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Q. Where did you obtain your undergrad, your masters, your PhD degree(s)? 
A. I double majored in math and physics at Washington University in St. Louis, I received a Ph.D. in math from the University of California, Berkeley.  At that time I was switching fields into neuroscience and received postdoctoral training at the University of California San Francisco.

Q. When did you decide to become a professor? 
A. My father was a professor and I was always quite successful in school and loved figuring things out.  So it was natural that I would go on to graduate school.  But it was a long and winding road to end up as a Biology professor.
Q. What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
A. The most rewarding aspect of teaching is trying to find a way to present the central meaning of a topic in a way that allows students to discover it for themselves.  Most of “teaching” a class is not really teaching – it’s figuring out how to get students to learn.

Q. Tell us about someone who has influenced your decision to work with this field of study/research? 
A. I have many mentors but two stand out. Both were incredibly intelligent, grounded and well-rounded people.   My Ph.D. advisor had a broad range of mathematical interests, was an outstanding musician, and allowed me the freedom to pursue my neuroscience interests as a “hobby” while moving forward on my (applied) math thesis.  My postdoc advisor, who unfortunately recently died of breast cancer, was also incredibly broad and was fearless about launching into new areas of inquiry.  She was also as good at managing people as she was at science. 

Q. What are some of your most recent research interests?  
A. I use songbirds as a model system for understanding how the brain coordinates activity in multiple brain circuits to accomplish a complex behavior. Recently I’ve been interested in the relationships between features of individual syllables (such as pitch) is or is not linked to how syllables are sequenced and timed. 
I also have theoretical interests in patterns of variability within models of brain circuits.  Finally, I’m looking a bit at ultrasonic courtship vocalizations in a mouse model of autism.

Q. What do you think will change about your research/UTSA over the next five years? 
A. Given my interdisciplinary research interests, I need experimental collaborators to survive in this funding climate.  I’m currently exploring research collaborations with some of the outstanding UTSA faculty right down the hall.   

Q. What sorts of trends do you see? 
A. There is a lot of push from the top to build large teams of researchers having a wide diversity of research expertise.  This is great when it works, but starting collaborations is difficult and often can’t be forced. The incentives for researchers are still such that it makes it hard to sync the time and sustain the effort it takes to make such larger collaborations run effectively.

Q. What advice would you give to students in regards to managing their work/school/life balance?
A.  It’s best to be pro-active and get into a scheduled rhythm where you can keep up with the things that you absolutely have to get done.  From there, work a lot more in short bursts when you need to really make progress on a big task. In between, back off a bit and enjoy things. 

Q. What would you tell someone who is thinking about (entering this field of Study/coming to UTSA.)?
A. It’s a very exciting time for both biology and neuroscience.  Look around and get involved in research in any way that you can as early as you can.  Realize that to be worthwhile, it will likely take a lot more time than you anticipated and the payoffs won’t be specific or concrete.  But when you get that feeling of discovery, you’ll know that you can’t do anything else!


Biology Student Spotlight
November Events Recap
Members of the Recruitment and Community Relations Committee and members of the staff met with two different groups of high school students interested our programs this month.

The first event, a major's fair, was hosted by Ronald Reagan High School on Saturday, November 12th.  Students were presented the opportunity to talk with different exhibitors about specific majors in which they had interest and to learn more about the varied programs the department offers.

The second event was hosted on campus on November 4th. Approximately 48 students from Medina Valley toured the campus, Dr. Gdovin's laboratory, and the butterfly gardens. Medina Valley has visited our campus two years in a row.

We were excited to participate in the event at Ronald Reagan High School and to host the students from Medina Valley to promote the department's educational and research opportunities. We are keeping in touch and look forward to welcoming a few new Roadrunners to campus in the very near future!
South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) participated in the 5th Annual Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio Conference that took place on November 10-11, 2016. This year’s theme was “Infection, Immunity, and Vaccines”. The event comprised of keynote speeches made by scientists specializing in Vaccine development as well as student and faculty oral and poster presentations.
UTSA Biology student Johnathon Keck won first place in the oral presentations and UTSA post-doctoral fellow Rishein Gupta won third place in the poster presentations.  Congratulations to both of you!

Dr. Valerie Sponsel, Professor and Ricardo Romo Endowed Professor in Honors College, and undergraduate honors students from her lab attended the SAPL (San Antonio Public Library) Grows STEM event at the Forest Hills Branch Library on Saturday, October 22nd. 

This annual event, hosted by the San Antonio Public Library in conjunction with over a dozen institutions and organizations  around the city, explores a different STEM topic each year. This year's event, which focused on plant biology, allowed Dr. Sponsel and her students to  interact with the community and explain the science behind their research in her lab.

"I was very impressed with the preparation and organization that went into staging this event at Forest Hills library, and was excited to see hundreds of members of the community, of all ages, take advantage of the opportunity to learn about plant science," Dr. Sponsel said.

ABRCMS 2016 Research Conference
UTSA was represented at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) National Convention by students, faculty, and staff from the Biology Department.  

Department members were able to network with hundreds of students, promoting and cultivating interest in our graduate programs.  Students who attended the conference and showed interest in our programs will have the opportunity for a graduate school application fee waiver.  A special thank you to COS for generously funding this project!

Now in its sixteenth year, ABRCMS is one of the largest, professional conferences for underrepresented minority students, military veterans, and persons with disabilities to pursue advanced training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). ABRCMS attracts approximately 4,050 individuals, including 2,100 undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students, 450 graduate students and postdoctoral scientists and 1,500 faculty, program directors and administrators. 
Upcoming Holiday Department Hours
The university will be closed Friday, December 23 through Monday, December 26. UTSA will open with a skeleton crew workforce Tuesday, December 27 through Friday, December 30. 

The Biology Department offices will be closed Friday, December 23 through Sunday, January 1, 2017. Our offices will reopen at the regular time (8 am - 5 pm) on Monday, January 2. 

While the staff will be in the office Monday-Thursday, December 19-22, students should check with individual faculty members for their own specific schedule. After finals, professors may not be in their offices during office hours.

We hope everyone, faculty, staff, and students, have a WONDERFUL winter break!

Fall 2017 PhD Applications
For more information about the PhD application process, visit the Graduate Admissions website:
Cell and Molecular Biology | Neurobiology
STCEID Podcast
Each week, the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases hosts Microbiology and Immunology experts from all over the world to guest speak. In conjunction, the STCEID has launched a podcast titled Micro-Talk. 

While the weekly seminars are over until Spring 2017, you can listen to previously recorded sessions by subscribing to the podcast.  For more information, click here.
Recognition & Accomplishments
Dr. Charles Wilson, Professor and Ewing Halsell Chair in Biology, has received an eight-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expected to total $5.29 million.

Dr. Wilson will receive the funding through the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), which aims to reduce the burden of neurological disease by supporting and conducting neuroscience research.  Dr. Wilson's research focuses on the brain region involved in voluntary motor behavior, the basal ganglia.

Congratulations Dr. Wilson!  Read the full story on UTSA Today
Graduating Biology undergraduate, Jocelyn Carnicle, was recently featured in UTSA Today's Meet a Roadrunner - Commencement Edition series. Jocelyn is an Honor College student who plans to attend medical school following her undergraduate work. 

When asked why she chose UTSA Biology, Jocelyn said she was extremely intrigued by the study of living things and vital processes. "Having a concentration in microbiology and immunology appealed to me most to help me for my graduate studies after UTSA," Carnicle said.

Carnicle will graduate with honors and says UTSA prepared her to chase her dream of becoming an empathetic and evidence-based primary care physician. She says others interested in health care should consider becoming a Roadrunner.

“I would tell anyone to come to UTSA because there are so many opportunities. UTSA is a developing campus with awesome faculty who want to see you succeed,” Carnicle said.  Read the complete story here.

Rolando Garza, an undergraduate Biology major, was recently featured in UTSA Today's Commencement Spotlight. 

A member of UTSA's Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, he signed up to work in the laboratory of Dr. Astrid Cardona, associate professor of microbiology and immunology and began aiding her research in how diabetes can affect the retina and the brain.

“The project really drew me in,” he said. “When I was a child, I was obese and pre-diabetic, and I had to make a major lifestyle change. Seeing that diabetes is preventable and affects so many people made me want to get involved in this research and help people.”

Read the complete story here.

The Department would like to congratulate the faculty on the successful completion of the fall semester. Thank you for all your hard work and effort!
Get Connected
Get Involved

The Biology Department is excited to announce the creation of a new student organization, Biology Diplomats.  If you are interested in membership or additional information, please contact us by e-mail. The Diplomats currently meet the second and fourth Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. in BSB 3.03.10.
 Contact the Officers to Get Involved!
210.458.6383 | BSE 1.638
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The Department of Biology welcomes submissions from faculty, staff, and students of announcements, accomplishments, or interesting news.

Please email submissions to:
Jessica Chiles
Senior Program Coordinator
BSE 1.628 | 210.458.4463
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