Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows

The Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows Program is meant to encourage early-career scholars to pursue a career in academia by supporting their postdoctoral work at Princeton University. The program recognizes and supports scholars who can contribute to the University’s diversity, broadly defined, including members of groups that have been historically, and are presently, underrepresented in the academy or in particular disciplines, such as racial and ethnic minorities and women in STEM.

The program aims to appoint an average of twelve postdoctoral fellows/associate research scholars per year, each holding a one-year appointment renewable for a second year.

Candidates must be nominated by a member of the Faculty who will serve as their sponsor or PI. All assistant, associate and full professors may nominate a candidate and serve as their sponsor/PI. A call for nominations, along with the guidelines of the program, is distributed annually and nominations may be submitted on the DoF website during the nomination period. The Faculty Advisory Committee on Diversity is responsible for the review of nominations and the selection of the Fellows.

With administrative support from the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, the Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows program activities are led by four faculty directors:

Mala Murthy, Professor of Neuroscience

Mala Murthy, Professor of Neuroscience

Rodney D. Priestley, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Vice Dean for Innovation

Stacey A. Sinclair, Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs

Howard A. Stone, Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace EngineeringChair, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

The Faculty Directors serve as additional resources to the fellows, meeting with them monthly as a group to discuss their work and to provide them with opportunities for further exchange and professional development.

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The 2019 Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows are:

Sama Ahmed holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of California-San Francisco (UCSF). Ahmed’s research at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute focuses on how neural activity related to locomotion modulates the patterns of other behaviors. In addition to his work in the lab, Ahmed is passionate about science communication, establishing the Carry the One Radio podcast at UCSF, focused on bringing the latest advances in science to the public. Ahmed is advised by Mala Murthy, professor of neuroscience.
Christine Allen-Blanchette joins the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, building upon her expertise in constraining models from machine learning to maintain compatibility with the underlying structure of variation in visual images. Allen-Blanchette obtained her Ph.D. in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania and holds dual bachelor’s degrees in computer engineering and mechanical engineering from San Jose State University. Allen-Blanchette is advised by Naomi Leonard, the Edwin S. Wilsey Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, director of the Council on Science and Technology and associate director of the Program in Robotics and Intelligent Systems.
Melissa Ball joins the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, focusing on developing chemistries to realize new forms of hybrid organic-inorganic perovskites. Ball obtained her Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University. Prior to pursuing chemistry, Ball worked as an economist and equity strategy analyst. She holds a master’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics and bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from the City University of New York. In addition to her research in chemical and biological engineering, Ball plans to assess the economic implications of rapid decarbonization through the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment. Ball is advised by Lynn Loo, the Theodora D. ’78 and William H. Walton III ’74 Professor in Engineering, professor of chemical and biological engineering and director of the Andlinger Center.
César Colón-Montijo joins the Department of Spanish and Portuguese from Columbia University, where he obtained a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology. Colón-Montijo holds a master’s degree in anthropology and audiovisual communication from the University of Barcelona and a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Puerto Rico. His research spans Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Latinx media and cultural studies, and is focused on the production and reception of popular song, music, print and non-print texts and their role in shaping communities and social movements. In addition to his scholarly work, Colón-Montijo is a journalist and documentary filmmaker with experience in radio and television. Colón-Montijo is advised by Pedro Meira Monteiro, the Arthur W. Marks ’19 Professor of Spanish and Portuguese and chair of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
Sha Li holds a Ph.D. in physiology from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Science and Technology of China. Li’s research at Princeton focuses on how genetic information controls the embryonic patterning decisions that lead to specific phenotypes. Li is advised by Ricardo Mallarino, assistant professor of molecular biology.
 Rudo Mudiwa is a scholar of African gender and sexuality, with a focus on contemporary culture and politics in Zimbabwe, her country of origin. Mudiwa holds a Ph.D. in communication and culture from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in political science and communication from Wesleyan College. Mudiwa joins the Department of Comparative Literature, with research examining how anxieties regarding black women’s sexuality and physical mobilities in urban areas have been at the center of debates about how to transform space and imagine a new nation of Zimbabwe in the aftermath of colonial rule. Mudiwa is advised by Wendy Belcher, associate professor of comparative literature and African American studies.
 Benny Rice joins the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and obtained a Ph.D. from the department of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Arizona State University. Rice’s work seeks to bridge fundamental scientific questions in ecology and evolutionary biology to highly applied questions of human health, in particular, for infectious disease. His postdoctoral research centers on genomic and serological analysis as part of a large-scale survey that Rice and collaborators coordinated across a wide diversity of community and ecosystem settings in Madagascar. With others in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Rice focuses on developing statistical approaches to analyze temporal, spatial and demographic drivers of acquisition of immunity to provide a window onto pathogen diversity and its determinants in a resource-poor setting. Rice is advised by Jessica Metcalf, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School. 
Kathrin Stark joins the Department of Computer Science, utilizing her education and research experience in the theory of programming languages and logics as the foundation of her research to design, build and verify a foreign function interface for verified programs. Stark has a passion for hard technical problems that require a mix of theoretical insight and engineering. She obtained her Ph.D. in computer science from Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany. Stark holds a master’s degree in advanced computer science from the University of Cambridge and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Saarland University. Stark is advised by Andrew Appel, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Computer Science.
Makeda Tekle-Smith joins the Department of Chemistry, working to develop methods that disrupt the current practices in reaction optimization by integrating software engineering, computational chemistry and machine learning with experimental methods in chemical synthesis. She obtained her Ph.D. in chemistry from Columbia University and holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Pomona College. Tekle-Smith has a deep interest in pursuing research environments in new areas of science to broaden her knowledge of the field. She is advised by Abby Doyle, the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Chemistry.
 Cynthia Ursino holds a Ph.D. and Licenciatura (equivalent to B.A. and M.A.) in biological sciences from the University of Buenos Aires. In the course of her Ph.D. studies, Ursino trained in genetics for two years at Harvard University. Her research focuses on the evolution of reproductive behaviors in birds, especially on coevolutionary interactions between brood parasitic birds and their hosts. Ursino joins the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where her postdoctoral research brings together a rare set of samples collected in Argentina with cutting-edge genetic techniques. Ursino is advised by Christina Riehl, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Rafael Valentin joins the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Valentin holds a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution from Rutgers University. He obtained a bachelor’s degree in ecology, evolution and natural resources from Rutgers and is a combat veteran of the United States Armed Forces. Using cutting-edge molecular methods, Valentin has developed new techniques for assessing and monitoring the state of biological invasions, which have the potential to mitigate the impact and spread of invasive agricultural pests through early detection. At Princeton, Valentin uses related tools to fuse applied questions about species detection with theoretical inquiry regarding how species introductions influence emergent properties of communities. Valentin is advised by Rob Pringle, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
 Xiaohui Xu joins the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, focusing her postdoctoral research on developing near-infrared-responsive core-shell microgels and amorphous solid dispersions for controlled drug release. Xu’s research has provided significant contributions to the synthesis of photothermal materials and core-shell and yolk-shell nanoparticles, as well as their application in drug delivery, sensing and catalysis. She obtained her Ph.D. this spring from the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Chang’an University in Xi’an, China, while undertaking thesis research at the Institute of Soft Matter and Functional Materials at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie in Germany. Xu holds a master’s degree in applied chemistry from Chang’an University and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the Zhengzhou University of Light Industry. Xu is advised by Rodney Priestley, associate professor of chemical and biological engineering.

The 2020 Presidential Postdoctoral Research Fellows are:

R. Konane Bay will join the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, where she intends to develop a new class of materials within the emerging field of engineered living materials. Bay holds a Ph.D. in polymer science and engineering from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a bachelor’s degree in materials engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Bay received multiple awards for her Ph.D. research, including the ACS Eastman Chemical Student Award in Applied Polymer Science in 2019 and Best Poster Award at the Annual Meeting of the Adhesion Society in 2019. She was an APS Frank J. Padden Jr. Award finalist in 2020. Bay will be advised by Sujit Datta, assistant professor of chemical and biological engineering.
 Bailey Brown will join the Department of Sociology, with a focus on how structural and cultural social processes limit opportunities and outcomes for families and contribute to the persistence of inequality, as exemplified by families’ school selection processes for their kindergarteners. Brown is completing her Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University, where she previously earned a M.Phil. and an M.A. She holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Brown will be advised by Jennifer Jennings, professor of sociology and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School.
Khytie Brown will join the Program in American Studies, where she will work in the Center for Transnational Policing to transform her dissertation, “Afro-Queer Journeys: Transnational Revival Zion Religion in Jamaica and Panama,” into a book-length manuscript. Brown is completing her Ph.D. in African and African American studies at Harvard University, and holds a M.T.S. from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree from Emory University. Her research interests span religious expression and cultural production in the Caribbean and Latin America, sensory epistemologies, mediation, gender and sexuality, commodity culture, racialization, and policing. She will be advised by Aisha M. Beliso-De Jesús, professor of American studies and co-director of the Center on Transnational Policing.
 Kofi Christie will join the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, with a research objective to design and produce a novel, multifunctional polymer membrane that can be used in applications that leverage renewable forms of energy to generate clean water. Christie hold a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Vanderbilt University and a bachelor’s degree in physics from Morehouse College. Christie will be advised by Z. Jason Ren, professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment.
 Rodrick Kuate Defo will join the Department of Electrical Engineering. His proposed research will answer several open questions in the field of nanophotonics and provide new tools and design insights in the area of materials engineering. Kuate Defo completed his Ph.D. in physics with a secondary field in computational science and engineering at Harvard University. His bachelor’s degree in math and physics is from McGill University. Kuate Defo will be advised by Alejandro Rodriguez, associate professor of electrical engineering and director of the Program in Material Science and Engineering.
Paola Estrada is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Molecular Biology, where she studies how small molecules are made by the human microbiome and how these molecules are involved in mediating interactions with the host and surrounding microbes. Estrada holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, master’s credits in biochemistry from Hunter College, and a bachelor’s degree in forensic science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She is advised by Mohamed Abou Donia, assistant professor of molecular biology.
 Javier Masís will join the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, studying the phenomenon of learning within the framework of bounded optimality, working toward a broader, more comprehensive theory of cognition. Masís holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard University, a master’s degree in biology from Harvard and a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Princeton. He will be advised by Jonathan Cohen, the Robert Bendheim and Lynn Bendheim Thoman Professor in Neuroscience, professor of psychology, and co-director of the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.
 Samantha McBride will join the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. Her research combines materials science, fluid physics and water chemistry toward developing antifouling materials for improving sustainability and lowering costs associated with water treatment. McBride holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a master’s degree in chemical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Nevada.  She will be advised by Howard Stone, the Donald R. Dixon ’69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
 Diogo Melo will join the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics, with a focus on the general problem of mapping genotype to phenotype for complex traits, and understanding how genetic networks drive phenotypic evolution. Melo’s degrees are from the Universidade de São Paulo, from which he has a Ph.D. in genetics and evolutionary biology and bachelor’s degrees in evolutionary biology and in biology and applied mathematics. He will be advised by Julien Ayroles, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and the Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics.
 Ravaris Moore will join the Department of Sociology, advancing research that quantifies the effects of community gun violence and school shootings on children’s educational trajectories. Moore is an assistant professor of sociology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He completed his graduate training at UCLA, earning master’s degrees in sociology and economics, as well as a Ph.D. in sociology. Moore also holds a bachelor’s degree in economics and mathematics from Morehouse College. Prior to matriculating at UCLA, Moore contributed to several national evaluations as a research programmer in the Human Services division of Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Moore will be jointly advised by three faculty members: Patrick Sharkey, professor of sociology and public affairs, Woodrow Wilson School; Yu Xie, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Sociology and the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, and director of the Center on Contemporary China; and Tod Hamilton, associate professor of sociology, and a Charles G. Osgood University Preceptor.
Lotanna Micah Nneji will join the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, where he will conduct the first DNA metabarcoding analyses of the diet composition and niche relationships of herbivorous birds—ostrich, guineafowl, spurfowl and bustard — at Princeton’s Mpala Research Centre in Kenya. Nneji holds a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, and a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Abuja, Nigeria. He will be advised by Robert Pringle, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
Eziaku Nwokocha will join the Department of Religion as a scholar of Africana religions with expertise in the ethnographic study of Vodou in Haiti and the Haitian diaspora. Her research is grounded in thorough understanding of religions in Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, in gender and sexuality studies, and Africana studies generally. Nwokocha holds a Ph.D. in Africana studies from the University of Pennsylvania and was a Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellow. She has a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School and a bachelor’s degree in Black studies and feminist studies from the University of California-Santa Barbara, where she was a Ronald E. McNair scholar. Nwokocha will be advised by Judith Weisenfeld, the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor of Religion and chair of the Department of Religion.
Elizabeth Paul will join the Department of Astrophysical Sciences, with interests in problems at the intersection of advanced numerical methods and plasma physics applications. She is completing her Ph.D. in physics from the University of Maryland-College Park. Paul holds a bachelor’s degree in astrophysical sciences from Princeton. She will be advised by Amitava Bhattacharjee, professor of astrophysical sciences.
Jose Roque will join the Department of Chemistry, focused on broadening his scientific repertoire to include transition metal catalysis, particularly with Earth abundant metals such as iron and cobalt. Roque is completing his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley, where he worked under Professor Richmond Sarpong. He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Florida International University. Roque will be advised by Paul Chirik, the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of Chemistry.
 Anthony Urena will join the Department of Sociology. He is completing his Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia University and holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and human biology from Brown University. Urena employs qualitative methodologies to examine the social dimensions of disease risk perception within disproportionately affected communities. At Princeton, Urena’s postdoctoral research will focus on how Black and Latino men who have sex with men make sense of the contemporary HIV epidemic in the United States. Urena will be advised by Frederick Wherry, the Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology.
Erika Valdivieso will join the Department of Classics, with an interest in recovering the intellectual traditions of colonial Latin America, as informed by the legacy of classical humanism. Valdivieso completed her Ph.D. in classics at Brown University. She holds a master’s degree in Latin and bachelor’s degree in classics from the University of Michigan. Valdivieso will be advised by Dan-el Padilla Peralta, associate professor of classics and associated faculty in the programs in Latin American studies and Latino studies and the University Center for Human Values.