that can alleviate their impact on farming, community development, and public health. I work globally in low and middle-income countries (LMIC), and locally focusing on endemic infectious diseases. I am currently working on the use of diagnostic tests for African swine fever in Vietnam, and in the understanding of the role of vehicle movements on disease spread in the swine industry within the US. As well as a fellow for the UofM Center of Global Health and Social Responsibility, I dedicate part of my time working on reviewing the research conducted on zoonotic tuberculosis in LMIC to identify gaps in knowledge of the status, transmission, and control of the disease in animals and humans. I am also conducting a large scope project on the assessment of control strategies for bovine Tuberculosis in Uruguay.

I am passionate about research and teaching, but while not working, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, and outdoor activities such as running, hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing.

Personal page: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1394-9592

Picasso-Risso Google Scholar

Twitter: @PicassoRisso

Department: Department of Veterinary Population Medicine


[Cata getting ready for snowshoeing at Fort Snelling State Park ]


Spotlight postodocs January, 2021

[Dennis at a formal event]

Dennis Makau,PhD

I am a postdoctoral associate at the Department of Veterinary Population Medicine, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. My current research employs statistical & phylodynamic modelling and machine learning techniques to understand the epidemiology of porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome virus (PRRSV), anti-microbial resistance (AMR) in animal populations, and contact networks/animal movements. I graduated with a veterinary degree from the University of Nairobi, Kenya in 2012 and a Master of Science in Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics from the same university in 2014 under a scholarship funded by the University of Nairobi and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). My research at this level focused on the epidemiology of parasitic infections in companion animals (helminths) and cattle (Eimeria). In 2015, I moved to Canada to pursue my PhD supported by the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond scholarship, where I graduated with a PhD in Epidemiology from the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) in 2019. I was also the recipient of the 2019 Governor General's Gold Academic Medal (Canada) and the Faculty of Graduate Studies Award of Distinction, national and university-based awards respectively, for academic excellence at the graduate level. My PhD research focused on small-holder dairy management for sustainable livelihoods in rural communities in Kenya.

My research interest is using molecular tools, applied-epidemiology and One-Health concepts, to enhance decision making in addressing threats and challenges in communities. My research outputs support resilient and sustainable livelihoods through the implementation of data-driven decisions for strategic interventions and policy development.

Personal page: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-1802-2545

Twitter: @drdmakau

Department: Department of Veterinary Population Medicine


Spotlight postodocs December, 2020

[Julia enjoying the views at a conference in Chamonix, France]

Julia Willett, PhD

PDA Steering Committee Member

I am a postdoc fellow in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, where I study biofilm formation, bacterial interactions, and functional genomics of uncharacterized bacterial genes using Enterococcus faecalis as a model organism. I obtained B.S. degrees in both biochemistry and nutrition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010. I then moved to California, where I earned my PhD in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UC Santa Barbara in 2016. During my graduate work, I was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and studied how bacteria like E. coli attack each other using contact-dependent growth inhibition systems.In 2016, I traded the beach for the snow and moved back to the Midwest for my postdoc, which has been supported by the U Minnesota Lung Biology T32 Training Program and an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship. I hope to establish my own research lab to study how bacteria interact with each other and form microbial communities such as biofilms.

In addition to research, I am passionate about mentoring, outreach, being an active member of my scientific community, and advocating for the needs of trainees. I chaired the 2016 Gordon Research Seminar on Microbial Stress and have been on the U Minnesota Biofilm Symposium organizing committee since 2016. I was president of my department’s grad student group at UC Santa Barbara, and I joined the U Minnesota PDA to support postdocs and help plan activities and career development opportunities. Outside of lab, I enjoy cooking, running, hiking, traveling (pre- and hopefully post-pandemic!), and spending time with my husband and our three cats.

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julia-willett/

Department: Department of Microbiology & Immunology.

[Photo of Dr. Morales standing in front of a neutral background.]

Milagros Silva Morales, PhD

President of EWIS (Empowering Women in Science)

Dr. Milagros Silva Morales is a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Dr. Daniel Mueller at the University of Minnesota. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, Pharmaceuticals and Biology, as well as her M.S. and Ph.D. in Behavioral Neurosciences, from the University of Veracruz in Mexico. Currently, she studies peripheral immune self-tolerance mechanisms in the context of autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis. Her scientific interests include neurosciences, cancer biology, prostate cancer, cell motility, adhesion, metastasis, peripheral T cell tolerance mechanisms, regulatory T cells and T cell anergy. She served for 7 years as the organizer of Brain Awareness Week (BAW) at the University of Veracruz to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research. She also served as the organizer of the XLIV National Congress of Physiological Sciences national and local Student Conferences for the Mexican Pharmaceutical Association and the Forum of Chemistry at Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico. In 2017, she joined the Empowering Women in Science group at the University of Minnesota, where she served for three years as the co-chair of the Partnerships and Collaborations group. In the summer of 2020, she was elected President of EWIS, and has since led an ambitious restructuring and expansion of EWIS activities and collaborations. Dr. Morales was awarded the Research Excellence Award for 2019: The Peter Bitterman Postdoctoral Research in Basic Science Award at the 20th Annual Robert P. Hebbel Department of Medicine Research Day in May 2019.

Personal page: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0794-2362

Department: Center for Immunology, Medical School

Spotlight postodocs November, 2020

[The Steevens family at Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore of Lake Superior]

Aleta Steevens, PhD

Vice President of the UMN Post Doctoral Association

I am a Researcher with the goal of becoming an independent investigator and developing translational therapies to protect the brain following an acute injury. I received my Ph.D. at the University of Rochester in Rochester NY, where I studied the genetic regulation of inner ear development. My dissertation work was supported by a Predoctoral F31 Fellowship, I was published in Development, and I earned the Robert Doty Award of Excellence for Research in Neuroscience.

Research ties from my undergraduate work brought me back home to the University of Minnesota, where I am performing research on traumatic brain injury in Dr. Walter Low's Laboratory. My work has been honored with a number of travel grants and the UMN Post Doctoral Spring Career Development Award.

In addition to research, I have consistently been engaged with mentorship and volunteering on various leadership boards in order to enhance the experiences and support of others. When not in the lab, I spend my time with my husband, two young boys (ages 2 and 4), and my giant fluffy golden doodle, George (2).

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aleta-steevens-ph-d-70244088/

Department: Department of Neurosurgery, Medical School.

[Shannon enjoying the Mississippi river at the Twin cities]

Shannon Negaard-Paper, PhD

Secretary of the UMN Post Doctoral Association

Shannon Negaard-Paper was raised in North Dakota and earned a B.S. in both mathematics and electrical engineering from the University of North Dakota (UND). She moved to Minneapolis in 2010, when she was accepted to the University of Minnesota’s Ph.D. program in mathematics. Her dissertation focused on dynamical systems which allow for non-uniqueness in forward and/or backward time – a generalization of flows, semi-flows, and maps. This allows for studying systems that lack certain smoothness properties. Such systems arise naturally, including in climate mathematics. In fact, many problems from her research group – the Mathematics of Climate Research Network – provided motivation for this research.

While a student, Shannon also relished the opportunity to teach. She was an undergraduate teaching assistant at UND. As a graduate student, she earned an Outstanding Teaching Assistant award and was appointed lecturer for 8 of the 21 courses she taught, one of which was as course supervisor. She learned a lot about leading and appreciating the decisions other leaders have made, as well as being accountable to those who depend on one’s preparation.

Shortly after defending, Shannon accepted an industry postdoctoral position at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA). The IMA partners academic rigor and insight with problems from industry and government. In that position, she has worked on theory-level research in graphical neural networks and a myriad of data science projects with Cargill, Inc. Those include projects in finance, root cause analysis for factory safety, and computer vision solutions.

When not working on mathematics or debugging code, Shannon enjoys too many hobbies. Her longest-running loves have been dance, cycling, knitting, skiing, and backpacking. She has helped run a local volunteer-based science-fiction convention for over 6 years (where she also cosplays), and she proudly serves as an Assistant Head Election Judge for the city of Minneapolis. Shannon also plays board games, draws, and enjoys her circus-based fitness and performance community.

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shannon-negaard-paper-ph-d-88173414b/

Department: Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA)

Spotlight postodocs October, 2020

[Robyn with Tommy the Cat]

Robyn Rebbeck, PhD

UMN’s College of Biological Sciences postdoctoral committee and a volunteer in the UMN's Postdoctoral Association

I am a Research Associate in pursuit of becoming an independent scientist in the field of cardiac research, and contributing to high-impact research that will directly translate into quality-of-life improvements for those suffering from skeletal and cardiac muscle disease. I am currently contributing to this field through novel development of high-throughput screening methods for discovery of compounds that target pathological myocyte Ca2+ leakage through the primary sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ release channel, the ryanodine receptor. During my time at UMN, I have been honored with two American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowships, two GRC Postdoc poster awards, the BMBB Paul D. Boyer & James D. Peter award, and CBS Service to Community award.

In addition to my passion for research, I am equally dedicated to contributing to the scientific community. As the committee organizer of UMN’s College of Biological Sciences postdoctoral committee and a volunteer in the UMN's Postdoctoral Association, I contribute to a supportive environment and career development opportunities for UMN postdocs and research associates.

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/r-rebbeck/

Department: Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, College of Biological Sciences

Beatriz Baselga Cervera, PhD, DVM

Communications and Outreach Chair- UMN's Postdoctoral Association

I am a Postdoc. fellow focus in experimental evolution and broadly in the origin of life and complexity questions. I have been honored with the Alfonso Martin Escudero Fellowships to study the origin of multicellularity and, as a fellow of the Philosophy of Science Departement at UMN. I am currently contributing to the understanding of the origin and maintenance of multicellularity that will translate into insights from an evolutionary perspective in the problems related to multicellular lifestyle (e.g. immune system or developmental processes). Additionally, I have the privilege to attend the Biology Interest Group (BIG) discussions about a mutual interest in the history and philosophy of biology.

I am an advocate for bringing science closer to society through several outreach activities, projects, and volunteering initiatives (e. g., contributing in bridging science to non-English speakers (estornuda.me project) or teaching science to children). As a scientist, I am fully committed to contributing to my community through volunteering with the UMN's Postdoctoral Association and involve myself with initiatives about diversity, equity, and inclusion in academia.

Personal page: https://beabaselga.wixsite.com/microevol

Department: Ecology, Evolution and, Behavior | University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Fellow | Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science


[Beatriz cross-country skiing to reach the head of the Mississippi river (starting in winter sports) ]

Past Spotlight Postdocs

2019 Spotlight Postdocs

[image description: Guru running his first 10 mile race at Twin Cities in Motion]

Guru Venkatesan, PhD

Vice President

I’m a postdoc in Mechanical Engineering. I work on drug delivery systems and 3D bioprinting. I joined PDA to meet new people and be involved in activities concerning postdocs. I helped organize a few events, update our logo, and implemented a double-blinded judging approach for PDA’s Career Development Awards to remove biases. I represent postdocs in the Senate Committee for Faculty (and Postdoctoral) Affairs. My mission is to advocate for University programs and policies that more effectively support postdocs with academic and non-academic career goals.

Got a fantastic new idea to improve the way we do things at PDA? Come join our team and make it happen!


Sam Nemanich, PhD, MSCI

PDA Steering Committee Member

I am a post-doctoral associate in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine and Division of Physical Therapy. My work focuses on children and infants who have experienced brain injuries such as a stroke, and developing novel and effective rehabilitation interventions to improve their movement function.

I was fortunate to be a recipient of the PDA career development award, and have been involved with the PDA steering committee since last fall. I will also be post-doctoral representative working with the Graduate School-wide writing initiative advisory committee. My goal is to contribute to the development of the post-docs at UMN. I regret not getting involved with the PDA sooner as there are many great opportunities to advocate and connect with other members.

My spouse Sarah is also a post-doc at UMN, and we have two children: Theodore, 3 and Lucille, 8 months. Most of our time is spent with them, and when it’s warm, we love biking around Minneapolis and enjoying its wonderful park system.

[image description: Sam and his family smiling for the camera and enjoying some sunny Minnesota weather.]

Katie Block, PhD

PDA Secretary

PDA Communications and Outreach

Hello! I am a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Immunology and study the effects of infectious history on the immune response to allergens. I joined the PDA and took over “Communications and Outreach” in 2016 and was elected Secretary this academic year. You probably met me at the PDA table if you went to New Employee Orientation, and I send you these newsletters twice a month. I also re-made our website this year (have you checked out pda.umn.edu yet?). I got involved with the Postdoc Association because there are a lot of resources available to postdocs, but we don’t always know what’s out there for us. It’s my goal to help postdocs find the resources they need, and help create them when they don’t yet exist (like the NIH K Award workshop I co-organized this winter). When I’m not in the lab and there aren’t three feet of snow on the ground, you can find me kayaking on one of Minneapolis’ lakes.

[image description: Katie wears a lab coat and holds a sign that says “ "Science is an integral part of culture" --Stephen Jay Gould.” She stands in front of the Minnesota State Capitol during the March for Science 2017 demonstration.]

[Julia enjoying the views at a conference in Chamonix, France]

Julia Willett, PhD

PDA Steering Committee Member

I am a postdoc fellow in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology, where I study biofilm formation, bacterial interactions, and functional genomics of uncharacterized bacterial genes using Enterococcus faecalis as a model organism. I obtained B.S. degrees in both biochemistry and nutrition from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2010. I then moved to California, where I earned my PhD in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from UC Santa Barbara in 2016. During my graduate work, I was supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship and studied how bacteria like E. coli attack each other using contact-dependent growth inhibition systems.In 2016, I traded the beach for the snow and moved back to the Midwest for my postdoc, which has been supported by the U Minnesota Lung Biology T32 Training Program and an American Heart Association postdoctoral fellowship. I hope to establish my own research lab to study how bacteria interact with each other and form microbial communities such as biofilms.

In addition to research, I am passionate about mentoring, outreach, being an active member of my scientific community, and advocating for the needs of trainees. I chaired the 2016 Gordon Research Seminar on Microbial Stress and have been on the U Minnesota Biofilm Symposium organizing committee since 2016. I was president of my department’s grad student group at UC Santa Barbara, and I joined the U Minnesota PDA to support postdocs and help plan activities and career development opportunities. Outside of lab, I enjoy cooking, running, hiking, traveling (pre- and hopefully post-pandemic!), and spending time with my husband and our three cats.

Personal page: https://www.linkedin.com/in/julia-willett/

Department: Department of Microbiology & Immunology.