Graduate Studies

Graduate Student Profiles

Sofia QuinodozSofia Quinodoz
Ph.D. in Biology, 2013-Present

I'm interested in understanding how the human genome is organized in the nucleus of different cell types to better understand how genes are regulated in individual cells. Specifically, I’m interested in understanding how the human genome, which contains 3 billion bases of DNA and spans 6 feet end-to-end, is organized to fit in the nucleus of the cell. We do this by mapping how both DNA and RNA are spatially organized in the nucleus with both genomic and microscopy approaches.

I had no background in this field before coming to Caltech, but during my rotation in the Guttman laboratory, I became really excited about the nuclear structure field and wanted to better understand how lncRNAs are organized in the nucleus. During my rotation, I had a lot of fun discussions with Mitch [Guttman] and did a lot of reading in the field. Before coming to Caltech as an undergrad at Princeton, I had been working in microbiology, specifically looking at quorum sensing in bacteria. This was my first time transitioning into mammalian cells. After my rotation working in the Guttman lab, I decided that I wanted to transition to understanding how DNA and RNA are organized in the nucleus in mammalian cells for my PhD.

I was first interested in the Biology option because of its flexibility in the classes that you are required to take, and how students are encouraged to dive into research by starting rotations as soon as possible. When I interviewed, I was even more drawn to Caltech—I really enjoyed my conversations with the faculty, and I felt like I was treated as a colleague by the professors. It was easy to discuss science with them, and it was clear how passionate they were about their work. I could easily see myself rotating with several of the faculty members after my interviews.

I feel that Caltech has really prepared me for a career in academia. In addition to research during my PhD, I've had a lot of wonderful opportunities to work with both summer students and rotation students and those have been really great mentorship experiences, as well as teaching experiences from TA-ing courses. These opportunities have really helped me solidify my goal of being a professor and having a research lab in biology one day.

Tara GomezTara Gomez
Ph.D. in Biology, 2006-2011

Activities and Societies:
Co-director, Caltech Classroom Connection
Curriculum Coordinator, YESS Neuroscience
Chair, Caltech Graduate Preview Program Student Committee

Honors and Awards:
Dean's Award, Dr. Fred Shair Diversity Award, Gordon Ross Medical Foundation Grant, Lucy Guernsey Service Award, NIH Training Grant, NSF Doctoral Fellowship

While a graduate student at Caltech, Tara studied protein degradation in baker's yeast. She was a very active member in the Caltech community, for which she was recognized as the Graduate Dean's Award recipient. After graduating with a Ph.D. for Caltech in 2011, Tara began a career in Regulatory Compliance with Clorox.

"I came to Caltech and I expected to have a rigorous research experience, and I only hoped that I could get some insight into the other aspects of "life" - Caltech did not disappoint; it only exceeded my expectations. Through the wide array of research and personal growth opportunities offered at Caltech, I've learned that I like to be a leader, I like to be creative, I like to teach, and I deeply enjoy pondering scientific questions. I know, that regardless of where life takes me, there is one thing that I will always be now - a very proud Caltech alumnus!"

Nathan PierceNathan Pierce
Ph.D. in Biology, 2006-2011

Coach of the Caltech Men’s Ultimate Frisbee Team

Honors and Awards:
NIH Training Grant, Gordon Ross Medical Foundation Grant, Ferguson Award

Nathan’s PhD thesis work at Caltech was performed in the labs of Raymond Deshaies (Division of Biology) and Shu-ou Shan (Division of Chemistry) applying novel biochemical and biophysical techniques to understanding complex cellular pathways. In particular, Nathan studied the mechanism and regulation of SCF ubiquitin ligases. He was the first to demonstrate that processive ubiquitin chain synthesis by SCF ligases occurs in a sequential manner. For this work, Nathan received the Ferguson Award for Best Thesis in the Biology Division. After graduating in 2011, Nathan moved to Max Nachury’s lab at Stanford University where he is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellow of The Helen Hay Whitney Foundation.

“Caltech is a place where there are no barriers between disciplines and great ideas excel. Here, I learned the true meaning of being a scientist at the highest level.”

Nicole TetreaultNicole Tetreault
Ph.D. in Biology, 2006-2013

Nicole Tetreault is a Ph.D. candidate in the Division of Biology at Caltech working in Dr. John Allman and Barbara Wold's laboratories, where she is conducting neuroanatomical and genetic studies of autistic and control individuals. In her most recently completed study, she has found an increase in microglial densities throughout the cerebral cortex in autistic individuals and is currently expanding in this work by analyzing RNA-Seq data in fronto-insular cortex in the same population. She has also been part of a team involved in developing techniques for investigating gene expression in individual laser microdissected neurons. She has had the pleasure of mentoring and working with SURF and MURF students at Caltech. Nicole plans to be a post doctoral researcher studying cognition and aging and investigating the neurotoxic and neuroprotective mechanisms throughout the brain.

"Caltech is a community where grace and excellence collide and where opportunity is only the beginning. There are so many people I collaborate with on a daily basis that make science a living process."