About the program

The Neubauer Family Initiative for Excellence in Graduate Education is intended to recruit the most talented doctoral students from around the world by providing competitive fellowships to the University of Chicago’s Humanities, Social Sciences, and Physical Sciences Divisions. The inaugural cohort of Neubauer Family Distinguished Doctoral Fellows includes fifteen gifted students whose outstanding academic accomplishments thus far demonstrate their promise as scholars and teachers capable of making important contributions to their fields.


Jake Butts, Neubauer Fellow

Name: Jake Butts
PhD Program: PhD program in Psychology
Hometown: Springfield, PA
Education: Williams College; B.A., Psychology
Research: My research explores conceptual development with a focus on mathematical symbols and notations. Specifically, I am interested in how linguistic input and spatial representations impact children’s understanding of mathematical concepts. Through this research, I hope to better understand the basic cognitive processes that drive learning and identify mechanisms to close achievement gaps in mathematics.

Name: David Cerny
PhD Program: PhD program in Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Prague, Czech Republic
Education: University of California, Los Angeles; B.S., Ecology, Behavior and Evolution
Research: Since high school, I have been interested in the evolution of animals with backbones and in evolutionary processes taking place above the level of species. I took part in paleontological fieldwork in Krasiejów, Poland; conducted ecological and behavioral field research in French Polynesia; and worked as a computational biology research intern at the Centre de Regulació Genòmica in Barcelona, Spain. At UCLA, I had the opportunity to work in the Alfaro Lab on several projects involving molecular dating (a technique that combines paleontological information with DNA sequence data to infer the ages of origin of various groups of organisms), resulting in two published papers and several others still in preparation. In the Slater Lab at the University of Chicago, I hope to contribute to the development of methods that integrate fossil and molecular data in order to help us develop a deeper understanding of the evolution of Earth’s biosphere.

Name: Binglu Chen
PhD Program: PhD program in Mathematics
Hometown: Ningbo, Zhejiang, China
Education: University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; B.S.
Research: My undergraduate thesis is a very basic survey related to K-stability of Fano varieties, which itself is an active math branch. Now I’m trying to get into the research area of Algebraic Geometry and Representation Theory.





Name: Basil Dababneh
PhD Program: PhD in Cinema and Media Studies
Hometown: Buffalo Grove, IL
Education: Vanderbilt University, BA, Cinema and Media Arts
Research: Basil Dababneh is a PhD student in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. He holds a BA in Cinema and Media Arts from Vanderbilt University, where he also minored in Women’s and Gender Studies. His research coalesces around theories of cinematic temporality, the politics and aesthetics of queer theories of time, and the anachronisms of horror cinema in the digital age. He is also interested in postcolonial theory and Arab cinema.





Name: Daniel Epstein
PhD Program: PhD Program in Political Science
Hometown: Cape Elizabeth, ME
Education: Harvard College, Cambridge, MA; A.B. Social Studies
Research: I am a political theorist with broad interests in violence and reconciliation, law and punishment, and the ethics and politics of alterity (otherness). I wrote an undergraduate thesis on the philosophical foundations of restorative justice, a response to crime and conflict that emphasizes encounters between stakeholders and the repair of harm. While my future research agenda remains open, I may be interested in continuing along these or related lines, perhaps attempting a broader interrogation of the values, assumptions, and political/psychosocial forces that animate American criminal justice and a deeper, more comprehensive search for alternatives to our carceral paradigm. Moreover, I hope to explore the possibilities and potential advantages of complementing traditional modes of political theory with ethnographic methods and/or reference to ethnographic works. Outside of academics, I enjoy prestige TV drama and following my favorite teams: Tottenham Hotspur and the Boston Celtics.

Name: Michael Feeney
PhD Program: PhD in History
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Education: University of Oxford B.A., MSt
Research: My research interests focus mainly on Early Modern Europe and the ways in which political information and news was able to circulate in both print and manuscript forms. For my Master’s dissertation I analysed historical writing in Early Stuart England to demonstrate the ways in which censored print was still a valuable way to make a public political argument and claim the ‘high ground’ of moderation. In my free time I love to watch and play football (soccer), and I played for the University of Oxford team as an undergraduate and graduate student.





Name: Zehua Lai
PhD program: PhD program in computational and applied mathematics
Hometown: Quanzhou, Fujian, China
Education: Tsinghua University, BA in mathematics and economics
Research: I am a first-year Ph.D. student at Committee on Computational and Applied Mathematics. Prior to coming to Chicago, he received his bachelors degrees in Economics and Mathematics at Tsinghua University. I have broad interests in machine learning, partial differential equations and image processing.





Name: María D. Hernández Limón
PhD Program: PhD in Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Waukegan, IL
Education: Brown University, Providence, RI; B.S., Geology-Biology;
Columbia University, New York, NY; Post-Bacc. Earth Science
Research: Maria became the first in her family to graduate from college when she earned a B.S. in geology-biology in 2014 from Brown University. As a junior, Maria helped to assess hypoxia in Narragansett Bay, which led to her interest in aquatic ecosystems. After graduating, Maria worked with the Schuler Scholar Program which prepares underserved students to excel in college. In August 2016, Maria joined the Dyhrman laboratory at Columbia University, which focuses on understanding the interaction between phytoplankton and their environment. In 2017, María’s research focused on comparing data from phytoplankton grown at ambient and increased CO2 to elucidate how increases in CO2 influence phytoplankton physiology. The results were published in Frontiers in Microbiology. María’s current research aims to describe patterns of important process in Emiliania huxleyi from samples collected in the Pacific Ocean. At University of Chicago Maria hopes to explore the microbial diversity of the Great Lakes.





Name: Carol Medina
PhD Program: PhD in Psychology
Hometown: Charleston, SC
Education: Brown University, Providence, RI; B.S. Psychology
Research: Having been a summer camp counselor, babysitter, and pediatric health researcher, working with children has been a lifelong passion, but my interest in children’s cognition is a more recent discovery. In college, I discovered my fascination with the human mind and all that makes humans such extraordinary learners. This incredible capacity is most evident in toddlers as in only a few years, they go from knowing little about the world to being able to walk, talk, and recite the ABC’s! As a developmental psychologist at UChicago, I plan to study how children learn to navigate their world, when they learn from others, and how they generate hypotheses as such processes may be the foundation for children’s later science abilities. In addition to psychology, I am also passionate about music. I sing (mostly to myself) and played the sousaphone throughout college as a member of the Brown University Marching Band.





Name: Solomon Quinn
PhD Program: PhD program in Computational and Applied Mathematics
Hometown: New York, NY
Education: University of Richmond, Richmond, VA; B.S., Mathematics and Physics
Research: Solomon’s current research interests include physically motivated problems, particularly in quantum mechanics and applications of partial differential equations. At the University of Richmond, Solomon conducted research in cosmology with Prof. Ted Bunn, examining the possibility of extracting multi-wavelength maps from single-filter observations of the cosmic microwave background. Solomon and Prof. Bunn presented their results at the 231st American Astronomical Society Meeting in January, 2018. Solomon’s undergraduate work also included a project in game theory, under the supervision of Prof. Michael Kerckhove. Aside from mathematics and physics, Solomon enjoys playing the piano, sports, chess and hiking.





Name: Nicolás Torres-Echeverry
PhD Program: PhD program in Sociology
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
Education: Stanford Law School, Stanford, J.S.M. (Master of the Science of Law); Universidad de los Andes, Colombia, LL.B. (Law) and B.A. (Economics)
Research: I am interested in political and economic sociology, specifically in how social interaction on the Internet is shaping people’s political and economic ideas. During my time at UChicago, I would like to reflect on the way the Internet and data are changing political and economic processes and the organizations behind such changes. My research adopts an interdisciplinary approach and combines quantitative and qualitative methods. Before coming to Chicago, I was at Stanford conducting socio-legal research as a JSD fellow and a research assistant at FSI’s Global Digital Policy Incubator. My previous research was on political sociology, in particular on state-building challenges in post-conflict settings, with a focus on Colombia. Before that, I worked as a researcher at the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia), and as a consultant for the Ministry of Justice in Colombia. I love cooking and swimming!





Name: Hai Tran Bach
PhD Program: Statistics Ph.D.
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Education: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; B.S. , Mathematics & Data Science
Research: My research interests are in Machine Learning, Network Analysis, and High Dimensional Inference. At the Big Data Summer Institute, I have worked in identifying the relationships between financial and private entities in the Panama Papers to unveil the world’s hidden wealth. Later at Chenope, I had the opportunity to build a statistical model which reveals the interaction of political clusters on Twitter over time. During my PhD program, I plan to further my understanding of the underlying structure of real big data sets. I am also interested in the socio-politico-economic history of the 20th century and trying new culinary recipes.





Name: Emily Willson
PhD Program: PhD in Computer Science
Hometown: Appleton, WI
Education: Wheaton College (IL); B.S. Mathematics and Physics
Research: I graduated from Wheaton in 2016 and was employed for several years as an applied research mathematician for the Department of Defense. My work there touched a variety of areas ranging from quantum computing to machine learning to blockchain technology. In my PhD studies at UChicago, I will pursue my research interests in applied machine learning and blockchain technologies through my work with Dr. Ben Zhao. Once I graduate, I hope to serve as a leader in a government, corporate, or academic research institution. In my spare time, I enjoy running, reading, and searching for the best pancake restaurant in the Chicagoland area.





Name: Chih-Hsuan Wu
PhD Program: Statistics
Hometown: Taiwan
Education: National Taiwan University, Taiwan, MA, Mathematical Statistics; B.A., Mathematics
Research: During my graduate school study, I accumulated research experiences by probing into a robust regression method, Self-Updating Process (SUP), with Dr. Ting-Li Chen. In the future, I hope to do more research on  high-dimensional data and robust methods with faculties in UChicago.





Name: Angela Zorro Medina
PhD Program: PhD program in Sociology
Hometown: Bogota, Colombia
B.A. Economics Universidad de los Andes, LL.B Universidad de los Andes. LL.M. Yale Law   School, JSD Candidate Yale Law School
Research: My research focuses on the criminal justice system and the way it produces and reproduces inequality in Latin America and the United States. For the Latin American case, I study the impact of carceral outcomes in inequality, and the factors that influence the prison population. For the U.S. case, I study the impact of non-carceral outcomes in inequality at the sub-felony justice level.


Name: Chris Batterman Cháirez
PhD Program: Ethnomusicology
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Education: Emory University, Atlanta GA; B.A. in Music and Latin American Studies
Research: Generally speaking, I am interested in music and sound’s intersection with the political, broadly defined. More specifically, my work examines questions of race/ethnicity, nationalisms and cosmopolitanisms, post-coloniality, and modernity in Latin American sonic contexts (especially in Brazil and Mexico). I am a proponent of collapsing disciplinary boundaries and blurring lines of inquiry. My research, then, draws upon music studies, sound studies, critical theory, ethnic studies, history, and anthropology to consider music/sound’s aesthetic, affective, and material functions in society. To that end, much of my past work has interrogated questions of subjectivity, racialization, indigeneity, and constructions of identity and community in Brazil and greater Mexico. Past contexts for this research have included: Brazilian opera and ideologies of race and nation; hip-hop, language, and racialized communicative aesthetics; community, nationalism, and political militancy in Chicana/o music; and opera, early ethnography, indigenous language, and racialized listening in 19th c. Mexico.


Name: Avigail Ben-Gad
PhD Program: Egyptology
Hometown: Haifa, Israel
Research: I am a first-year PhD student in the Egyptology program with research interests focusing mainly on Egyptian interactions with the Near East during the New Kingdom, particularly under the Ramesside kings of the 19th and 20th dynasties. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Egyptology and Assyriology at Cambridge University, where my dissertation investigated parallels between Ancient Egyptian and Semitic literary texts in order to reconstruct possible models for the cross-cultural spread of ideas. My non-academic interests include reading science fiction and fantasy, attempting to garden, and playing the violin.


Name: Sthira Bhattacharya
PhD Program: South Asian Languages and Civilizations (SALC)
Hometown: Dhanbad, India.
Education: BA English, Delhi University (2014); MA English, Jawaharlal Nehru University (2016); MPhil English, Jawaharlal Nehru University (2018)
Research: I hope to explore how different actors imagined what it meant to lead ‘public’ lives in late 19th-early 20thcentury eastern India; how and why certain print and oral genres as well as forms of associational life gained popularity in this context; and processes of subject-formation and self-fashioning specific to actors’ location within social-linguistic hierarchies.

Name: David Boze
PhD Program: Comparative Human Development
Hometown: Winona Lake, IN
Education: University of Chicago, M.A., Social Science; Indiana University, B.A., Political Science
Research: My research focuses on child development, morality, and socialization. Specifically, I am interested in studying the processes by which children come to understand the moral codes of their communities through their everyday social interactions with parents, teachers, and peers.


Name: John Burden
PhD Program: Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations
Hometown: Harrisonburg, Virginia
Education: University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va: B.A. in Foreign Affairs; University of Oxford, Oxford, UK: MPhil in Islamic Studies and History
Research: I am a PhD student focusing on Islamic Thought. My research interests include Islamic Law, particularly medieval and early modern legal reasoning, as well as Sufism and its role in the construction of religious orthodoxy in the medieval period. My graduate thesis, entitled “The ‘Real’ Uṣūl al-Fiqh? The Role of Qawāʿid Fiqhiyya in Late Medieval and Early Modern Islamic Legal Reasoning,” explores the function of Islamic legal maxims in the interpretation and extension of legal precedents identified in canonical handbooks of positive law. I have worked, studied and travelled throughout the MENA region. I spent a year working at the Casablanca American School in Morocco, followed by two summers studying Classical Arabic at Qasid Arabic Institute in Amman, Jordan. I have also worked for a peace-building NGO in Israel/Palestine. In my free time, I enjoy reading (especially 19thcentury Russian and 20thcentury American literature), cooking, and playing ultimate frisbee.


Name: Irina Cristali
PhD Program: Statistics
Hometown: Bucharest, Romania
Education: Duke  University, Durham, N.C.; B.S., Mathematics and B.S., Statistical Science
Research: Finding rigorous proofs and explanations has always challenged me and it motivated me to expand my mathematical foundation. At Duke University, I deepened my background in computational analysis and probability theory and used it to pursue exciting research in both pure and applied mathematics. My two projects in probability were focused on investigating the limit behavior of random structures. I also used dynamical systems to study the renal blood flow autoregulation and model time-series processes, and I understood the important role real data plays in model design. As a Statistics PhD student, I plan to combine theoretical probability techniques with data-driven modeling and inference, and discover new estimation and uncertainty quantification methods. I am currently interested in theoretical high-dimensional and statistical learning problems, motivated by real world applications.


Name: Yue Deng
PhD Program: Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Shenzhen, China
Education: Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA; B.A., Biological Sciences / Classics (minor)
Research: I became interested in evolutionary biology after a class my first year of college. Then I stumbled upon a most bizarre group of bivalves– the watering pot shells, which I wrote an undergrad thesis on, and which dragged me into the world of bivalves. I’m now interested in further understanding the evolution of bivalves combining paleontological data with the biology of living species.


Name: Daniel Ehrlich
PhD Program: Economics
Hometown: Boston, MA
Education: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; B.A., Economics
Research: My research explores the determinants of economic growth in developing countries, particularly through the lens of regional variation and spatial distributions of economic activity. Joint work with Professor Robert Townsend (MIT) examines the spatial effects of scaling up financial interventions in rural Thailand and how individuals migrate in response to changes in access to financial services. My other projects including examining the effects of geographic location on entrepreneurship in Ghana and the joint responses of regional trade-financial linkages in the US to economic shocks. I am excited to be back at UChicago to start my PhD. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, backpacking, and window shopping at farmer’s markets.



Name: Cristina Esteves-Wolff
PhD Program:Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Studies
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Education: B.A. Literature, Yale University; J.D., Fordham University School of Law; M.A. Comparative Literature, University of Puerto Rico – Río Piedras
Research: My research focuses on identity politics of peripheral subjects, those on the margins of discourses of power. I work primarily with 20thand 21stcentury Caribbean and Latin American literature with a focus on postcolonial and decolonial theory. As a scholar of law and literature, I am also interested in exploring how the judicial and political fictions of modernity intersect with identity formation and cultural production. My Master’s thesis focused on the Puerto Rican case study, and I will now broaden the scope of my work towards a comparative analysis of the colonial experiences of peripheral subjects throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. My research looks for points of correspondence and dissonance across empires, as well as how imperial formations endure and reproduce themselves in modern territories and nation-states.


Name: Jane Gordon
PhD Program: Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (Cuneiform Studies)
Hometown: Ardmore, PA
Education: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; BA, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; University College London, London, UK; MA, Ancient History
Research: I study the textual record of ancient Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq and Syria), with a particular focus on literary development and cultural exchange during the second millennium B.C.E. While I was an undergraduate at Chicago, I wrote a thesis on the narratological use of physical spaces in the Standard Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. I then pursued an MA in Ancient History from University College London, where my master’s thesis analyzed emotional expression and discussion of emotion in Assyrian merchants’ letters. My research interests include Mesopotamian narrative literature and literary history, the rhetoric of letter-writing, and ancient Near Eastern conceptions of social space and landscape, particularly during the Middle and Late Bronze Age. In my free time, I like to read novels, bake almond-based desserts, and go to art museums.


Name: Jenny Harris
PhD Program:
Art History
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: Wellesley College, B.A. Art History
Research: I focus on 20th century art with particular interests in performance, intersections of dance and visual arts, and the status of decoration and craft in postwar American art. Prior to arriving at the University, I worked in The Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Painting and Sculpture where I participated in the reinstallation of the collection galleries and contributed to exhibitions including The Shape of Shape, Artist’s Choice: Amy Sillman(2019), The Long Run (2017-18) and Robert Rauschenberg: Among Friends(2017).


Name: Bret Klein Hart
PhD Program: Cinema and Media Studies
Hometown: Santa Monica, CA
Education: B.A., UC Berkeley, Statistics, Media Studies
Research: My research concerns the experiential qualities of data collection and algorithmic prediction – how it looks and feels to be within surveillance computational apparatuses such as social media, video games, and digitally monitored everyday life. Interested in industrial, technical, and aesthetic analyses of machine learning processes, I work to make legible how behavioral data processing and prediction define contemporary experience. In my free time, I sing in the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and enjoy discussing esports and digital culture.


Name: Peng Hui How
PhD Program: Mathematics
Hometown: Selangor, Malaysia
Education: Stanford University, Stanford, CA; B.S., Mathematics; M.S. Computer Science
Research: Among pure math, I have scratched the surface of Lie theory, algebraic number theory, topology, and geometry throughout my years at Stanford and Bonn. I am also highly intrigued by physics, both observables and unobservable ones, as mathematical inspiration and as a subject on its own. At UChicago, I am looking into topology/geometry for now, but am always open-minded to other things, since I strongly believe that mathematical study originates from motivating problems, and separation of mathematical field is artificial.


Name: Tejas Kannan
PhD Program:Computer Science
Hometown: Palo Alto, California
Education: University of California at Berkeley, B.A. Computer Science; University of Cambridge, MPhil Computer Science
Research: Tejas is a computer science student who works at the intersection of computer systems and machine learning. His master’s thesis involved designing a machine learning technique to solve traffic routing problems in cities. Currently, his research focuses on adaptive and energy-efficient computing. In particular, he is interested in techniques to execute machine learning models on low-power devices. Outside of computer science, Tejas is an avid sports fan (football, basketball, and soccer), and he enjoys distance running and traveling.


Name: Olivier Kooi
PhD Program: Economics
Hometown: Rotterdam, Netherlands
Education: University of Chicago, Chicago, IL; M.A., Social Sciences Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands; Bsc., Economics
Research: My research interests are in public finance, macroeconomics and political economy. For my undergraduate and master theses I studied how government can redistribute income most effectively through social insurance and tax instruments. During my time at Chicago I would like to expand my interest in optimal government policy to the study of growth enhancing policies and policies to mitigate the adverse effects of economic fluctuations. In addition to studying features of optimal policy I hope to improve our understanding of how our political institutions result in the policies we see.  When I am done studying I enjoy doing Judo and reading books on history and political philosophy.


Name: Lex Ladge
PhD Program: Art History
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Education: Reed College, Portland, Oregon; B.A., Classics
Research: I study Greek and Roman art with a particular focus on the cultural and political environment of the Hellenistic period. I am especially interested in how material culture and space interact with concepts of power, memory, and perception. While at Reed, I wrote a thesis entitled “Memory Objects: a Study of Attalid Memory and Object Creation under Philetairos and Attalos I.” In my free time, I enjoy cooking and baking and practicing calligraphy.


Name: Carol Lewis
PhD Program: Committee on Social Thought
Hometown: Greenville, SC
Education: Furman University, Greenville, SC; B.S., Mathematics
Research: I’m interested in unhappiness, human nature, education, and love of one’s own. I particularly enjoy discussing Plato, Aristotle, Pascal, Austen, Tocqueville, and Nietzsche in seminars, around dinner tables, and on long walks or runs. I most attentively studied and wrote on Plato’s Symposiumas an undergraduate. My less-academic loves include camping, singing, playing board games, tackling home improvement projects, and spending time with my family.


Name: Xinyi (Camilla) Liu
PhD Program: Geophysical Sciences
Hometown: Shenzhen, China
Education: Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA; B.S., Earth and Atmospheric Sciences
Research: My undergraduate research projects involved 1) evaluating tectonic and climatic effects on long-term chemical weathering rates and 2) earth’s oxygen and phosphorus cycle and the evolution of animal life. During my PhD program at UChicago, I look forward to exploring the interaction between these processes on early Earth using primarily isotope geochemistry techniques. I enjoy all sorts of outdoor recreation, especially backpacking. I’m also a German speaker and a badminton player.


Name: Nadia Lucas
PhD Program: Economics
Hometown: Bellevue, WA
Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; B.S., Mathematical Economics and Computer Science
Research: Coming from a computationally heavy undergraduate background, I began my post-graduate career working at the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago. It was here that I learned to synthesize a mathematically and computationally rigorous set of tools to analyze human behavior and social issues. My goal in working towards a PhD in economics is to develop the skillset for sound policy analysis. My interests broadly encompass the economics of energy and environmental policy. Specifically, I am interested in looking at energy and environmental policy through the lens of sustainable growth of industries and firms on a microeconomic level. In my free time I enjoy being a part of the running community in the Chicago area and taking every opportunity I can to travel.


Name: John Muller
PhD Program: Social Thought and Philosophy
Hometown: Santa Monica, CA
Education: Dartmouth College, B.A., History and Economics; Yale Law School, J.D.; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, M.A., Philosophy
Research: My academic interests center on self-deception, ambivalence, and privation. I work on these issues in philosophy, drawing as well on law, literature, and psychoanalysis. My initial training, as an undergraduate at Dartmouth, was in history and economics. I then studied law at Yale. After law school, I clerked for a pair of federal court of appeals judges in the northeast, spent a couple of years as a fellow and lecturer at Harvard Law School, and then practiced law in Los Angeles. I come to UChicago from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where I completed a master’s in philosophy. In addition to my academic work, I write occasional essays and book reviews for a non-academic audience.


Name: Quynh-Anh Nguyen
PhD Program: History
Hometown: Thanh Hoa, Vietnam
Education: Earlham College, Richmond, IN; B.A., History
Research: Informed by Critical Theory’s critique of modernism, colonialism, and nationalism, my current research concentration lies at the intersection of print culture, urban politics, gender, and emotion in modern Asia. I have found my research engaging with two sets of questions. The former concerns the condition of freedom: the encounter with the Other, forms of agency in tragedies, and the possibility of politics (as a verb) in everyday life. The latter confronts the condition of historical writing: concept work, the possibility of writing world history and history in the plural, and positionality. I’m recently interested in questions about spatial history and capitalism, which may have to do with my summer weekend exercise: getting on the CTA and getting off at a random unexplored stop.


Name: Clara Nizard
PhD Program: English and Theatre and Performance Studies
Hometown: Aix-En-Provence, France
Education: Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, MFA; McGill University, BA
Research: In my research, I rehearse questions of social bonds, affiliations, and fractures via frameworks of affect or ‘feeling-labour’ present in performance at large. I focus particularly on paradoxes of the body raised by contemporary dance practices and feminist and queer performance practices. My work finds a foothold in the tensions between theory and practice both in performance studies, aesthetic theories, and psychoanalytic approaches to text(s). As a practitioner, I explore queer poetics and embodiment in writing and performance, working with and against – among other things – notions of camp, ‘the personal as political’, esoteric and pastoral modes of writing, as well as interrogations on the choreographic potential of desire.


Name: John Peterson
PhD Program: Chemistry
Hometown: Menomonie, WI
Education: Hope College, Holland, MI; B.S. Chemistry
Research: I have been broadly interested in the natural sciences for most of my life and decided on formally studying chemistry as a way to interact, or at least understand as much about the other sciences as possible. My research interests have evolved over time along with my ever-increasing desire for quantitative results. At Hope, I did bioinformatics research studying how bacterial communities interact for a couple of years before I had had enough of staring at a computer screen and worked at some inorganic synthesis of cobalt complexes. At the graduate level, I intend to study physical chemistry. Because my interests are broad, the exact research project I work on during my PhD is not my major concern. Having the chance to rigorously explore the physics of chemical systems and getting a tangible result in the end is what matters to me



Name: Jacob Reed
PhD Program: Music Theory and History
Hometown: Chapel Hill, NC
Education: Yale University, New Haven, CT; B.A. Music, Mathematics; M.A. Music; M.M. Organ Performance
Research: I’m an organist and music theorist, focusing on interactions between music and words: historical discourses on music, musical responses to lyrics, and musical effects of sung and spoken language. Recently, I’ve been studying how lyrics are used to produce and disturb rhythms in pop music traditions, with an eye to similar interactions between rhythm and harmony/melody. Otherwise, I’m fascinated by writing on music (literary and theoretical) in pre-modern China, and continue to perform on a variety of early and modern keyboard instruments.


Name: Dominiquo Santistevan
PhD Program: Sociology
Hometown: Pueblo, Colorado
Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA; B.S., Computer Science
Research: I would really like to understand how we communicate and use language to make sense of the world, especially in places where mobile technology has, almost overnight, increased the access to information by orders of magnitude. During undergrad, I worked with Human Dynamics Lab at the MIT Media Lab to study call detail records to better understand the relationship between social networks and physical spaces. I then spent a couple years working in Uganda, Chile, and most recently, Myanmar, as a Luce Scholar. In each of these countries, I worked in some variant of the technology/society intersection whether it was via an academic lab, government consultant, or NGO. In my free time, I like to run, watch movies, and see live music.


Name: Lily Scherlis
PhD Program: English
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Education: Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; A.B., Comparative Literature and Visual and Environmental Studies
Research: Broadly, I’m interested in how everyday encounters with contemporary literature and media let us feel emotionally plugged into a community, cause, or place. My research involves working in video and sculpture as well as writing.


Name: Arthur Schott Lopes
PhD Program: History
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Education: Harvard College, Cambridge, MA; A.B. History
Research: My research explores the intersection of race, nationalism, and democracy in early twentieth century Brazil. My undergraduate senior thesis interpreted Brazilian sociologist Gilberto Freyre’s Casa-Grande & Senzala (1933), perhaps Brazil’s most emblematic work of social science, as a work of literature that employed the rhetoric of science and myth to postulate Brazil as a Western nation on the world stage. My current research focuses on early-twentieth-century Brazilian understandings of democracy and democratic culture, particularly in relation to the United States. I spend most of my free time following Brazilian and American politics obsessively or watching the Great British Baking Show (even though I am a terrible cook).


Name: Audrey Jane Slote
PhD Program: Music History & Theory
Hometown: Meadville, PA
Education: St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN) B.M. Cello Performance, University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, MN) M.M. Cello Performance, M.A. Music Theory
Research: As a music theorist, I am interested in using techniques of musical analysis in service of broad philosophical questions. My work centers around music as a site of resilience and an object of political resistance particularly for people in marginalized groups. Recent projects have focused on Mahler’s unfinished Tenth Symphony and the music of Janelle Monáe. My article, “Deconstruction as Political Discourse in Janelle Monáe’s ‘Q.U.E.E.N.,’” was published in the Music and Politics special issue of the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) Student News. In my free time, I enjoy practicing cello, perusing the galleries at The Art Institute of Chicago, and watching The Great British Bake Off.

Name: Sofia Smith
PhD Program: Political Science
Hometown: Seattle, WA
Education: Denison University, Granville, OH; BA Philosophy, Politics, and Economics; Johns Hopkins SAIS, Bologna, Italy and Washington, DC; MA in International Economics and Middle East Studies
Research: My research comes from the four years I lived and worked in Jordan in the humanitarian aid and development sector. I hope to explore how Islamic religious education, everything from Quranic schools to da’wa on Instagram, affects women’s conceptions of themselves as political subjects and the kinds of political action they participate in within the Middle East. I am broadly interested in gendered politics of the every day, socialization, political media, and cross-cultural relationships. In my free time, I like to backpack, ski, cook, and watch reality TV.


Name: Hayoung Song
PhD Program: Psychology, Integrative Neuroscience
Hometown: Seoul, Korea
Education: Sungkyunkwan University, MS in Biomedical Engineering and BA in Psychology
Research: I am interested in the neural dynamics of high-level cognition, as we constantly interact with the external world and formulate our internal representation. Specifically, my research aims to understand the naturalistic process of story comprehension and storytelling, as our attentional states fluctuate on a moment-to-moment basis. I seek to understand how memory of the real-world events change accordingly, and how they interact with the creation of novel stories. I eventually hopes to bring the perspective of an artist in the scientific inquiry of human mind.


Name: Maya Van Nuys
PhD Program: Political Science
Hometown: Rapid City, SD
Education: University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS; B.A. Global and International Studies/Humanities
Research: I graduated from the University of Kansas (KU) in 2019. While at KU, I worked with Dr. Brittnee Carter to study religiously-motivated terrorist groups. My recent research continues this focus on ideologically-motivated political violence. I hope to continue in this topic area at the University of Chicago with a broad focus on ideological violence as it relates to religious, ethnic, and racial tensions in an international context. In addition to political science, I also greatly enjoy cooking, exploring Chicago, and playing violin.


Name: Veronica Vazquez-Olivieri
PhD Program: Psychology
Hometown: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Education: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia; B.A., Psychology
Research: I am a doctoral student in the Cognition program working with Dr. Boaz Keysar. I received my BA in Psychology with a minor in Sociology from Emory University in 2019. My research interests lie at the intersection of higher-level social cognition and decision making and how this affects the way we perceive the world, evaluate events, decide what actions to take, and how we interact with others.


Name: John Veillette
PhD Program: Psychology (Integrative Neuroscience)
Hometown: Alexandria, VA
Education: University of Chicago; B.S., Statistics, B.A., Psychology, B.A., Economics
Research: I am interested in bidirectional interactions between the neural mechanisms of sensorimotor control and higher level mental function. In particular, I am currently investigating how the timing relationships between neural structures involved in the control of our muscles and the perception of our sensory feedback enable the effective, coordinated control of our articulatory muscles during speech. Moreover, I am testing whether perturbations of these timing relationships impact certain elements of subjective experience, such as the experience of agency over one’s movements, and, in turn, the neural and cognitive processes supporting the acquisition of new motor skills.


Name: Christopher Williams
PhD Program: Sociology
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: University of Missouri, BA; University of California-Irvine, JD
Research: I am a proud Southside native. Before starting my PhD here, I completed my law degree where I worked on numerous race and law projects. More recently l have done in-depth work on legal education, race, and the law. Currently, I envision my research to turn towards policing, crime, race, and the law. I thoroughly enjoy basketball, music, podcasts, and being an avid foodie.


Name: Aaron Zhang
PhD Program:Computer Science
Hometown: New York, NY
Education: Brown University, Providence, RI; B.S. Computer Science and Mathematics
Research: I’m interested in theoretical computer science, including computational complexity, algorithms, and cryptography.  At Brown University, I collaborated with self-driving car researchers to design algorithms and wrote a senior thesis in cryptography on proofs of sequential work.  Outside of research, I love stargazing and playing chess.


Name: Yunning Zhang
PhD Program: Comparative Literature
Hometown: Beijing, China
Education: University of Oxford, UK, MPhil in Modern Languages; Peking University, China, B.A. in Hispanic Philology
Research: My research focuses primarily on Spanish Golden Age literature and Latin American writers from late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, and especially, the theorization of Baroque and Neobaroque. I am also interested in critical theory, photography, performance studies and the dialectics of science and literature. An immanent concern for the discourse of “Other” (otherness) underlines all my works.


Name: Jinjin Zhao
PhD Program:Computer Science
Hometown: Ottawa, ON, Canada
Education: Princeton University, BS
Research: My area of research is in data systems and databases. As machine learning and complex statistical analyses become more popular, we are rapidly seeking out more volumes of data across disciplines, and shifting the way we interact with information as a whole. I want to explore what these trends mean for the underlying systems which store that information, and if there are ways such that those systems can guide researchers and developers to make their analyses easier to develop and more accurate.


Name: Richard (Licheng) Zhu
PhD Program: Computational and Applied Mathematics
Hometown: Vernon Hills, IL
Education: Caltech, Pasadena, CA; B.S., Physics
Research: Before coming to UChicago, I studied physics at Caltech. While there, I conducted research in fields ranging over planetary dynamics, condensed matter, and machine learning. I have also worked in Silicon Valley as a machine learning engineer. I am broadly interested in problems at the intersection of computation and biology. Outside of the lab, I can usually be found breaking a sweat at the gym, reading, or debating with friends.