Workshop Leaders and Panelists

How to Get Into Graduate School

Chloe Calderon attended the College of Lake County, starting at the age of 15, and earned an associate’s degree in science with an emphasis in biology. She then transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside to pursue a degree in chemistry. In her first semester of her junior year, she soon realized her true passion was in physics, so she quickly changed her major. During her tenure at UW-Parkside, she actively participated in research in the fields of experimental electrochemistry, applied math, theoretical classical mechanics, and theoretical/experimental condensed matter.  Chloe graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in physics while successfully publishing two papers in physics and mathematics journals. Currently, Chloe is completing her first year at Northwestern University in their physics PhD program. While participating in a rigorous course schedule, she is also performing data analysis research with Dr. Adilson Motter’s biophysics and complex systems research group. This research utilizes advanced statistical methods and network analyses to help better evaluate plant graft compatibility with the goal of enhancing agriculture.

Chihway Chang received her Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University in 2007 and a B.S. in Physics from National Taiwan University 2003. Prior to her appointment in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, she was a KICP fellow at the University of Chicago and a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Astronomy at ETH Zurich. She is currently an active member of the DES and the LSST Dark Energy Science Collaboration.

Michelle Driscoll is experimental soft matter physicist who received her BS and PhD degrees in physics at the University of Texas and the University of Chicago, respectively. She is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University. Her lab focuses on understanding how structure and patterns emerge in driven systems, and to how to use this structure formation as a new way to probe nonequillibrium systems. By developing a deeper understanding of patterns and structures which emerge dynamically in a driven material, we can learn not only how these structures can be controlled, but also how to use them to connect macroscopic behavior to microscopic properties.

Amanda Farah is a 2nd year PhD student at the University of Chicago. She currently studies gravitational wave astrophysics in Daniel Holz’s group and is a member of the LIGO scientific collaboration. She also has broad research interests in cosmology and gravitation. In her free time, Amanda enjoys playing and coaching ultimate frisbee.

Giulia Galli is the Liew Family professor of Electronic Structure and Simulations in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and Professor of Chemistry at the University of Chicago. She also holds a Senior Scientist position at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). Prior to joining UChicago and ANL, she was Professor of Chemistry and Physics at UC Davis (2005-2013) and the head of the Quantum Simulations group at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (1998-2005). She holds a Ph.D. in Physics from the International School of Advanced Studies (SISSA) in Trieste, Italy. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a recipient of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Science and Technology Award, the Department of Energy Award of Excellence, the 2018 Materials Research Society Theory Award, and the 2019 David Adler Lectureship in Materials Physics and the 2019 Nelson W.Taylor Lecture Award. She served as chair of the Extreme Physics and Chemistry of Carbon Directorate of the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) in 2010-2013 and she is currently the director of MICCoM (Midwest Integrated Center for Computational Materials), established by DOE in 2015. Her research activity is focused on the development and use of theoretical and computational methods to understand and predict the properties and behavior of materials (solids, liquids and nanostructures) from first principles (

Kathryn Levin is a theoretical condensed matter physicist on the faculty of the Physics Department at the University of Chicago. She received her PhD from Harvard university. Her interests are primarily in the areas of magnetism and exotic superconduc- tivity and superfluidity. She has served on multiple panels, prize committees and Advi- sory Board including the National Board of Physics and Astronomy for the National Academy of Sciences. She served as a co-PI for 11 years (representing the University of Chicago) in an NSF sponsored Science and Technology Center STC, for (high tempera- ture) superconductivity. In addition to distinguished Visiting Professorships, she is a Fel- low of the American Physical Society (APS) and was a Member-at-large of the APS Division of Condensed Matter Physics. With her roughly 220 publications, she has helped launch the physics careers of a large group of post docs and graduate students in research areas related to condensed matter theory and more recently theories of ultracold atomic gases and superfluids.

Careers Beyond Academia

Yangyang Cheng is a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University, and a member of the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider. Born and raised in China, Cheng received her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 2015, and her Bachelor’s from the University of Science and Technology of China’s School for the Gifted Young. She writes the “Science and China” column for SupChina. Her essays have also appeared in Foreign Policy, MIT Technology Review, ChinaFile, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and other publications. In addition to particle physics, Cheng’s research interests include the history of science in China and its relationship with the Chinese state, the ethics of new technology, and transnational governance. She tweets at @yangyang_cheng.

Yan Li is an Associate Editor of the American Physical Society and works for Physical Review B, the world’s largest dedicated physics journal. She received her BS in Physics at Peking University and her PhD from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She was a postdoctoral researcher at the UC Davis and later became a staff scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Her work is mainly focused on developing and applying advanced computational tools to investigate material properties of solid, surfaces, interfaces and nanostructures. She has held adjunct researcher and faculty positions at Stony Brook University and was highlighted in U.S. Department of Energy “Women@Energy” series. She joined PRB in 2015.

Leslie A. McKinney is the Director for the Chicago Chapter of Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), an organization focused on bridging the leadership gap for black women in STEM. Ms. McKinney is a strong believer in mentoring at all stages of our lives. She was named a mentor for the 1 st cohort at mHUB, Chicago’s first innovation center focused on physical product development and manufacturing and a mentor for Chicago Innovation Women Mentoring Co-op. She received her M.S. in Engineering and Global Operations Management from Clarkson University and her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Southern University and A&M College. Ms. McKinney is a certified as a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and Scrum Master.

Sherry Rollo is a partner at Hahn Loeser & Parks LLP.  Sherry has handled several high-profile cases as an experienced litigator and licensed patent attorney.  She represents clients in domestic and international matters involving patents, trade secrets, trademarks, unfair competition, copyrights, and associated licensing issues.  Sherry has significant experience counseling clients in transactional matters, including patent protection, portfolio management and licensing. She earned her B.S. in physics from the University of Texas at Austin and her J.D. from The John Marshall Law School – Chicago.

Katherine Seguino is the Science Department Chair and physics teacher at Naperville Central High School. Additionally, she teaches two independent research programs for her students: Quarknet which is a high energy physics program to track behaviors of muons in conjunction with Fermilab and another affiliated with Argonne using Synchrotron X-ray Scanning Tunneling Microscopy to study the behavior of magnetism at the atomic level.  She is the sponsor of GEMS-Girl Engineers, Mathematicians & Scientists at NCHS. She is also an Ambassador for the STEP UP program for AAPT that is aimed at encouraging more women to pursue physics degrees. She earned a BS in both Physics and Math, MA in education, and is currently finishing her doctorate in Educational Leadership at DePaul University.

How to Read a Scientific Paper
Communicating Your Science: Presentations and Elevator Pitches 

Celia Mathews Elliott is an academic professional with primary responsibilities in departmental and research administration in the Department of Physics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  She has extensive experience in grant and proposal writing and the funding of scientific research in academic institutions. She has presented technical writing and proposal-writing workshops at Sandia National Laboratories, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the University of Sao Paulo (Brazil), and National Chiao Tung University (Taiwan), as well as numerous institutions in the former Soviet Union. She has presented four webinars for the American Chemical Society on scientific communications and proposal writing and contributed to a technical-writing resource for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. She answered questions on technical writing in two Reddit\science “Ask Me Anything” appearances, and her lectures on scientific communications have been downloaded by people from more than 90 countries. Among other professional awards, she was the American Physical Society’s Physics Haiku grand champion in 2004.

Transitioning From a 2 to 4 Year College

Sophia Silva has grown up in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Sophia earned her Bachelors Degree in Social Work from the University of Missouri- Columbia in 2016 and enthusiastically returned back home to Chicago to pursue her Masters degree. Sophia earned her Masters in Social Work in 2017 where she specialized in Mental Health and Migration Studies. Sophia has held various roles in higher education. Serving as a clinical intern at Dominican University wellness center providing psychotherapy to individuals and groups. Sophia then went on to work at McHenry County College for almost two years serving as a success coach, holistically assisting students and preparing them for transferring and other personal goals. Sophia now works at UIC where she is a transition coach. Currently Sophia has partnerships with various community colleges where she works closely with students there and who are interested in the STEM field and pursuing their bachelors at UIC.

Diversity and Inclusion in STEM

Neli Fanning joined the University of Chicago in January 2019 as the very first Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Director of the Physical Sciences Division. In her role, she focuses on creating and building upon EDI structures for all PSD constituents, including students, faculty and OAAs, staff and postdocs. She hopes to help create equity, diversity and inclusion programs and structures that become embedded in the mosaic of PSD tradition. Prior to joining the PSD, Neli helped establish the Diversity and Inclusion office at Rosalind Franklin University. She holds degrees from the University of Miami and Northwestern University. Neli is the mother of twin toddlers and finds herself reading all varieties of Dr. Seuss books.

Hands-On Workshops:
Working with Circuits and Breadboards
Working with Arduinos

Chuan Yin is a PhD student at the University of Chicago. During her undergraduate studies, she performed accelerator physics research at Argonne National Laboratory, specifically improving beam trajectory at the Advanced Photon Source and prototyping data acquisition systems for the Argonne Wakefield Accelerator facility. Then she decided to switch gears to atomic and optical physics, working with Jonathan Simon on the interaction between light and matter. Currently she is developing a ultra-high vacuum system with a load-locking functionality, which would revolutionize testing processes for next-generation exotic optical cavities.

Lavanya Taneja is a second-year PhD student at the University of Chicago. As part of her undergraduate research in India, she studied the angular momentum spectrum of entangled light produced by a downconversion process. Hooked on experiments with photons, she joined the Simon lab at UChicago to work in AMO physics. She is currently a part of the group’s hybrid cavity-QED experiment that would enable coherent frequency conversion between optical and mm-wave photons. This setup would open new avenues for exotic science and has implications for quantum information technology.

Hot Topics in Physics

Nancy Aggarwal is a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University with joint appointments at the Center of Fundamental Physics (CFP) and at the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics. She is building an experiment to perform a direct search of axions with the ARIADNE collaboration in the group of Prof. Andrew Geraci. She is also investigating potentially novel sources of gravitational waves, which might be detectable by upcoming gravitational-wave detectors. She did her Ph.D. in the LIGO Lab at MIT in the group of Prof. Nergis Mavalvala. At MIT, she designed and built an experiment to study and mitigate quantum-mechanical limitations to precision measurements. She obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai.

Chicago native, Andrea Bryant is a Physics PhD student at the University of Chicago and studies exoplanet atmospheres. Currently she is studying the atmospheric evolution of the three planets surrounding the M-star K2-3 using 1D numerical models. She is also interested in exploring the potential habitability of one particular K2-3 planet, K2-3d. Along her path to and through graduate school, Andrea has gained experience in a variety of fields such as neuroscience, geophysics, cosmology, and astrophysics. Andrea received her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Emory University in 2015. She is a 2017 GEM Fellow.

Nidhi Pashine is a PhD student in the Physics Department at the University of Chicago. She obtained her undergraduate degree in Physics from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, India. As an undergraduate, she did research in astrophysics and biophysics. Now she is a soft matter experimentalist who builds and studies mechanical meta-materials. These are materials that have weird and interesting mechanical properties by design. Her meta-materials, which she builds using laser cutters and 3D printers, are based on disorder and look like random networks. She can modify and evolve these random networks in various ways to give them unusual elastic properties.

Aziza Suleymanzade started in high energy physics at Harvard, where she got her Bachelor’s degree. While enjoying time at CERN and the collaborative spirit of particle physics, she decided to take a year off at Cambridge University and try Atomic Physics in the group of Zoran Hadzibabic. After completing her masters there and building the new system for creating Potassium 39 BEC in Uniform potential, she moved back to US to pursue her PhD at University of Chicago, determined to continue working in quantum matter. She is currently working on a collaborative project between Jonathan Simon and David Schuster involving combination of Rydberg atoms, cavity-QED and circuit QED systems. In particular, she is building a hybrid cavity-QED system for creating strong interactions between single optical and mm-wave photons using Rydberg atoms as the interface.


Kendra Malone (she/her) is steadfast in her dedication to social justice and equity issues. She is a trainer, consultant, facilitator, instructor, speaker, and activist committed to queer community empowerment through engagement and education. Since 2017, Kendra has been the Director of LGBTQ Student Life at the University of Chicago’s Center for Identity + Inclusion. She has been instrumental in advancing programs and services for students regarding issues of sexual and gender identities. Formerly, Kendra was a Diversity Resources Coordinator at the University of Iowa. Her tenure in that position focused on programming and initiatives that supported inclusivity and community-building on campus. She led the LGBTQ Safe Zone Project and was co-chair of the university’s inaugural Transgender Inclusivity Taskforce. Additionally, Kendra has worked in the fields of anti-sexual violence, sexual and reproductive healthcare, and feminist education. Kendra holds a Master’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology and Women’s Studies from Iowa State University where she taught Gender & Women’s Studies courses. Kendra firmly believes that you have the skill and ability to turn the challenging realities of oppression into righteous action. #BlackLivesMatter #SayHerName

Aria Coraor (she/her) is a PhD Candidate in the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, where she conducts multiscale computational modeling of chromatin structure. Prior to receiving her bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering from Cornell University in 2017, her research included diverse fields such as igneous lunar geochemistry, ferroelectric photocatalytic materials design, experimental synthetic biology and simulation of organic semiconductor synthesis. She is currently supported by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. At the University of Chicago, she’s an active member of the PME Dean’s Advisory Council, and GRIT.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Khanh N. Nghiem, PhD is a licensed staff psychologist and Coordinator of Multicultural Outreach and Support at the University of Chicago’s Student Counseling Services. She earned her Master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Florida and completed her APA-accredited doctoral internship at Ball State University. She started her career as a staff psychologist and later Assistant Director for Training at Ball State University in 2013 prior to joining UChicago. While she considers herself a generalist, she has clinical interests and expertise in diversity issues, suicide prevention, crisis intervention, trauma, interpersonal difficulties, family of origin issues, transitions/adjustments, and sports performance. She is also actively engaged in supervision, consultation, training, outreach, and research with diversity and suicide prevention. She has several empirically reviewed journal publications and conference presentations, particularly on the topic of diversity. Her personal interests include visiting aquariums, gardening, drinking bubble tea, traveling, trying different foods/restaurants, and watching cooking shows.

Hands-On Workshop: Coding in Python

Nina Coyle is a Physics PhD student at the University of Chicago studying high energy phenomenology. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, where she did research in astrophysics and high energy physics, and obtained a master’s degree in Theoretical Physics from the University of Cambridge. She is currently studying Higgs physics in the context of physics beyond the Standard Model, in particular analyzing the theoretical implications of Higgs results from the Large Hadron Collider.

Fields of Physics

Erin Boettcher is an observational astronomer who received her B.S. degree in Astrophysics from Haverford College in 2012 and her Ph.D. degree in Astronomy from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 2018. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. Her research focuses on understanding how the evolutionary trajectories of galaxies are shaped by the cycling of gas between galaxies and their environments. She is currently using data from the Hubble Space Telescope to characterize the properties of diffuse gas around distant galaxies and better understand its role in galaxy growth over cosmic time.

Varda Fagir Hagh is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago and a courtesy research associate at the University of Oregon. She is a soft matter theorist and her research is mainly focused on the study of mechanical stability and elastic response in disordered materials. Varda received her Ph.D. from Arizona State University in July 2018 and she has been a member of the Simons collaboration on cracking the glass problem since September of 2018

Noemi Rocco is currently a Postdoc with a joint appointment at the Theoretical Physics Department of Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. She obtained her Physics Diploma and PhD in La Sapienza, University of Rome in Italy. She was awarded a CNR-Royal Society International Fellow at the University of Guilford in United Kingdom. Her main research is based on analyzing and modeling internal nuclear structure and dynamics. In particular she studies how nuclei interacts with neutrinos in different energy regions. This plays an important role in understanding how neutrino oscillate: the main goal of the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment which will run at Fermilab.

Kim Weirich is a postdoctoral researcher in experimental soft matter at the University of Chicago. She received bachelors degrees in Physics and Linguistics and a Ph.D. in an interdisciplinary program, Biomolecular Science & Engineering, from the University of California, Santa Barbara. As a postdoc, first in the James Franck Institute and currently in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, she is fascinated by emergent order and unusual mechanics in soft, anisotropic materials inspired by biological systems.

Leah Weiss is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering working in the Awschalom Group, focusing on quantum spintronics in hybrid nanoscale systems. She completed her MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge in the group of Prof. Sir Richard Friend where she was supported by a Gates-Cambridge Scholarship and by the Winton Fellowship for the Physics of Sustainability.  Her doctoral research focused on spin-sensitive measurements in synthetic organic semiconductors using high magnetic fields, microwave and optical spectroscopies. Leah received her bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in Physics in 2013.

Life as a Graduate Student

Theresa Chmiel is an experimental biophysicist at the University of Chicago. She is a third-year physics PhD student studying three-dimensional cell shape regulation in epithelial tissue in the Margaret Gardel lab. She previously studied astrophysics and is a former member of the LIGO collaboration. Theresa received her bachelor’s degree in physics from Kenyon College in 2017 and her master’s degree from the University of Chicago in 2019.

Pratiti Deb is a PhD candidate in David Awschalom’s group in the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering. She got her BA in physics from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and is originally from Kolkata, India. As an undergraduate, she studied the properties of two dimensional materials using scanning transmission electron microscopy. Now, she studies solid state defects for applications in quantum information processing, specifically, a defect in diamond called the nitrogen vacancy center. She works with lasers and microwaves to manipulate the spin state of the electron trapped in this defect and study its noise environment. 

Akya Gossitt is a 33 year old single parent of two children passionate about therapeutic interventions surrounding trauma and homeless veterans. Starting her higher education Journey in Jan 2013 as a homeless combat veteran, Akya has been in school for the past 5.5 years. First, obtaining her Associate’s degree from Harold Washington in May 2015, her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Governors State University in May 2018 and just recently her Masters in Arts with a concentration in Clinical Social Work from SSA at the University of Chicago in June 2019, all while maintaining a fulltime job and participating in numerous campus activities such as Illinois Board of Higher Education Rep, Student Senator, Ivy League Veterans Council, and much more. While she would love to give credit to herself for making it through this journey, she believes her intention of making community where ever she went was vital to her success.

Gabrielle Roberts is a second year PhD student at the University of Chicago. After trying soft matter computation and biophysics research in her early undergrad at Yale, she fell in love with superconducting circuits as a great combination of AMO and condensed matter physics. As part of a team working on encoding quantum information in Professor Michel Devoret’s lab, she assisted with theoretical simulations to inform experiment parameters. In graduate school, she joined Professor David Schuster’s lab to continue working in experimental quantum circuits. She is currently building experiments to simulate and investigate quantum many body physics. She spends her time in lab making very small things very cold.

How to Get Into Undergraduate Research

Heather M. Whitney is an associate professor of physics at Wheaton College and a visiting scholar in the Department of Radiology, University of Chicago. Her experience in quantitative medical imaging has ranged from polymer gel dosimetry to radiation damping in nuclear magnetic resonance to now focusing on radiomics of breast cancer imaging. She is interested in investigating the effects of the physical basis of imaging on radiomics, as well as the repeatability and robustness of computer-aided diagnosis.

Work/Life Balance and Self Care

Christina Roman is a graduate student in biochemistry and molecular biophysics studying RNA structure and protein engineering. She has lead and created numerous organizations dedicated to improving diversity and inclusion in the sciences such as SACNAS, GRIT and the BSD Diversity Committee. In the future she hopes to combine her scientific skill set and knowledge base with her leadership and negotiation skills to create large scale programs that directly benefit the public. 

APS Skills Workshop: Communication and Negotiation

Lydia Finney is currently the University Partnership Program Manager and a physicist in the Leadership Institute at Argonne National Laboratory. In this role, she works both to help the laboratory form strategic relationships with universities to promote diversity at Laboratory, and also oversees Argonne’s ten employee resource groups and is developing their structure for greater impact towards Laboratory mission. From 2015 – 2017, Lydia led Argonne’s Women in Science and Technology program. During this time, she led the ‘Story of WIST’ video project, initiated joint events with Fermilab such as the ‘Inspiring (S)heroes’ event, co-founded the Women’s Groups of the National Labs network, and created connections to the regional community of women scientists, including Chicago-AWIS. In Lydia’s research career, she has developed new ways to use synchrotron x-ray fluorescence to investigate the biological roles of metals. She received her BS in chemistry from SUNY Albany, and as a Hertz Fellow, her PhD in inorganic chemistry from Northwestern University.

Kristene (Tina) Henne is the Postdoctoral Program Lead at Argonne National Laboratory, where she oversees postdoc development, manages the Postdoctoral Mentoring Program and advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne. She has developed workshops on mentoring at Argonne, drawing on best practices promoted by the NPA and the National Research Mentoring Network communities. She shares tips and stories on mentoring for the Argonne and external community through the Argonne Mentoring Blog. Henne earned her Ph.D. in biological sciences from Purdue University and holds certificates in Mediation Skills Training from Northwestern University School of Professional Studies and the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago. She is a past member of the NPA Board of Directors.