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Graduate School hosts 2023 Graduate Student Research Day

July 12, 2023
Tracey Barnett/MD Anderson UTHealth Houston Graduate School

Student explaining her scientific poster at the Graduate School's 2023 Graduate Student Research Day.

MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences held its annual Graduate Student Research Day at the Cooley Life Center on June 22. More than 350 alumni, students, and faculty participated in the event, which featured a full day of competitions for Graduate School students, including oral and poster presentations, and elevator speeches.

The keynote speech, “Rethinking Endocrine Therapies in Breast and Prostate Cancer,” was presented by Donald Patrick McDonnell, PhD, the Glaxo-Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Molecular Cancer Biology, Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University School of Medicine. In January, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new targeted therapy for hard-to-treat advanced breast cancers called elacestrant that was developed from research conducted in McDonnell's lab. It is the first and only treatment approved specifically to fight breast cancers with mutations in an estrogen receptor called ESR1, which makes breast cancers resistant to standard endocrine therapy.

GSBS alumni Chandra Bartholomeusz, PhD '04, Merve Dede, PhD, '21, Rachel Dittmar, PhD '21, Estefania Labanca, PhD '19, Tamara Laskowski, PhD, '14, Dung-Fang Lee, PhD '08, Kimberly Mankiewicz, PhD '08, Vinay Nair, PhD '22, and Jan Subramaniam , PhD '22, were judges for the competitions.

GSBS alumnus and supporter John J. Kopchick, PhD ‘80, was also in attendance to meet the 2023 Kopchick Fellows and observe those who competed in the day’s contests.

The event closed with an award ceremony, which also introduced the inaugural recipient of the Michael R. Blackburn Outstanding Dissertation Award.  Formerly known as the UTHealth Houston Outstanding Dissertation Award, this accolade was renamed in honor of former Dean Blackburn and his contributions to the Graduate School.

See photos from the event at

Winners from the 2023 GSRD

Here are the winners from the 2023 GSRD contests:

Oral Presentation Skills

Pre-Candidacy PhD, MS & SMS, 1st Year
1st: Llaran Turner (Advisor: George Eisenhoffer, PhD)
2nd tie: Peyton High (Advisor: Kendra Carmon, PhD) & Erin Snoddy (Advisor: Kristy Brock, PhD)
1st Year Student Award: Peyton High (Advisor: Kendra Carmon, PhD)

Post-Candidacy PhD
1st: Xin Ru (Cheryl) Jiang (Advisor: Katy Rezvani, MBBS, PhD)
2nd: Heather Tsong (Andrea Stavoe, PhD)

Poster Competitions

Pre-Candidacy PhD, MS & SMS, 1st Year
1st: Kenzie Peshoff (Advisor: Krishna Bhat, PhD)
2nd: Morgan Riba (Advisors: Stephanie Watowich, PhD & Cassian Yee, MD)
1st Year Student Award: Morgan Riba (Advisors: Stephanie Watowich, PhD & Cassian Yee, MD)

Post-Candidacy PhD
1st: Sharvari Dharmaiah (Jason Huse, MD, PhD)
2nd: Olu Coker (Advisor: E. Scott Kopetz, MD, PhD)

Elevator Speech Contests

Pre-Candidacy PhD, MS & SMS, 1st Year
1st: Bhargavi Brahmendra Barathi (Jason Huse, MD, PhD)
2nd: Hayden Scott (Stephen Kry, PhD)
People's Choice Award: Aashish Gupta (Advisor: Kristy Brock, PhD)

Post-Candidacy PhD
1st: Hunter Mehrens (Stephen Kry, PhD)
2nd: Barbara Marquez (Laurence Court, PhD)
People's Choice Award: Barbara Marquez (Laurence Court, PhD)

GSRD Scavenger Hunt Winners
Maria Benavente
Joauna Carter
Sharvari Dharmaiah
Samantha Hicks
Alyssa Schulman
Larissa Tavizon

2022 Dissertation Awardees

Alfred G. Knudson, Jr., Outstanding Dissertation:
Lalit Patel, MD, PhD (Michelle Barton, PhD)
“Genomewide CRISPR/CAS9 Screen Identifies Network of Protein Complexes that Regulate TRIM24”

Michael R. Blackburn UTHealth Houston Outstanding Dissertation Award:
Russell Milton, PhD (Valentin Dragoi, PhD)
“Impact of Brain State on Visual and Prefrontal Population Coding in Behaving Animals”


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