Student Profiles

Daniel John Araujo

Daniel John  Araujo
Daniel John Araujo

Daniel John Araujo
Neuroscience Graduate Program

MentorGenevieve Konopka, Ph.D.
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas
Awards/Fellowships: UT Southwestern Medical Center MLK Community Service Award Finalist, Fine Science Tools Graduate Student Travel Award, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Mechanisms of Disease and Translational Science Graduate Track, National Institutes of Health R00 Research Supplement to Promote Diversity

I became interested in science because of my college mentor Dr. Timothy Raabe. During my freshman year, Dr. Raabe offered me a job as a research assistant in his on-campus laboratory at St. Mary's University. Eventually, Dr. Raabe encouraged me to participate in UT Southwestern's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) program in 2009. That summer I worked in the laboratory of Dr. Adrian Rothenfluh. Upon completion of my tenure in the SURF program I was officially hooked on pursuing a career in biomedical research.

I chose to come to UTSW for graduate school because I had such a great experience on campus while I was a SURF student. I knew that the research taking place at UTSW was both excellent and diverse and I had also established great relationships with many UTSW students and professors.

“Whenever I have a question about a technique or area of research that I am not familiar with, I am always able to find a student, postdoc, or professor who is able to help me out.”

In Dr. Genevieve Konopka's laboratory, my dissertation has focused on understanding the role of the transcription factor FOXP1 in the brain. Genetic perturbations to the coding sequence of FOXP1 are causative for severe forms of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and intellectual disability (ID). Additionally, recent, large-scale sequencing projects have established FOXP1 as a high-confidence ASD- and ID-risk gene. Foxp1 is enriched in the neocortex, hippocampus, and striatum: regions of the brain highly implicated in ASD and ID pathogenesis. Therefore, I have used mutant mouse models, in combination with high-throughput sequencing, cell-culture techniques, morphological analyses, and behavioral assays, to study the mechanisms by which the loss of FOXP1 contributes to ASD- and ID-related phenotypes.

I chose to come to UTSW for graduate school because I had such a great experience on campus while I was a SURF student. I knew that the research taking place at UTSW was both excellent and diverse and I had also established great relationships with many UTSW students and professors. The Neuroscience Graduate Program (NGP) here at UTSW is highly collaborative. Whenever I have a question about a technique or area of research that I am not familiar with, I am always able to find a student, postdoc, or professor who is able to help me out. The neuroscience community at UTSW is also very close-knit and this helps maintain an ethos of magnanimity between the Departments of Neuroscience, Neurology, and Psychiatry.

Elyza Kelly

Elyza Kelly
Elyza Kelly

Elyza Kelly
Neuroscience Graduate Program
Mentor: Peter Tsai, Ph.D.
Hometown: Sharon, Vermont
Awards/Fellowships: Two years of National Institute on Drug Abuse T32 institutional training grant funding

Being a twin, I have always had an interest in genetics and the biological factors that make a person who they are. That interest expanded in college when I was exposed to advanced biology, neuroscience and psychology. I became passionate about understanding how the brain works and the systems that drive complex behaviors. After graduating I followed this interest to work in neuroscience research in Boston where I focused on Autism Spectrum Disorders.... and loved it. I was able to study the neurobiology behind social behavior and other complex behaviors. That compelled me to go work and learn from the leading scientists in that field here at UTSW. I never saw myself as someone who would move all the way across the country for graduate school, but the quality of the research here is definitely worth it, and I am so glad I made that choice.

I came to UTSW because there are leaders in the field of neuroscience, specifically in the field of Autism Spectrum Disorders. Now, I work in the lab of Dr. Peter Tsai working with mouse models to better understand the neuronal systems in the brain that orchestrate behaviors that are the core diagnostic features of autism. By understanding the circuits behind behaviors such as social interaction, we hope to inspire and develop treatments which can improve the quality of life for children with autism.

“This research environment is also unique in that it is extremely collaborative, as a student here your knowledge is not limited by the lab you do your thesis work in.”

As a girl who grew up in rural Vermont I never dreamed I would move all the way down to Texas for graduate school. As I worked post-grad at a research institution in Boston I realized that many of the leaders in neuroscience were at UTSW. The work I had studied for years from scientists at UTSW inspired me to apply for entry into the PhD program for neuroscience. Once I was invited for an interview I realized that this scientific community is not only exceptional because of the research they do, but also as a learning environment that truly fosters collaboration. As a student I couldn't imagine a better place to soak up as much experience and education as possible. Everywhere I turn here at UTSW there is someone who is excited to help me as I gain my independence as a scientist. In comparison to other places to live I was also happy with the student stipend offered, especially with the lower cost of living in Dallas.

The UTSW neuroscience program is one of the top in the country because of the leading scientists, equipment and techniques we have access to. We are also put through rigorous courses with other basic science programs so we become well rounded scientists who have a broad understanding of the sciences as well as being experts in our chosen field when we graduate. This research environment is also unique in that it is extremely collaborative, as a student here your knowledge is not limited by the lab you do your thesis work in. Everyone here has open doors and will support students as they grow. The neuroscience program is rigorous and taught by researchers who are passionate about training the next generation of scientists. The program is also efficient, and has you working on your thesis in the lab by the end of your first year. This is a cutting-edge institution that develops strong scientists and I can't imagine being happier as a student anywhere else.

Hunkar Gizem Yesilyurt

Hunkar Gizem Yesilyurt
Hunkar Gizem Yesilyurt

Hunkar Gizem Yesilyurt
Neuroscience Graduate Program

Mentor: Jonathan Terman, Ph.D.
Hometown: Istanbul, Turkey
Awards/Fellowships: Amgen Scholarship at LMU/MPI, Travel Award and Honorable Mention in Poster Session from UTSW Graduate Student Organization

As a child I was always aware of and amazed by nature and medicine. But particularly, the strong science education that I had through my years in middle and high school at Istanbul Lisesi (a German/Turkish school in Istanbul) brought additional knowledge in these areas and further stimulated my scientific interests. Specifically, one science teacher in high school got me really excited about genetic pathways and physiology, as well as about teaching and mentoring students on scientific thinking. From that point, I knew I wanted to become a scientist and hopefully a teacher/mentor. So I followed on that dream and pursued a double major BSc in Chemistry/Molecular Biology and Genetics. I was also very fortunate to have great mentors/professors of research at Bogazici University, which further led and prepared me for my graduate career in science.

For my dissertation research, I study an enzyme called Mical, which has been found to be a direct link between F-actin disassembly (cytoskeletal rearrangements) and the Semaphorin/Plexin repulsive axon guidance pathway. Testing the interactions of this enzyme with other actin binding proteins provided important insights into the cytoskeletal rearrangements an axon goes through while growing, changing its shape and orientation, and finding its way to its target. These findings will help us better understand how neurons find their targets, strengthen or weaken their connections during development and adulthood, and how we might fix these connections following neural trauma or neurodegenerative diseases.

“There is also a great collaborative environment as well as room for in-depth independent scientific thinking and brainstorming.”

I chose UTSW because it was one of the best biomedical research institutes in the US with its renowned scientists and findings – and the graduate program in my interest area (Neuroscience) is one of the highest ranking as well. Furthermore, since faculty at UTSW explore such a wide range of research topics, I felt that would put me in a position to be exposed to many different scientific areas and approaches, and also help me reach my goal of combining my skills from my two different undergraduate majors (chemistry/molecular biology and genetics) – and it did.

I strongly feel that what makes this program so great is that everybody in the program (faculty, postdocs, students, administrators) wants the best for each other’s research – and I have witnessed this first hand from the discussions, feedback, and constructive criticism I have received. There is also a great collaborative environment as well as room for in-depth independent scientific thinking and brainstorming. In addition, I think every incoming student will find a home in this program because there is such a variety of scientific directions and disciplines from structural biology to cell biology to electrophysiology and from translational to basic science.