2021 Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Commencement and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center Academic Convocation

Established in 2004 with a landmark gift from Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., member of the MSK Boards of Trustees and Governing Trustees, the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSK) admitted its first class in the summer of 2006. The school offers the next generation of biomedical scientists an intensive PhD program that trains them to investigate and attack cancer through the twin lenses of basic research and real-life clinical challenges.

GSK faculty are nationally recognized scientists working at the forefront of biomedical research, and the curriculum takes advantage of the unique integration of the basic science and clinical arms of Memorial Sloan Kettering. An intensive lab-work model, along with the opportunity to observe firsthand how research findings are applied, ensures that GSK graduates are well positioned to close the gap between basic and clinical research.

2021 Honorary Degree and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Biomedical Research

Joan Argetzinger Steitz, PhD

Joan Argetsinger Steitz, PhD

Joan Argetsinger Steitz, PhD Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale School of Medicine; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Past GSK Honorary Doctorate of Science Recipients

  • 2020: Dr. James P. Allison
  • 2019: Dr. Kenneth J. Marians
  • 2018: Dr. Cori Bargmann
  • 2017: Dr. Robert Langer
  • 2016: Dr. Joan S. Brugge
  • 2015: Dr. Robert A. Weinberg
  • 2014: Dr. Thomas J. Kelly
  • 2013: Dr. Paul A. Marks
  • 2012: Mr. Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., and Dr. Harold E. Varmus
2021 Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduates
Tyler D. Hitchman, PhD

Tyler D. Hitchman, PhD
Interrogating and Targeting Essential Signaling Pathways in Uveal Melanoma
Mentor: Yu Chen, MD, PhD

Brian J. Joseph, PhD

Brian Jude Joseph, PhD
Cryptic Splice Sites Are Agents of Order and Chaos During Pre-mRNA Splicing
Mentor: Eric C. Lai, PhD


Xiaoyi Li

Xiaoyi Li, PhD
A Novel Experimental Approach to Map MicroRNA-RNA Interactions In Vivo 
Mentor: Andrea Ventura, MD, PhD


Michelle M. E. Riegman, PhD

Michelle M. E. Riegman, PhD
The Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Regulated Cell Death
Mentor: Michael Overholtzer, PhD


Ryan C. Smith, PhD

Ryan C. Smith, PhD
Understanding the Developmental Specificity of the Histone H3.3 K27M Mutation in Pediatric Gliomas
Mentor: Viviane Tabar, MD


Benjamin Yona Tischler, PhD

Benjamin Yona Tischler, PhD
Platelets Are Necessary for Survival and Tissue Integrity in a Murine Model of Aspergillus fumigatus Infection 
Mentor: Tobias M. Hohl, MD, PhD


Zeda Zhang, PhD

Zeda Zhang, PhD
Investigating Mechanisms of Antiandrogen Resistance in Human Prostate Cancer
Mentor: Charles L. Sawyers, MD


Recognition of the Doctoral Dissertation Research


Sloan Kettering Division/Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences
  • Syafiq Abd Wahab
    Eukaryotic DNA replication requires dual-faceted nucleosome dynamics by histone chaperones and controlled origin firing by replicative helicase subunit Mcm2 and checkpoint kinase Rad53
    Thesis mentor: Dirk Remus, PhD
  • James John Asciolla
    Fatty Acylation of Secreted Signaling Proteins
    Thesis mentor: Marilyn D. Resh, PhD
  • Kristopher M. Barnes
    Spatial and Temporal Organization of Brain Morphogenesis at Single-Cell Resolution: A Study in C. elegans
    Thesis mentor: Zhirong Bao, PhD
  • Christina Elizabeth Bebernitz
    IL-12 and IL-18 Combination Improves Activation of Adoptively Transferred T Cells in Solid Tumors
    Thesis mentor: Renier J. Brentjens, MD, PhD
  • Nathaniel Rosenstein Campbell
    Diversity, Clusters, and Cell Cooperation in Melanoma Metastasis
    Thesis mentors: Richard M. White, MD, PhD, and Joao D. Xavier, PhD
  • Megan M. Dacek
    Potentiating Innate Immunity with Engineered CAR T Cells
    Thesis mentor: David Scheinberg, PhD
  • Carlos Diaz Salazar Albelda
    Cellular Determinants of the Natural Killer Cell Response to Viral Infections
    Thesis mentor: Joseph C. Sun, PhD
  • Gary R. Dixon
    Uncovering Regulators of DNA Methylation in Human Embryonic Stem Cells
    Thesis mentor: Danwei Huangfu, PhD
  • Joshua Hanna Fass
    Quantifying and minimizing predictive uncertainty in molecular simulations
    Thesis mentor: John Chodera, PhD
  • Tyler Andrew Funnell
    Genomic Consequences of Breast and Ovarian Cancer Mutational Processes in Patient Populations and Single Cells
    Thesis mentor: Sohrab Shah, PhD
  • Vidur Garg
    Cell Fate Specification in Mouse Blastocyst and the Emergence of Pluripotency
    Thesis mentor: Anna-Katerina Hadjantonakis, PhD
  • Alexander Gorelick
    Cryptic Driver Mutations in Cancer
    Thesis mentor: Barry S. Taylor, PhD
  • Mehtap Işik
    Advancing Small Molecule Physicochemical Property Predictions for Computational Drug Discovery
    Thesis mentor: John Chodera, PhD
  • Darren C. Johnson
    Discovery and Characterization of CARD8-Mediated Pyroptosis in Human Blood Cells
    Thesis mentor: Daniel Bachovchin, PhD
  • Chirag Krishna
    Molecular Determinants of Patient Response to Cancer Immunotherapy
    Thesis mentors: Timothy A. Chan, MD, PhD, and Christina Leslie, PhD
  • Chan Lee
    Mechanisms of Lysosome Turnover
    Thesis mentor: Michael Overholtzer, PhD
  • Jonghan Peter Lee
    Targetable Cellular Micropharmacies: Engineering CAR T Cells to Activate Small Molecule Prodrugs
    Thesis mentor: Derek S. Tan, PhD
  • Xinghuo Li
    Optimizing Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T Cells for an Enhanced and Broadened Antitumor Immune Response Via IL-36γ.
    Thesis mentor: Renier J. Brentjens, MD, PhD
  • Pengju Nie
    Development of Chemical Probes for Cancer and Neurodegenerative Diseases: From Imaging to Mechanistic Insights
    Thesis mentor: Yueming Li, PhD
  • Briana G. Nixon
    Tissue-Resident Innate Immunity in Health and Cancer
    Thesis mentor: Ming Li, PhD
  • Ashlesha Odak
    Identification and Targeting of Novel Genomic Safe Harbors for Effective Human Gene Therapy
    Thesis mentor: Michel W. Sadelain, MD, PhD
  • Merve Sahin
    Quantitative Methods for Integrated Analysis of Chromosome Conformation Capture Data
    Thesis mentor: Christina Leslie, PhD
  • Andrew Schaumberg
    Computational Pathology from Microscope to Social Media
    Thesis mentor: Thomas J. Fuchs, DSc
  • Andrew Crosbie Scott
    The Role of TOX in T Cell Differentiation and Function
    Thesis mentor: Andrea Schietinger, PhD
  • Zheng Ser
    Elucidation of Structure and Interactions of DNA Binding Protein Complexes Through Mass Spectrometry Proteomics
    Thesis mentor: Alex Kentsis, MD, PhD
  • Mojdeh Shakiba
    Drivers of CD8 T Cell Dysfunction in Tumors
    Thesis mentor: Andrea Schietinger, PhD
  • Jay Shi
    The Regulators of Cell Architecture in Remodeling Tissues
    Thesis mentor: Jennifer A. Zallen, PhD
  • Alison Elizabeth Smith
    Activation and Regulation of PI3K and MAPK Pathways in Breast Cancer
    Thesis mentor: Sarat Chandarlapaty, MD, PhD
  • Rafal Piotr Wiewiora
    Rigorous Construction of Markov State Models for Conformationally Selective Drug Design
    Thesis mentor: John Chodera, PhD
  • Corrin A. Wohlhieter
    Concurrent Mutations in STK11 and KEAP1 Promote Ferroptosis Protection and SCD1 Dependence in Lung Cancer
    Thesis mentor: Charles M. Rudin, MD, PhD
  • Anjin Xianyu
    Circuit Organization of the Thalamic Reticular Nucleus
    Thesis mentor: Songhai Shi, PhD
  • Ke Xu
    Metabolic Regulation of T Cell Immunity
    Thesis mentor: Ming Li, PhD
  • Jenny Yaohua Xue
    Tumor Adaptation to Novel Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase Pathway Inhibitors at Single-Cell Resolution
    Thesis mentor: Piro Lito, MD, PhD

2021 Award Winners


Research Awards
  • Dorris J. Hutchison Graduate Fellowship
  • Barbara and Stephen Friedman Graduate Fellowship
  • Bruce Charles Forbes Graduate Fellowship
  • Marie-Josée Kravis Women in Science Endeavor Graduate Fellowship
  • Marie-Josée Kravis Women in Science Endeavor Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • Postdoctoral Research Awards
  • Tri-Institutional Breakout Prize for Junior Investigators
    • Established by leaders from The Rockefeller University, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to recognize exceptional current postdoctoral trainees at each of the three institutions who have made significant research contributions
    • Awarded to Wouter Karthaus, PhD
    • Awarded to Cornelius Taabazuing, PhD
    • Science Spotlight for Tri-Institutional Breakout Prize for Junior Investigators winners will be held by Weill Cornell Medicine on June 3, 2021. Register»
  • Louise and Allston Boyer Young Investigator Award for Basic Research
    • Honors researchers at the Associate level or below who have demonstrated great promise and accomplishment in laboratory investigations
    • Awarded to Daniel Bachovchin, PhD
  • Katharine Berkan Judd Award Lectureship
    • Recognizes an individual who has made great advancements in the understanding of cancer through basic discovery
    • Awarded to Ruslan Medzhitov, PhD
    • Will give a 2021 Judd Lecture titled “Evolutionary Perspectives on Health and Disease” on May 18 at 4:30 p.m. ET. Register»
Clinical Awards
  • Louise and Allston Boyer Young Investigator Award for Clinical Research
    • Honors physicians at the Associate level or below who have demonstrated great promise and accomplishment in clinical investigations
    • Awarded to Vinod P. Balachandran, MD
  • Willet F. Whitmore Award for Clinical Excellence
    • Honors a clinician whose talent, dedication, and compassion reflect the standards set by Willet F. Whitmore during his more than 46 years of service at Memorial Sloan Kettering
    • Awarded to Mark Kris, MD
  • C. Chester Stock Award Lectureship
    • Given annually to an individual who has made significant contributions to the advancement of cancer therapy
    • Awarded to Stephen Fesik, PhD
    • Will give a lecturetitled “Success in Drugging Difficult Cancer Targets”at MSKStock Award event on May 19 at 9:00 a.m. ET. Join on Zoom»Webinar ID: 927 4439 4097, Passcode: 873474
  • The Society of Memorial Sloan Kettering Prize
    • Recognizes individuals who have made significant or groundbreaking contributions to pediatric oncology, highlighting the long-standing and future-facing partnerships between The Society and MSK and affirming the global leadership of MSK in the field of pediatric oncology
    • Awarded to Thomas Look, MD
    • Will give a lecture titled “Molecular Glues That Activate PP2a Tumor Suppressor: A New Class of Small Molecules With Promise for the Treatment of Pediatric Leukemias and Solid Tumors” at MSK Pediatrics Grand Rounds event on May 20 at 8:30 am ET. Join on Zoom