Alumni Profile: Muhammed Fazeel

Muhammed Fazeel

Graduated: May 2012

Favorite IB class and why: Ecology and Human Health (IB 361). Professor Allan held a fantastic class related to health. I especially liked it since he made a conscious effort of making relevant lectures based on current/recent epidemics.

Favorite extra curricular activities (undergraduate research, clubs, etc) and why: Being part of the Illinois Launch program at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Why you chose IB:  Integrative Biology took a broader approach at understanding the world from a biology perspective which I found very stimulating.

How you feel IB helped prepare you for your career:  My time at U of I has given me the basic skills needed to better understand and address problems.

What you’re up to now: Soon after I graduated, I started a biomedical startup in Chicago. We have set up partnerships with a few clinics and our work is set to help several heart patients across America.


Alumni Profile: Colleen Stoyas

Colleen Stoyas on the Beach

Graduated: May 2011

Favorite IB class and why: I loved my Ecology and Evolution class and the field work it entailed, my Organismal Biology class because of its labs, Coral Reef Ecology and its mandatory lab in Belize, Genes and Behavior, and so many others. I think the class I find myself continually applying to my every day “life” choices is Ecology and Human Health, taught by Dr. Brian Allan. This course investigates human health issues from an ecological perspective and regularly influences my perception of infectious disease outbreaks, grocery purchases, choice of where within a city or area to live (did you know lyme disease most commonly occurs in communities of moderate population size and not in rural areas?), and more.

Favorite extra curricular activities (undergraduate research, clubs, etc) and why: My favorite activity was definitely my undergraduate research on yeast genetics in the Freeman Lab (dept of MCB), and I submitted a distinction project prior to graduation. Outside of the lab I was in a co-ed Honor Fraternity, Phi Sigma Pi, that allowed me to make a great group of friends outside of my science courses and participate in service projects in the Champaign-Urbana community.

Why you chose IB: I chose IB over other Life Sciences majors because of the emphasis on analytical thinking and problem solving. In IB courses you are required to memorize less facts and instead given a set of information and asked to apply the principles you learned to answer questions on that information. This type of learning is extremely engaging and affected not only my studies, but how I approach any information given to me in life. I entered Illinois generally interested in science and was told growing up that I would make a good physician. While taking IB150, I realized that my interest in medicine had been in the discovery portion all along, and not in actually treating patients.

Colleen Stoyas with turtle

How you feel IB helped prepare you for your career: As I mentioned above, IB focuses on teaching analytical thinking and problem solving skills. I once had a project where I was asked to pick a plant on campus, and I had to email my professor a paragraph on that plant every week. Sometimes it seems hard to find a difference in a dormant magnolia tree from week-to-week in January and February, but “no change” was unacceptable. By the end of that semester I was at that tree every single day noticing so many differing events in its immobile life. IB taught me to be observant, patient, and responsive to my environment in addition to the value the knowledge the coursework provided me. These skills have been invaluable in my current career as a PhD student in Biomedical Sciences.

What you’re up to now and what you like about it: I am currently starting my third year as a PhD student in the Biomedical Sciences program at the University of California, San Diego. I am a member of the La Spada Laboratory, a large and diverse environment that studies the genetics of inherited neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease. My favorite part of my schooling/job is engaging with leaders in the neurodegeneration field and working at the cutting-edge of scientific discovery.

Danny Roche’s Presitgious Publications

An SIB undergrad’s independent research project is published in a high impact scientific journal

Danny Roche began working in Dr. Alison Bell’s lab in 2010. Dr. Bell’s lab investigates how genes and the environment combine to affect behavior using a small freshwater fish, the threespined stickleback. Under the direction of Dr. Katie McGhee (a postdoctoral researcher in the lab), Danny started with humble beginnings coding hundreds of videos of fish behavior. His dedication and motivation paid off however, and very soon he was promoted from watching “video” fish to working with live fish. He worked alongside Dr. McGhee and another postdoc in the lab, Dr. Lauren Pintor (now at The Ohio State University), to examine how maternal exposure to predators affects offspring antipredator behavior. This gave him first hand experience in how to design and execute an experiment and inspired him to do his own independent research project.

Danny was particularly interested in studying learning and wanted to know whether maternal exposure to predators has consequences for offspring learning later in life. Based on the literature, he decided to use a learning assay where a food reward was paired with a particularly colored chamber. To get the food reward repeatedly, the fish has to learn that the “blue” chamber always has the food reward but the “yellow” chamber never does. He found that offspring from mothers that had been exposed to a predator while producing eggs learned the food-color association more slowly than offspring from mothers that had not been exposed to a predator. His study suggests that maternal stress from seeing a predator can have life-long consequences for offspring learning. As part of his IB 490 project, he wrote a scientific paper that was judged by faculty and gave a 15 min presentation at the SIB Undergraduate Research Symposium.  Not only did Danny receive “High Distinction” upon graduation for an outstanding independent student research project, but his manuscript was recently published in a high impact peer-reviewed scientific journal, Biology Letters. Moreover, his study is attracting widespread attention and was highlighted in Nature this week.

As an undergraduate, Danny experienced the entire scientific process, from initial brainstorming about ideas for a project, to reading the literature, to collecting and analyzing data, to submitting a manuscript and addressing reviewers’ comments. In addition to successfully carrying out his own project, Danny brought his own perspective to the lab and was an important contributor to other projects in the lab. Although the Bell lab was sad to see him go, Danny is getting valuable first hand research experience at a field station and is presently working in Panama at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Station under the supervision of Dr. Jim Dalling (Plant Biology, University of Illinois).

Nature link:

Biology Letters link: