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The Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers' (AMBR) mission can be summarized as "Access. Support. Outreach." which addresses our primary objectives. "Access" exemplifies our goal to ensure that minorities or individuals that traditionally lack access to resources have access to higher education and are actively recruited to GSBS. "Support" exemplifies our goal to ensure that these students at GSBS have a supportive community and access to resources that cater to their needs and assist them in their educational, academic, and career endeavors. "Outreach" exemplifies our goal to work with other GSBS organizations in serving our local community.
We emphasize that our definition of "minority" is any individual who identifies as one in the aforementioned social categories of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, socioeconomic status, disability or handicap etc., or are statistically underrepresented in the field of biomedical research.


To support minorities in the field of biomedical sciences by enhancing the professional development of minority biomedical students in the GSBS.

Our Goals

  1. Promote the scholarship of minority students during their training period through professional growth experiences that will stimulate they success in graduate school and transition into future careers.
  2. Provide a supportive environment through scholarly and social activities that enable AMBR participants to achieve the best possible outcomes during their graduate education.

2023-2024 Officers

Co-President:                                   Llaran Turner

Co-President:                                   Larissa Tavizon

Secretary:                                          Kaylene Lu                              

Outreach Chair:                               Bhargavi Brahmendra Barathi

Media Relations:                              Renee Rubiano

Faculty Advisor:                               Aria Vaishnavi, PhD

Contact us:

AMBR SpotLIGHT Articles

  • AMBR SpotLIGHT: Sreeja Sridharan

    The Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers will be featuring interviews with its members as a way to highlight GSBS students and life inside and outside of the lab. This feature will be posted on the group's website and Facebook page. AMBR’s sixth spotlight features an interview with GSBS second-year PhD student Sreeja Sridharan.

    Fifteen years ago, after she moved to North Carolina, Sreeja, a first-generation immigrant born in Chennai, India, found her love for the environment. 

    She was volunteering with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, teaching young children about environmental sustainability, when she realized she wanted to stay in the field of natural sciences for the rest of her life. Fast forward to today, Sreeja is a student in the Genetics and Epigenetics Program in the lab of Vidya Gopalakrishnan, PhD. There, she studies the developmental pathways that contribute to pediatric brain cancers and is still committed to environmental justice.

    Even as a young child visiting her birthplace, Sreeja noticed urban development was synonymous with destruction of nature.

     “I was in Chennai during the tsunami in 2004 where over 16,000 people died in India alone, she said (1,2). “I was pained and horrified to understand later on that the destruction of environmental infrastructure like seawalls, which are meant to prevent natural disasters, had been torn down in Chennai to allow for construction of urban skyscrapers.” 

    While in many parts of India, indigenous communities are trying to save their land and preserve it, but the wave of urbanization has made it hard to sustain natural reservoirs. This is analogous to what occurred in Houston during Hurricane Harvey when surrounding areas like Katy and Sugar Land, that were meant to function as water sheds to absorb heavy rainfall, were inundated with floodwater. However, ignoring warnings from engineers, these lands were turned into plots for houses and this development led to Houston’s infrastructure failing to protect its own people (3,4,5).”

    These experiences were transformative to Sreeja’s career trajectory as she found her home in an undergraduate lab focused on environmental toxicology where she worked on understanding how carbon nanotubes, which are widely used in everything from radios to biotechnology, can cause mesothelioma over long-term exposure. This was a perfect blend of her passion for environmental activism and scientific research. She had the opportunity to understand the impact of capitalism and environmental exploitation from a scientific perspective. As a result, Sreeja fell in love with basic science and the pursuit of the unknown. 

    Getting here & staying here 

    Sreeja’s journey to the GSBS is an inspiration as she battled adversity while staying committed to science. 

    Young Sreeja went from being one of the only Indians in her elementary school to being grateful to have many diverse peers during college in North Carolina State University. However, with progress comes a reminder that we have a long way to go. During an interview at another graduate institution where Sreeja was the only interviewee of color she was “advised” by a faculty member that a PhD is not a viable path for her since she is “too young” and burdened by “being a woman.” 

    This ignited a fire in Sreeja to stay focused and committed as she finally found her home at the GSBS. Sreeja came to Graduate School because it was the most diverse graduate institution she saw, which was also a perfect, nurturing environment for her overall development. Here, her identity as a scientist of color was a strength, never a weakness. 

     “The GSBS empowered me to feel like I could take on the world,” said Sreeja “They offered me more resources than I imagined possible. The staff, faculty, and students have been my support system and helped me overcome any hurdle. They are there when I fall.”

    Sreeja has found a resource in AMBR. “As a grad student it’s easy to feel alone and bogged down but things like AMBR helped pull me out of that,” she said. “I joined AMBR because not only was it a supportive community, but I could be super involved or just lean on them for support when I needed depending on how bogged down I was on the bench. From mock candidacy exams to just volunteering for events, AMBR has been great. As a minority, not all grad students have a space made with them in mind and that is huge.” 

    Self-care in graduate school

    Sreeja is an excellent reminder that being a successful graduate student is more than just churning out data, and her outlook is incredibly mature for an early stage researcher. She is quick to point out that her journey here has been built on the sacrifices of many before her and her approach to graduate school ensures she will thrive in this endeavor.

    “My motivation comes from my family where I am the first to pursue a doctoral degree,” said Sreeja “My parents have crossed oceans and sacrificed a lot to be here, so I do not want to stop pursuing the highest ambitions. I try to prioritize self-care as much as possible and since burnout culture is a big part of graduate education. I find it difficult sometimes to balance feeling the burden to succeed as a child of immigrants, but I do tell myself that it is okay to stop and take a minute to take care of yourself.”

    Inspired and driven for change

    Sreeja is inspired by youth advocates like Greta Thunberg, who bear the burden of social justice. Greta and many other indigenous youth climate activists are truly inspiring. 

    India, along with other developing countries, can be more forward thinking in the way they tackle these issues. A point of pride for Sreeja, is that many Indians from low-income communities are in fact conscious of where their food comes from and focus on obtaining products from ethical sources like family-run farms, as opposed to mass produced agriculture. Contrary to many developed countries, sustainability can be more accessible for everyone, regardless of their background, in India. 

    Sreeja points out that it can be hard for many people  in the US to live sustainably because it is expensive. Everything from organic produce to ethically-sourced products are a lot easier to come by when you have a higher disposable income, and as a graduate student, Sreeja is constantly working on finding eco-friendly, affordable ways to care about the environment.

    As Sreeja progresses through her graduate career, her passion for creating a better world, accessible to all, will most certainly push her to great things. The Graduate School is incredibly lucky to have such a driven and aware student!

  • AMBR SpotLIGHT: Tanner Wright

    The Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers will be featuring interviews with its members as a way to highlight GSBS students and life inside and outside of the lab. This feature will be posted on the group's website and Facebook page. AMBR’s fifth spotlight features an interview with GSBS first-year PhD student Tanner Wright conducted by AMBR Event Coordinator Celso Catumbela.  

    Navigating graduate school can feel like a path filled with uncertainty to our students, but for first-year Tanner Wright, being mindful of the role that others play in guiding his route towards biomedical research has helped him map out his journey.                                                                   

    “I’m the fourth of eight children and come from a family that had never pursued graduate education,” said Tanner, who is also the father of an 11-month-old daughter named Reya. “For various reasons, I failed to fully apply myself while in high school and was told by advisors to not pursue higher education.” 

    Fortunately, Tanner found himself unaffected by such comments. But to be fair, his ability to deal with such criticism was due to inspiring words from his phenomenal source of support, his wife Jennifer. 

    “My wife, who was my fiancé at the time, basically told me she’d never marry me if I didn’t get a college education,” said Tanner, while laughing. “Jennifer is one of the most phenomenal and capable individuals I’ve ever met,” he continued, visibly blushing. 

    “She’s the first of eight kids and at an early age, had set out on her own and knew the importance of higher education. And above everything else, she’s always believed in my potential.” 

    Given this gentle but firm push towards higher education, Tanner decided to pursue admission into Utah Valley University and was subsequently accepted. 

    “In my undergraduate, I joined the lab of a professor who was studying pigmentation in pigeons,” said Tanner. (This took me by surprise since both anecdotal and empirical evidence have shown that pigeons are primarily involved in carrying messages between distant lovers and releasing digested food on recently washed cars.) 

    When asked as to how this undergraduate experience ultimately led him to cancer research, he replied, “My lab advisor at the time would often invite outside researchers to come and speak to us about their work. It was during one of these talks that I came across a researcher from the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah Health.” 

    Interested, Tanner inquired more about the institute and was given the opportunity to visit the facility. After a lab tour, he conjured up a single question for the institute’s researchers: How can I get more involved? 

    At the time, Tanner couldn’t have foreseen that such a question would guide him towards an entirely new and unprecedented journey. 

    The next few years of his undergraduate career would involve researching pigeon pigmentation during the school semester, and spending summers at Huntsman investigating carcinogenesis in elephants. After graduating from Utah Valley University, the institute hired Tanner as an intern, and shortly after he was inspired by his peers to pursue a PhD. 

    Tanner’s newfound goal of attaining a PhD was indeed a worthy pursuit, but the couple had to give this decision much thought as they just learned that they were expecting their first child. Not surprisingly, after consulting his supportive wife, he was easily able to make this difficult decision. 

     “We felt strongly that this was my one chance to get into grad school before things got even crazier,” said Tanner. “We were afraid that after having a child, I might become comfortable or complacent with where I was.” 

    Jennifer not only supported Tanner in pursuit of his goal, but even dealt with Tanner’s partial absence during interview weekends, which were just 4 weeks before her due date. (Certainly, we can all agree that Jennifer would have been well within her rights to be angry with Tanner had all this sacrifice not paid off. Nevertheless, Tanner’s extensive and impressive research background ultimately garnered him an offer of admission to the Graduate School.) 

    In his first year of study at the GSBS, Tanner is still in the process of finding a research advisor. However, his experience with a previous mentor, Bob Bills, an ex-Olympian and former U.S. Olympic cycling coach, remains a steadfast source of inspiration and formidable example of genuine guidance. 

    “Bob is absolutely phenomenal. When I was thirteen, I went to a Scout Camp and he was one of our leaders,” said Tanner. “He has incredible stories that most people wouldn’t believe. And of all people, he became my mentor simply out of sheer desire to see me do better.” 

    “Bob got me into cycling, kayaking, downhill and backcountry skiing, canyoneering, rappelling, and helped me see that I was capable of incredible things and refused to accept that I wouldn’t go to college,” he continued. (At this point in our interview, I genuinely wondered if Bob Bills had not simply attempted to turn him into James Bond and somehow Tanner had mistaken it for a push towards science.)                                                           

    Undoubtedly, Bob’s mentorship was a turning point in his life. Tanner remains mindful of the role that others have played in guiding him towards biomedical research. And importantly, he is also well aware of the character traits he’s developed over the course of his incredible journey, which he hopes will not only shape the person he becomes but also allow him to pass along the critical guidance that he was once given.                                 

    “Throughout my life, there weren’t many moments where I thought I was particularly extraordinary,” he confesses. “But one trait that I’ve acquired over time is that when I commit to a particular goal or task, I stay entirely focused on achieving it and refuse to let go. It’s possible that this may be a character flaw, rather than a strength, but I choose to direct it towards beneficial things. So, I’ve made it my goal to inspire the best in others and strive to be part of the positives in someone else’s day.”

  • AMBR SpotLIGHT: Alexis Mobley

    The Association of Minority Biomedical Researchers will be featuring interviews with its members as a way to highlight GSBS students and life inside and outside of the lab. This feature will be posted on the group's website and Facebook page. AMBR’s fourth spotlight features an interview with GSBS neuroscience/immunology Ph.D. candidate Alexis Mobley conducted by AMBR Event Coordinator Celso Catumbela.

    Juggling personal responsibilities in one’s life while studying in graduate school can be a difficult task on its own, but for some GSBS students, this juggling act also includes children. So how does one rise to the challenge of juggling personal life, family, and research? Well, for Alexis Mobley, it requires a bit of creativity and adaptability, both traits instilled in her since childhood, and a strong support system.

    As the only child of two members of the U.S. Air Force, Alexis found herself constantly on the move. To cope with the constant relocations, she became an expert in assimilating and adapting to different communities and frequently engaged in creative outlets.

    “I grew up loving things that were imaginative and abstract,” she said. “I loved astronomy, watched cartoons, read fantasy books, and enjoyed a lot of anime, which were all very out-of-this-world and helped me expand my creativity.”

    However, Alexis’ academic instructors were not always enthusiastic about her creativity and even questioned whether she was a capable student.

    “I was always a curious child and consistently annoyed my parents and teachers with questions,” continued Alexis. “I grew up writing quite imaginative stories and at times, found it difficult to follow the typical school model of writing, which sometimes required sticking to a single mode of explanation or thought process. This led to some of my instructors finding it difficult to understand my style of writing and telling me that I wouldn’t amount to anything.”

    As some graduate students may have experienced on their own, discouraging words from middle or high school educators can lead to crippling doubts of one’s abilities, but fortunately for Alexis, her mother decided to remove the mantle of responsibility from such instructors and tutored her for a year.  This loving act would ensure that Alexis remained shielded from the careless words that could have otherwise severely undermined her potential.

    Difficulties of motherhood

    Alexis’ ability as a mother is made evident by the charm of her 8-year-old daughter, Blake. Just how charming is Blake, you ask? I’ll let Alexis explain: “Blake and I were in New Orleans and she needed to throw some trash away,” she said. “But all the trash cans were surrounded by bees and she was worried that she would somehow affect or hurt the bees. After some convincing, she finally walks over to a trash can and in the sweetest voice says, ‘Hi bees, I don’t mean to make you mad but I need to throw something away. Have a great day.’”

    For Alexis, the key to motherhood is simple: “We communicate. She understands that I’m her mother first and foremost.” Such efficient communication has even allowed Blake to become a young scientist in the making.

    “I try to integrate Blake in every aspect of my life,” she continued. “I’ve practiced presentations with her. I teach her about flow cytometry, ELISA, staining dyes, and all sorts of science.”

    Despite this simple solution, Alexis is cognizant of the difficulties of motherhood.

    “As a mother, I have to cultivate this other human being and make sure she turns out a decent person,” said Alexis. “And while in science you can fail and troubleshoot, as a mother, you have to be careful with how and what you say, because those words can stay with them.”

    “I have to be very conscientious of the fact that she’s her own individual and there are just so many more confounding variables,” she continued. “So I remind her that she’s multidimensional and capable of anything.”

    When first starting to pursuing research, Alexis was forced to subject Blake to some negative aspects of her career path. “The instability was tough in the beginning. Right as she was making friends, we sometimes had to move,” she said.

    As Blake grew and became more aware of Alexis’ own sacrifices, she sought to help her mother in whichever way she could. “She’d do her best to be happy despite not being happy, and she sometimes wouldn’t tell me things in an attempt to stop me from worrying,” said Alexis. “So throughout each transition, I always stress to her that she’s loved and make sure she always feels supported.”

    Alexis is well aware that the many challenges she and Blake have faced over the years has also allowed them to forge an incredible bond.

    “I see her growing up and see so much of myself in her,” she said. “I’ve seen the best of myself in her and sometimes I also see some alarming portions of myself and I’m just like, ‘Baby, no. Don’t be like that,’” she continues, while laughing. “I make sure to remind her that the things she wants and the interests she has are important and will be listened to.” 

    Strong support

    As Alexis completed her undergraduate education and embarked on her career path, she was interested in neuroscience, but a retreat solidified her choice and helped her find a mentor.

    ”When I first started pursuing science as a career, I wanted to be more of a clinical laboratory scientist,” said Alexis. “During my first year, I went to the Neuroscience Program Retreat and attended a talk by Dr. Louise D. McCullough. After hearing about her research topic and the elegance with which she discussed it, I knew I wanted nothing else but the chance to work under her.”

    At the time, Dr. McCullough did not intend to accept graduate students so soon after starting research at UTHealth. However, after witnessing Alexis’ enthusiasm for research and passion for neuroimmunology, she readily welcomed her as a co-mentee with Dr. Jaroslaw “Jarek” Aronowski. Only a few years later, Alexis would go on to become a recipient of a 2019 Dr. John J. Kopchick Fellowship, proving that it was indeed the right decision, for all of them.

    When she’s not in the lab, Alexis relies on her community here in Houston to help her balance personal life, research, and raising her daughter.

    “I knew the importance of building a community and finding people who will support the multiple aspects of you as a person,” said Alexis. “I played varsity tennis throughout high school, and never stopped loving it. As soon as I arrived [in Houston], I looked online for a community of tennis players that not only comes together for matches, but has now grown into a group of people who always care for my well-being, and are happy when I succeed in life.”

    Alexis’ experience as a mother, daughter, researcher, and many more identities, has led her to cherish the uniqueness of others. “We’re all human. I know that I’m not just a biomedical researcher. I’m a mother, a writer, an advocate, a tennis player, an anime lover, a friend, and much more,” she says.

    Alexis understands that facing challenges in both motherhood and research requires that we become comfortable with the uncomfortable. And importantly, she has a very simple advice for those with hurdles of their own: “Live out loud. Don’t be apologetic, don’t be afraid. You’ll be more weighed down because you’re hiding a fundamental part of yourself. Let people know who you are.”