About us

We are representatives of all members of the CSB department, students, staff, post-doctoral fellows and supervisors. We believe in the power of diversity in bringing about positive change. Our committee’s top goal is to ensure safety and wellbeing of all members of the department, while breaking the stigma around mental health in academia. Whenever necessary, we communicate change with the department and university administration to bring about change that benefit all members of the community.

Professor Ashley E. Bruce

(Co-chair and faculty representative)


Professor John Calarco

(Faculty representative)


Norzin Shrestha

(Founder)

I am a PhD student interested in locating the circadian clock underlying a type of learning called Time Memory. I enjoy playing and watching all sports, including golf, football, and softball. Graduate school is extremely difficult and there were a lot of people around me who started to suffer mentally as a result. In order to help those suffering here at CSB, I decided to start this committee to bring awareness to the mental health crisis in academia and promote the importance of staying mentally well. 


Ahmed Elbassiouny

(Co-Chair)

Hello! I am Ahmed, a PhD student here at the department of Cell and Systems Biology interested in the molecular mechanisms of hypoxia tolerance in animals. I am an outdoors junkie, and I enjoy both summer and winter outdoor sports. If I am not at the lab, I am usually on a hike somewhere nearby, camping, or swimming. During the course of my graduate career here at CSB, I learned to appreciate the importance of friends and connecting with colleagues at the department, as it has been the strongest support system for me during the most stressful times. This is why I am an advocate for community building activities within the department! Feel free to reach out to me, I am always happy to chat.


Emily Dong

Student Representative

Hello! My name is Emily and I’m a PhD student co-supervised by Belinda Chang and Vince Tropepe. I study the evolution and development of photoreceptors in snakes and lizards. Like many (or most!) graduate students, I’m still learning how to reach a balance between the demands of being a researcher and meeting my own mental and physical wellness needs. Some of the things I do to stay grounded include flexing my creativity in the kitchen by preparing dishes for friends and family, taking time away from the city and immersing myself in nature, and last but not least…watching TV and movies! I’m excited to be part of this great group of people, and I look forward to supporting CSB department members on their journey to wellness.


Natalie Hoffman

Student Representative

I’m a PhD student in the McFarlane lab, studying how plant cell walls respond to stress. Like my organisms of study, graduate school is also very stressful for students – bringing academic, professional, and personal challenges.  In light of this, it is important to have tools and a solid network to promote mental wellness and resiliency. I hope that through my involvement in the CSB Wellness Committee, I can increase awareness of mental health issues in the department and provide resources to support overall mental wellness.


Vineeth Raveendran

Student Representative

Hi! I am a PhD student in Woodin lab, studying the role of chloride regulation and synaptic inhibition in neurological disorders such as autism. During my graduate life, I realized that the academic environment can be draining. Therefore, I am interested in identifying and developing skills that could help build resilience while in grad school. In addition, I have always understood the importance of having a solid support system at workplace. I am glad to be a part of the CSB Wellness Committee, in our effort to improve mental health awareness and to identify coping strategies as a community. Apart from my research, I love hiking, aquascaping, photography and videography. I am happy to chat about your interests outside the lab, so feel free to reach out. Also, if you are interested in setting up an aquascape, you know whom to ask for help.


Tirthankar Ray

Student Representative

Hi everyone! I’m Tirthankar, a PhD student from the Harris Lab in the Cell and Systems Biology department. I study how epithelial tissues are shaped and formed using Drosophila (fruit flies) as a model system! When I’m not in the lab, I’m trying my best to maintain my mental well-being through hobbies such as cooking and photography. As part of the wellness committee, I’d like to help other students maintain their well-being too, and I’m always available for a chat if you’d ever like to reach out!


Paul Gamueda

Student Representative

Hi! My name is PJ, and I’m an MSc student in the Provart lab studying drought-responsive genes in plants. In my free time, I play sports like Ultimate and Volleyball, boulder, sing, and take care of my houseplants. Like many students in their graduate careers, I have learned and experienced firsthand the pressures that come with being in academia. My hope is that through being part of the CSB wellness committee, I can help other students feel supported in the department and I can help promote events on physical and mental health awareness.


Tiegh Taylor

Student Representative

Hey! I am a PhD student in the Mitchell lab. I am studying sequence level features which aid in targeting enhancer elements to their cognate promoters and how enhancers become activated during stem cell differentiation. My M.Sc., which I obtained in a different lab, went about as poorly as a degree could go. However, I got through it and I’m very excited to be here! From that experience, I learned how to cope with failure and the importance of separating your worth as a person from how your project is going. I really enjoy being able to help people, whether it be troubleshooting in the lab or chatting about other issues so feel free to reach out to me about anything!


Debanjan Barua

Post-doc Representative

Hello! I completed my PhD at the department of Cell & Systems Biology studying cell adhesion and tissue architecture. In my spare time, I like to play music, football and hike. Throughout my graduate student life, I’ve come to better understand the importance of physical and mental well-being. As a part of the CSB wellness committee, I want to help bring awareness to these aspects of grad life and be involved in programs that enhance them.


Simon Lui

Post-doc Representative

My name is Simon Lui. I completed my PhD in Cells and Systems Biology in 2019 and am currently working as a post-doc studying the neural basis of learning. Having spent many years in CSB, I have learned that it is a wonderful department that is genuine in its desire to help students both in and out of academia. As part of the CSB Wellness committee, I want to help students find their voice to address whatever it is that may be bothering them and help them find a solution.