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Cross-Departmental Collaborations and Enhanced Career Opportunities Motivate Current Open Grad Cohort

The six students who comprise the 2021 Open Graduate cohort will explore disciplinary combinations ranging from Theatre and Middle Eastern Studies to Biology and Data Science. Through the Open Graduate Education program they are supported to pursue a master’s degree in a secondary academic field, enabling them to expand their studies into interdisciplinary areas of research.

Congratulations to the six selected students:

  • Elizabeth Davis, a doctoral student in Archaeology and the Ancient World, seeks a master’s degree in Religious Studies
  • Mohammad Mehdi Kimiagari, a doctoral student in Theatre and Performance Studies, enters a master’s program in Integrative Studies with a focus on the Middle East
  • Karyn de Paula Mota, a doctoral student in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, is pursuing a master’s in Africana Studies
  • Ryan O’ Rourke, a doctoral student in Pathobiology, will study Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Engineering (PRIME)
  • Nicholas Tolley, a doctoral student in Neuroscience, is entering a master’s program in Data Science
  • Doudou Yu, doctoral student in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry, seeks a master’s in Data Science

Elizabeth Davis studies Archaeology, with an interest in learning more about the interactions between religious communities during Late Antiquity. She wants to explore questions about how Christians, Jews, and polytheists interacted and how these communities informed, inspired, borrowed from, or tried to change one another.

To explore these questions, Davis seeks a more holistic understanding of the role of religion and the theoretical and methodological approaches to studying religion, something she hopes to attain through a secondary master’s degree in Religious Studies. She credits the Open Graduate Education program for making this interdisciplinary line of inquiry possible. “The Open Graduate Program is the encapsulation of this spirit of cross-departmental collaboration. In undertaking a secondary degree in Religious Studies, I will be able to engage with two distinct epistemologies, gain exposure to diverse sets of evidence and strands of thought, and be able to better understand one key piece of the human story—religion,” says Davis.

Another member of the new cohort, Mohammad Mehdi Kimiagari, is a doctoral student in Theatre and Performance Studies interested in studying Middle Eastern and Islamic performance traditions that have redefined the aesthetic and political settings in Iran in the context of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the Islamization of politics. To undertake this study, Kimiagari will seek an Integrative Studies master’s degree with a focus on Middle Eastern Studies.

Not only will obtaining this secondary master’s aid him in his research, it will also be potentially beneficial on the academic job market by enhancing his teaching versatility. “A master’s degree in Middle East Studies will positively impact my prospects on the job market by enabling me to develop the essential tools and knowledge I need to teach courses that touch on a range of subjects such as the interrelations between theological discourses and emotions as they affect dramatic and cinematic forms in the Middle East,” says Kimiagari.

Also engaging both the social sciences and humanities, Karyn de Paula Mota combines Portuguese and Brazilian Studies with Africana Studies to explore the historical, political, economic, and cultural relations between Portuguese-speaking countries and the African continent. She hopes to explore different approaches to race and racial injustice in literary and cultural studies through her work. “A master’s in Africana Studies will allow me to broaden and focus this theoretical and methodological approach in the context of the African diaspora so as to examine Brazil’s slaveholding legacy and its specific race relations in the larger context of the Atlantic slave trade” says Mota.

After graduating from Brown, Mota hopes to pursue a career in academia teaching across a number of disciplinary areas, including Portuguese and Brazilian studies, Africana studies, Latin American and Caribbean studies, and Communications and Digital Humanities.

Ryan O’Rourke is stepping outside the life sciences of his doctoral study in Pathobiology to take on a master’s in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship Engineering (PRIME). His doctoral research is focused on translating scientific discoveries into therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD). By merging Pathobiology and PRIME, O’Rourke hopes to maximize his contributions to the field of AD therapeutics while simultaneously preparing for a career at the intersection of biomedical research and business. “While my Ph.D. training alone will prepare me well for a research and development role in academia or industry, the addition of PRIME will allow me to pursue alternative career opportunities in pursuit of the same goal,” says O’Rourke.

Doudou Yu, a Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry doctoral student, also studies Alzheimer’s disease., and will be pursuing a secondary master’s in Data Science through the Open Graduate program. “I am very interested in applying data science knowledge to better understand questions in biology. For example, with the development of single-cell sequencing technologies, we can now comprehend cellular activities at the single-cell level. This enables us to see cell-type specific changes across biological conditions, which was impossible before because bulk sequencing techniques aggregated and averaged many different types of cells altogether,” says Yu. For her dissertation research, Yu hopes to generate and analyze single-cell data for the hypothalamus of human patients with AD.

A rising third-year doctoral student in Neuroscience, Nicholas Tolley is currently conducting research to better understand the significance of macroscale neural activity, as measured by magneto- and electroencephalography (MEG/EEG), with computational models which simulate the cellular activity underlying its generation. Tolley hopes the Data Science master’s degree he is pursuing through Open Grad, “will provide invaluable experience and familiarity with state-of-the-art computational techniques that can be applied to neuroscience,” he says. Understanding the underlying principles of statistical machine learning will allow him to uniquely cater the techniques to neural data.

After graduating, Tolley hopes to conduct computational neuroscience research in an academic or industry setting.