Summer defenses

Several graduate students in our department defended their dissertations this past summer! Our dissertation defenses include an oral exam with faculty (the “B Exam”) and a public presentation to the department. Read on to find out about three recent Cornell PhDs, in their own words!

Ezra Lencer

My thesis investigated the developmental and genetic changes underlying the evolution of different ecologically important craniofacial phenotypes in a geologically young radiation of pupfishes (genus Cyprinodon) endemic to San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Combining classic morphology with emerging technologies in genomics and cell biology, I was able to show how changes to gene expression produce novel craniofacial phenotypes by affecting jaw growth rates via modifications to cell proliferation dynamics in the heads of each species during development.

I am currently an NIH postdoctoral fellow at CU Anschutz Medical Campus, where I am working on neural crest cell migration with Kristin Artinger and Rytis Prekeris.


Renee Petipas

Plant-associated microbes affect a wide-variety of plant functional traits, and thus they likely affect patterns of plant local adaptation. However, the role of microbes in plant local adaptation is rarely tested. For my dissertation, I explored this idea using reciprocal transplant experiments, moving seeds and soils between limestone barrens and old-fields in northern New York. I found that microbes change patterns of plant local adaptation and are particularly important for plants growing in the harsh limestone barren environment. Upon completion of my PhD, I received an NSF-postdoctoral research fellowship in biology (PRFB) and am currently working at Washington State University exploring coevolution between Medicago lupulina and Ensifer meliloti using museum specimens.


Katie Sirianni

Broadly, I study what determines the distribution of zooplankton populations throughout a landscape with many small rock pools. Dispersal is important because small rock pools are inconsistent habitat– they can dry out, get too hot, or too salty. In addition to dispersing among pools, these zooplankton can disperse in time by making eggs that hatch a long time (years!) after they are produced. These eggs can survive many conditions that the active zooplankton wouldn’t be able to tolerate. I measured how two similar zooplankton species use the combination of dispersal in time and space to persist in these harsh habitat conditions.

Currently, I am teaching classes on Ecology and Field Ecology at Cornell.


Welcome Picnic

To kick off the school year, grad students hosted our annual EEB Department Picnic on August 23. The Picnic committee grilled meats and veggies on the shore of Cayuga lake, while department members arrived with homemade sides and desserts. This year, we also provided a brief orientation for incoming first-years on the ins and outs of the department. Welcome to all the new graduate students, and happy start of the semester!

Diversity Preview Weekend

From March 8-11, grad students in our department led the collaborative outreach event that is Diversity Preview Weekend! For the second year, we organized faculty and postdoc interviews, workshops, and tours to introduce talented underrepresented minority students and researchers to Cornell and the graduate school application process. Three departments hosted attendees: EEB, the School of Integrated Plant Sciences (SIPS), and Entomology. In the coming weeks, attendees will be matched to graduate student mentors in each department to guide them through the nitty gritty of writing emails to potential advisors, tailoring their personal statements to positions, and applying for fellowships. Our gratitude comes in threes: Thanks to all the attendees for coming – it was so exciting to meet you! Thanks to the tireless organizers who coordinated a packed weekend of events across three (!) different departments. And thanks to all faculty, postdocs, and grads who hosted attendees, interviewed them, and helped them expand their academic networks. Thank you!


Stepfanie Aguillon (EEB)
Amelia Weiss (EEB)
Kass Urban-Mead (Entomology)
John McMullen (Entomology)
Michelle Laterrade (SIPS)
Julia Miller (SIPS)
Chris Peritore (SIPS)
Nick Segerson (SIPS)




Recruitment Weekend

Last weekend, we welcomed 17 prospective grad students to our department! As always, our weekend was jam-packed with faculty interviews, dinners with faculty and grad students, tours, and awesome research and student life talks. Good luck to all the applicants, we hope to see you back in the Fall!


EEB Symposium 2017

We hosted our 2017 GSA symposium this past week! Graduate students and faculty in the department presented on their most recent work to their peers in Corson Hall. A day and a half of 15-20 minute conference-style talks were followed by a workshop on Bayesian statistics (thank you, CSCU!), a poster session by undergraduates and visitors, and drinks and awards. Here’s just a taste of the research topics we covered: speciation, developmental genomics, parasitism, herbivory, ecosystem function, disease ecology, phylogeography, and coexistence theory. Thanks to everyone who attended, and congratulations to the award-winning talks! The Book Award went to first-years Kara Andres and Maria Akopyan, and the Whittaker Award went to Erin Larson and Henry Kunerth for their amazing presentations.

December Holiday Party

Graduate students, faculty, post-docs and family filled Corson Hall this past weekend for our annual holiday celebration. The Holiday Party committee (Kelsey Jensen, Kara Andres, Christoper Tarango, and Maria Akopyan) decked out Corson with lights and decorations, arranged our main courses, and organized a highly competitive science and pop culture trivia session. The committee also brought in our first-ever photo booth, which made for some excellent impromptu lab photos.

Graduate students cooked a range of delicious veggie and meat dishes, and baked incredible sweets for our annual dessert competition. After stuffing ourselves, we sat back and watched the cohort-bonding video made by the first years. This year, students raised the bar by creating TWO videos. The first was titled “The Grinch Who Stole SNEEB,” documenting the efforts of a grumpy new student to thwart our beloved weekly social hour. The second was an impressive animation that described research in “Eco Evo” in a somewhat-well-timed recording of the first years singing to the tune of Despacito.

Thanks to everyone who made this another great Holiday Party!

Diversity Recruitment Weekend 2017: Video recap!

Last April’s Diversity Recruitment Weekend in EEB and NBB was a wonderful success, with students arriving from across the country to learn about graduate school and the application process. Organization of the 2018 Diversity Recruitment Weekend – now including the departments of Plant Science and Entomology – is already under way. Spread the word!

The 2018 application website:

Meet the dynamic duo who led the effort:


Meet the attendees and explore the weekend:

Welcome back!

The Fall 2017 semester has begun! We celebrated the return of most of Ithaca’s population with our annual Department Picnic. Faculty, graduate students, post-docs, and staff brought delectable dishes, fired up the grill, and admired the sunset over Cayuga Lake at Taughannock Park. Welcome back!


7th Annual Harry Green Grilled Cheese Competition

This year’s Grilled Cheese competition was particularly remarkable: first, Harry Green himself was present to judge the best sandwich.

Second, our Cornell mascot Big Red emerged from hibernation to artfully place sandwiches between his teeth.

Third, most shockingly but most welcome, our brand new Cornell University President Martha E. Pollack came to judge our very silly but beloved event.

Teams ranged dramatically in style and names, from The Glutentag to The Really Really Really Ridiculously Good Tasting Grilled Cheese. Congratulations to all for a fantastic, delicious event!




Diversity Recruitment Weekend

Cornell EEB just hosted our first annual Diversity Recruitment Weekend! Together with grad students in the NBB (Neurobiology and Behavior) department, we welcomed 22 interested students (and post-grads) to Corson-Mudd. The weekend was full of workshops on how to identify potential mentors and apply for graduate school, as well as meetings with faculty and post-docs. The enterprise was led by Sue Pierre and Cait MacDonald, and supported by the hard work of more than 20 graduate students who gave tours, developed workshops, hosted recruits, and organized all catering and event planning. Thanks to the Graduate School for your support, and we are excited to see a more diverse pool of applicants to our program next year!



For more photos and tweets, search #CUPhDDRW17 on Twitter, or check out @CUEEBDiversity