From left to right:  Dean Tracy Johnson, Celine Snedden, Peter Back, Mirian De Siqueira, and distinguished guest lecturer, Joe DeRisi 


May 4, 2022 | Jeannie Barber-Choi

Every two years, concurrent with the Mautner Memorial Lecture, a select few graduate students in the UCLA College are chosen to receive the Mautner Graduate Award, for their excellence in academics and research.

The following Life Sciences Ph.D. candidates are the recipients of this year’s award: Peter Back (Molecular Biology), Mirian De Siqueira (Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Physiology), and Celine Snedden (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology). This year’s awardees were formally recognized at the opening of the UCLA Mautner Memorial Lecture event on April 11, 2022.

In her introduction to the event, Dean Tracy Johnson emphasized the importance of graduate students and their valued role at UCLA:

When many of you read about the remarkable scientific accomplishments at UCLA, you no doubt hear about the amazing faculty who are leading these important projects. What may not always be as clear, is that graduate students are at the core of these breakthroughs. Alongside our distinguished faculty, they design and perform experiments, analyze data, co-write papers, serve as mentors for undergraduates and act as teaching assistants. They are at the core of the UCLA mission.”

Here, below, the Mautner Graduate Awardees describe their research, provide insight into Life Sciences’ graduate programs and share their takeaways from distinguished guest lecturer Joe DeRisi’s Mautner Memorial Lectures. Click here, to watch a recording of the 2022 public Mautner Memorial Lecture.


2022 Mautner Graduate Awardees


Peter Back, Fifth-year Ph.D. Candidate • Molecular Biology Ph.D. Program – Bradley Lab

My research focuses on Toxoplasma, a parasite found worldwide, that causes severe disease in immunocompromised people and in babies less-than a month old. At a molecular level, my research helps to describe the key steps in how Toxoplasma infection leads to severe disease, with hopes of developing better therapeutics to fight the disease it causes.

One of my favorite things about our graduate program is how the students are the primary agents that carry out the research. UCLA has a distinct focus on training students, and that priority shows in the level of productivity and achievements of all of our students. As someone who had limited research experience coming into this program, I benefited greatly from UCLA’s hands-on mentorship, cohort of peers, and wealth of resources.

Both of DeRisi’s Mautner Lectures, his public and research lectures, were inspiring. I knew that he and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub were instrumental in California’s fight against COVID, but I didn’t realize the lengths they went to for the community in Mission Bay. It was incredible to see how they leveraged the power of population data to reveal relevant and policy-changing observations about the pandemic. As the biomedical research community continues to embrace big data and computational science, I will definitely be following Dr. DeRisi and the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub closely, as they are at the forefront of this movement.


Mirian De Siqueira, Third-year Ph.D. Candidate • Molecular, Cellular & Integrative Physiology Ph.D. Program – Villanueva Lab

My research interest is in learning how fat cells (adipocytes) communicate with other cells in the body to maintain homeostasis and good health. We believe that the adaptability of adipocytes is essential for controlling nutrient availability, regulating metabolism, and modulating communications between different cell types. I am thrilled to be one of the awardees for the Mautner Award in the Life Sciences, because this award will support me as I learn more about this fascinating biological interaction.

As a graduate student, I deeply appreciate UCLA’s commitment to advancing the careers of women in science. Knowing that I have the support of my colleagues and faculty is a huge motivator for me to continue my career as a scientist. I also love UCLA for the collaborative scientific environment that has been fostered within the Metabolism floor. There have been many times when I had an idea for an exciting experiment and someone on my floor was willing to help me make it happen. The support and affirmation from those around me are why I value being a graduate student at UCLA.

DeRisi’s talk was an inspirational and extraordinary example of how cutting-edge basic science and public health research can merge, to help marginalized communities during a pandemic. I loved the talk because it challenged me to consider how my research may be used to improve public health.


Celine Snedden, Fourth-year Ph.D. Candidate • Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Ph.D. Program – Lloyd-Smith Lab

I design computational models that incorporate key traits of viruses and their hosts to show how viral infections can progress within an individual. Ultimately, I aim to develop an analytical framework that can predict how viruses spread within a host and to provide insights into pandemic risks posed by viruses, like SARS-CoV-2, that can jump to other animal species.

The Mautner award provides an invaluable contribution towards supporting my research, and I’d like to express my gratitude to the Mautner family and the selection committee. I feel very honored to have received this award.

I am very thankful to be a graduate student at UCLA, where I have access to immense resources (like libraries and comprehensive courses) that support and enhance my research. I really appreciate the opportunity to learn from so many prominent scientists, and also have the chance to work with so many bright undergraduates and fellow graduate students.  Most importantly though, I am extremely grateful to be in an exceptionally supportive lab with an excellent advisor – it is truly inspiring to learn from them every day.

Dr. DeRisi’s talk was excellent. I enjoyed hearing about the range of innovative research topics he is involved in, through the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub. In his  public talk, I was particularly intrigued by the work his lab is doing in proteomics and within-host imaging technology, since they offer immense insights for my own research.