Notes from the Director, Fall 2022

Will Ratcliff

Will Ratcliff

I’ve seen the joy of returning to in person activities express itself in many ways, from collaborating on code at the 2022 Spring Hands on Modeling Workshop to participating in the activities organized by the Student Government Association.

Over my career as a scientist, nothing has changed graduate education more than the COVID-19 pandemic. QBioS students and faculty rose to the challenge, in many cases shifting to work on societally-pressing issues related to the pandemic, or simply adapting their own research to the realities of the post-COVID world. I am delighted to report that, as of writing, the tempo and mode of academic life has largely returned to pre-COVID norms (albeit with more mask wearing and outdoor meetings). I’ve seen the joy of returning to in person activities express itself in many ways, from collaborating on code at the 2022 Spring Hands on Modeling Workshop to participating in the activities organized by the Student Government Association (e.g., hiking, picnics, and even a weekend retreat in the North Carolina mountains). These shared experiences weave the fabric of our community, and I’m grateful for the support by QBioS Alumni, Georgia Tech, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund that have made these events possible.

This summer we welcomed Founding Director Joshua Weitz back from his year-long sabbatical in Paris. His timing is impeccable: Prof. Weitz will be leading our upcoming Academic Program Review, which will be the first comprehensive review in our PhD program’s seven-year history. This will be an outstanding opportunity for us to reflect on our program and benefit from the insights of faculty with deep expertise in quantitative biosciences. Stay tuned for more in the next Director’s note. 

In administrative news, I have been promoted from Co-Director of QBioS to Director, where I will continue to lead the overall student-facing aspects of the program. Prof. Weitz continues to serve as Co-Director, focusing on strategy and programmatic expansion, and Prof. JC Gumbart continues to serve as Associate Director, focusing on professional development and leading the Spring modeling workshop. This year also saw a substantial turnover in our Graduate Committee, as several members graciously offered to stay on for an extra year to provide continuity during the pandemic. Rotating off are Profs. Annalisa Bracco (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences), Leonid Bunimovich (Math), Flavio Fenton (Physics), Simon Sponberg (Physics) and Matt Torres (Biological Sciences). Replacing them are Profs. Hannah Choi (Math), Young-Hui Chang (Biological Sciences), Dan Goldman (Physics), Chris Reinhard (Earth and Atmospheric Sciences), and Alberto Stolfi (Biological Sciences). I’m deeply indebted to the graduate committee for their time and invaluable insight, and look forward to working with our newest members!  

We recently welcomed our seventh cohort to Atlanta: a diverse group of eight students representing four home schools in the College of Sciences. We also said goodbye to seven graduates, who are all off to the next phases of their careers: Joy Putney is now at the CDC in their Data Strategy and Analytics team, Shlomi Cohen is data scientist at the cybersecurity firm IRONSCALES, Nolan English is a postdoc at Oak Ridge National Labs, Hector Velasco-Perez is a scientist at Maxwell BioMedical, and Conan Zhao is pursuing the MD (in his long-planned MD/PhD) the Mayo Clinic. Pedro Marquez-Zacarias and Daniel Muratore were both awarded independent Omidiyar Postdoctoral Fellowships at the Santa Fe Institute, providing them with three years of funding and unparalleled intellectual freedom.  

Speaking of awards, QBioS students have been racking them up! Tucker Lancaster was awarded a Graduate Fellowship from the NSF, funding his PhD for the next three years. Rozenn Pineau was awarded a Graduate Research Excellence Grant from Society for the Study of Evolution. Pedro Marquez-Zacarias won the O’Hara fellowship, given annually by Georgia Tech to the top PhD student in the College of Sciences. Cassie Shriver was awarded both the Hayley Fellowship and an ARCS Scholar Award. Athulya Ram was given a research award by the the Karishma Babu and Vijay Balasubramaniyan Endowment Fund. Aaron Pfennig was awarded the inaugural Interdisciplinary Health and Environmental Leadership Development fellowship. Emma Bingham, Katie MacGillivray, Zachary Mobile, and Chris Zhang have their research supported by training grants from the NIH (InQuBATE) or the Department of Education. Finally, Daniel Muratore and Kelimar Diaz Cruz, and Baxi Zhong were given awards at the 2022 QBioS Summer Share for authoring outstanding research papers.

Interested in joining QBioS? Applications for Fall 2023 are due by December 1st! If you are interested in joining QBioS as a PhD student and would like to chat, drop me a line at! I’m happy to answer any questions you have. If you are a member of the QBioS community, you can help us by spreading the word (email me if you need flyers or a PowerPoint slide to append to talks).