Meet Our Graduate Students

Graduate students at The University of Texas at Austin are changing the world. They're transforming health care through research and technology, working to find energy solutions and helping to deepen our sense of history and culture. 

Read what our graduate students are doing, and follow us on social media to see even more features. What will you do as a graduate student?

Graduate Student Profiles

Ayesha Mahmood (she/her)

Ayesha Mahmood

Microbiology | College of Natural Sciences

Ayesha Mahmood, a 4th-year Ph.D. candidate studying microbiology in the College of Natural Sciences, finds bacteria extremely captivating.

“Picture something so minuscule yet incredibly sophisticated - a microcosm akin to a bustling city with all its intricacies. Each bacterial cell is complex, and when you consider the interactions of bacteria with their environment, other microorganisms and how they cause illnesses in humans, the potential for comprehension seems boundless. We find ourselves constantly battling these microscopic entities, but we are losing. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

The main goal of Ayesha’s research is to understand how antibiotic resistance-causing proteins produced by bacteria evolve, and to explore strategies to hamper this evolution, which, in 2019, contributed to 1.27 million deaths worldwide.

Darya Pollock (she/her)

Darya Pollock

Design | College of Fine Arts

Darya Pollock, an international student from the UK, didn’t come to Texas just to conquer the two-stepping world; she was drawn by her desire to solve complex problems by identifying creative solutions. A 2nd-year master’s student studying design at the College of Fine Arts, Darya’s research focuses on making history more accessible and engaging for everyone.

“Instead of just reading about history in books or seeing pictures of artifacts, I believe in bringing history to life by recreating ancient objects that people can actually touch, wear or hold. By adding a tactile element to the study of history, I aim to demystify the past and make it feel more real. My goal is to spark curiosity and a deeper connection to history by allowing people to interact with it in a hands-on way.”

Prateek Mahajan (he/him)

Prateek Mahajan

Finance | McCombs School of Business

Inspired by his work at a forensic finance consulting firm before grad school, Prateek Mahajan now studies finance as a fourth-year Ph.D. student in the McCombs School of Business. He is currently investigating finance-related challenges ranging from identifying fraud in government programs and inflated valuations in auto asset-backed securities to understanding the drivers of shrinking homeownership rates.

His first paper, co-authored with two UT finance professors, Drs. Griffin and Kruger, examined the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a COVID-era government stimulus program targeted at small businesses, for signs of fraud. Analyzing over a dozen different data sources, they were able to identify fraudulent activity in over 1.4 million loans representing more than $64 billion in taxpayer money.

Faith Deckard (she/her)

Faith Deckard

Sociology | College of Liberal Arts

Using a sociological lens, Faith Deckard’s work focuses on better understanding how people and their families navigate the criminal legal system and its aftermath. A sixth-year Ph.D. student studying sociology in the College of Liberal Arts, she tries to answer the question: how are people without direct contact impacted, and in some instances implicated, in the criminal legal system?

Faith’s dissertation project examines the underexplored process of commercial bail and the experience of bonding a family member or loved one out of jail. A central finding of her work is that co-signed loan arrangements can be used to incentivize family members to surveil their loved ones through the completion of their criminal cases.

Ryan A. Mata (he/him)

Ryan A. Mata

Human Development, Culture, and Learning Sciences | College of Education 

Combining his interests in education and the psychology of learning, Ph.D. student Ryan A. Mata focuses on how facets of identity and culture play a role in educational trajectories and outcomes for adolescents and undergraduates. Ryan is a 2nd year Ph.D. student in the Human Development, Culture, and Learning Sciences program in the College of Education, and also a member of the Leadership Team and the Coordinator of Student Partnerships at the National Disability Center for Student Success. 

Ryan pursues two lines of research - the first focuses on how institutions of higher education can provide inclusive learning environments so that disabled students can succeed academically. The second line focuses on how children develop beliefs about education through learning from parents, peers and their surrounding environment. 

Nirmalay Barua (she/her)

Nirmalay Barua headshot

Materials Science and Engineering | Cockrell School of Engineering

Nirmalay Barua is a 3rd year Ph.D. student from Bangladesh studying gas sensing devices in the Materials Science and Engineering program. One of her current projects involves designing a smart mask for monitoring respiratory parameters in patients suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a leading cause of death globally.

Nirmalay’s proposed solution to managing COPD is BreathIQ, an AI-driven device providing remote access to pulmonary rehabilitation. It allows COPD patients to perform exercises with interactive instructions and receive feedback wherever they are. UT has been integral to nurturing and advancing Nirmalay’s research interests by providing excellent facilities and a collaborative atmosphere for doing innovative work.

Isabelle Clark (she/her)

Izzi Clark

Biological Anthropology | College of Liberal Arts

Izzi Clark has always been fascinated by animal behavior and ecology. After studying wild lemurs in Madagascar as an undergrad, she became incredibly drawn to primates by their rich social lives and evolutionary proximity to humans.

Before coming to UT, Izzi was a research assistant for the Ngogo Chimpanzee Project, where she met her now-advisor and mentor, Dr. Aaron Sandel. Ngogo – once the largest group of chimpanzees ever studied – was splitting into two smaller groups, causing a hostile territorial conflict. Her deep interest in understanding the causes and consequences of this rare split brought her to UT where she is now a 5th year Ph.D. candidate studying Biological Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts.

Elizabeth Ibiloye (she/her)

Elizabeth headshot

Pharmaceutical Sciences | College of Pharmacy

Elizabeth Ibiloye graduated with a Ph.D. in Pharmaceutical Sciences (Health Outcomes division) from the College of Pharmacy this May. Her research has focused on exploring the patient experiences of individuals living with sickle cell disease (SCD) when they present to the emergency department (ED) in pain. Elizabeth’s project aims to address barriers and provide solutions that lead to more optimal health outcomes for this population, disproportionately affecting African Americans.

This research was one of the factors that drew Elizabeth to UT in the first place. In addition to the robust pharmaceutical sciences curriculum and the strong reputation of College of Pharmacy graduates, she was interested in finding an environment that would enable her to tackle some complex questions.

Greg Holste (he/him)

Greg Holste headshot

Electrical and Computer Engineering | Cockrell School of Engineering

Greg Holste has always been drawn to data analysis. Now a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, he is leveraging that skill to advance his research on medical artificial intelligence (AI). His most recent project focuses on detecting aortic stenosis (AS), a cardiac disease typically diagnosed using Doppler echocardiography.

Greg and his research team at UT, in collaboration with Dr. Rohan Khera at the Yale School of Medicine, developed an AI model capable of automatically detecting severe AS using 2D echocardiography without Doppler. He credits UT, specifically the VITA group, with helping him advance his research.

Ricardo Castro Agudelo

Ricardo Castro Agudelo

Latin American Literatures and Cultures | College of Liberal Arts 

Ricardo Castro Agudelo is a 5th year Ph.D. student studying Latin American Literatures and Cultures in the College of Liberal Arts. In his research, he explores representations of violence in Peru and in his home country of Colombia. He focuses on the multifaceted nature of memory-building in the aftermath of violent conflict, and the key role of empathy and narrative in this process.

“When you read or watch a representation, your brain's activity is engaged in a similar way as when you’re dealing with real-life scenarios. What we have uncovered is that this allows for eliciting empathy for others. It is something that storytellers throughout time have known intuitively. And it allows for better understanding in highly polarized societies, especially after internal conflict.”

Jackie Yang (he/him)

Jackie Yang headshot

Counseling Psychology | College of Education

Jackie Yang is a 1st year Ph.D. student studying counseling psychology in the College of Education He was drawn to this field because of its holistic approach, incorporating mental health, social justice and advocacy elements. His research projects have covered a range of topics:

“In my first publication, we found that digital dating abuse, a form of intimate partner violence, is linked with external and internal stressors experienced by gay and bisexual men - the external stressor being discrimination and the internal stressor being internalized homophobia. I assisted on a second publication related to the demographic and behavioral factors associated with kratom usage, a traditional medicine in Thailand and Malaysia that produces a stimulant effect similar to opioids. The study demonstrated that White men and sexual minorities are at an increased risk for using kratom. These were very important findings for us.”

Ayesha Rahman (she/her)

Ayesha headshot

Design | College of Fine Arts

Ayesha Rahman has always loved creating and has always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives. This has led her to pursue a Master’s in Design with a focus on health from the School of Design and Creative Technologies in the College of Fine Arts.

In her last project, Ayesha focused on nutrition as a component in health. Her team interviewed many adults about their food and education choices. After analyzing troves of information, they identified three primary insights: that people valued learning from experiences more than formal education, that food experiences are heavily associated with people over any place, and that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all. These insights have guided her work in the field.

Weixin Guan (he/him)

Weixin Guan headshot

Materials Science and Engineering | Cockrell School of Engineering

Weixin Guan has always been interested in sustainability. As a chemical engineering major during his undergraduate years, he discovered the critical role materials innovation plays in pushing engineering practice to the next level. Now, as a 2nd year Ph.D. student studying Materials Science and Engineering at the Texas Materials Institute at UT, he’s doing just that.

His current research is focused on solving the world’s growing water shortage problem. Two-thirds of the world’s population face some level of water scarcity, which has become especially critical in arid and inland areas. To address this, Weixin’s work is focused on atmospheric water harvesting - finding ways to extract and regenerate atmospheric water (also known as moisture) from the air we breathe.

Kayla Longoria (she/her)

Kayla Longoria and daughter

Nursing | School of Nursing

Being raised by a single mother in rural Texas, Kayla Longoria saw firsthand the consequences of scarce and often inaccessible health and mental healthcare resources on families. Those experiences encouraged her to become a first-generation college graduate, inspired her to pursue a career in healthcare and have shaped the way she approaches her research.

A third-year Ph.D. candidate in the School of Nursing, Kayla’s research focuses on utilizing precision health methodologies to investigate perinatal mental health disparities.

Miguel Jara (he/him)

Miguel Jara headshot

Pharmaceutical Sciences | College of Pharmacy

As a Fulbright scholar from Chile, Miguel has learned many things during his time in Austin but one of the most important has been the “Texan approach” – a phrase he describes as a strong-willed and tenacious spirit of solving problems and getting things done, even in the most challenging circumstances.

Miguel is in his final year as a Ph.D. student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences program. The goal of his research is to generate viable pharmaceutical therapeutics for a drug, niclosamide, that cannot otherwise be usefully absorbed by the body.

Sarah King (she/her)

Sarah headshot

Special Education | College of Education

As an individual with a learning disability and severe mathematics anxiety, Sarah never could have predicted that she would spend her academic career researching – and loving – mathematics. She is now a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Education where she centers her research around supports for culturally and linguistically diverse students with learning disabilities in math.

For her dissertation research, she created an online professional development module called Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Mathematics Instruction (CLR-MI). She is exploring whether this module, when paired with a university-level mathematics methods course, increases pre-service teachers’ knowledge, understanding and ability to apply culturally and linguistically responsive practices into their instruction.

Jaylen Wright (he/him)

Jaylen headshot

Health Behavior & Health Education | College of Education

As a senior in college, Jaylen Wright attended the UT Division of Campus and Community Engagement Black Student Athlete Summit. Connecting with this impressive group of Black professionals and student athletes inspired Jaylen to pursue his Ph. D. in Health Behavior & Health Education in the College of Education's Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

Jaylen’s studies are focused on reproductive justice. With his work, he aims to address institutional racism and discrimination that new and expecting mothers face in the healthcare system. In addition to receiving multiple fellowship awards and being published in multiple academic journals, Jaylen has written a dissertation on the effects of prenatal stress on Black mothers and their children and defining safe care and culturally reflective healthcare practices.

Emily Bamber (she/her)

Emily Bamber headshot

Geosciences | Jackson School of Geosciences

Emily Bamber, an international student from Wales, is a 4th year Ph.D. student studying Geosciences in the Jackson School of Geosciences. Her research, recently published in December, focuses on how impact craters on Earth and Mars have been altered by river activity.

“In my research, I focus on valleys that entered impact craters on Mars and Earth to help understand how water once flowed on the surface of Mars. When impact craters form, they form a circular pit on the surface that is surrounded by a crater rim, which can be thought of as mountains or hills around the circular depression. I’m interested in looking at the valleys that crossed the crater rim and figuring out how those rivers crossed what is basically a mountain belt. To answer this question, I’m using satellite imagery, computer modeling, and fieldwork at Lonar impact crater in India. Understanding the history of water will help us understand where to look for evidence of past life on the planet.”

Rosana Duran Garibi (she/her)

Rosana headshot

Design | College of Fine Arts

Rosana Duran Garibi is taking her work with the School of Design and Creative Technologies to tackle an unexpected but very important issue: eating disorders. Specifically, her research on Anorexia Nervosa aims to generate better understanding of what people suffering from the disorder experience and to help their family, friends and health professionals create open and empathetic dialog to provide better support during recovery.

As an international graduate student, Rosana has worked in the US, Mexico and Scotland as a student, a teacher and a book illustrator.

Bokyung Kim (she/her)

Bokyung headshot

Economics | College of Liberal Arts

Bokyung Kim’s research focuses on how economies respond to sectoral shocks when reflecting firm-level heterogeneity and what that means relative to economic recovery and policy effectiveness. Bokyung is pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics in the College of Liberal Arts and chose UT for its renowned faculty and excellent reputation.

One of her favorite aspects of the program is how her department fosters a close academic community while providing abundant opportunities for engagement with other students, faculty and scholars in the field. This has been important to her, especially as an international student from Seoul, South Korea.

Nathan Moore (they/them)

Nathan Moore

African and African Diaspora Studies | College of Liberal Arts

A doctoral candidate in UT’s Department of African and African Diaspora Studies, Nathan Moore researches how Black artists push against the construct that time operates in a linear, forward-moving fashion. Nathan’s work supports the idea that the different imagination of time by Black artists empowers society to bring forth new ways of being that attend to ongoing violence while also crafting more livable futures.

“I was excited to come to UT to work with professors who were deeply committed to a Black feminist and Black queer studies analysis of history and culture. I knew my project would not only be understood here but it would also be given rigorous and caring attention to be developed to the best of its potential.”

Erin Kelleher (she/her)

Erin Kelleher headshot

Middle Eastern Studies | College of Liberal Arts

As a freshman in college, Erin Kelleher remembers watching the Arab Spring unfold across much of the Middle East and North Africa. Curious to learn more about the region, she signed up for her first Arabic course. Erin is now pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. Her research focuses on the cultural and social history of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Egypt.

“I chose to study at UT because of my department’s emphasis on a regional understanding of the Middle East. Because I am interested in intersections of Ottoman and Arab histories, and the places where these histories are intertwined, this aspect of the department’s approach to the region really resonated with me.”

Kaila Parker (she/her)

Kaila Parker

Psychology | College of Liberal Arts

As a Ph.D. candidate in UT’s Psychology doctorate program, Kaila Parker studies how growing up in a stressful early-life environment affects how children recover from traumatic brain injury.

Kaila chose to bring her talent to UT because of the genuine interest that faculty members expressed in her research ideas. This faculty support and approachability has fostered a strong sense of security for Kaila and inspired her to step outside of her comfort zone during her time as a researcher at UT.

Sarah Simi Cohen (they/them)

Sarah Simi Cohen

Higher Education Leadership | College of Education

Sarah Simi Cohen connects how the individualistic ideals of neoliberalism have changed higher education institutions to inflict experiences of trauma on students. In particular, they focus on the experiences of first-generation, low-income, queer and trans college students as a doctoral candidate in the Higher Education Leadership program at UT.

Originally from the East Coast, Sarah came to Austin for the warm weather and stayed for the academic opportunity. The fellowship offer they received was a key deciding factor in their decision to attend UT. The network of peers and professors that surround Sarah has guided them throughout their academic journey.

Phil Gurley (he/him)

Phil Gurley

Global Policy Studies | LBJ School of Public Affairs

Phil Gurley has taken the lessons he’s learned at UT far beyond classroom walls with his design of a city-wide recycling program for community centers in Monterrey, Mexico. Over the summer, Phil worked with the state of Nuevo to measure and improve recycling rates in the area. Phil conducted extensive research to inform his program proposal; he interviewed local residents, community center directors and business leaders to develop a range of recycling options that meet the varying needs of the five million residents of Monterrey.

The LBJ School has provided Phil with the opportunity to create a unique path of learning to specialize his degree. The courses he has been able to take in departments outside of LBJ have deepened his focus on food and environmental policies internationally. Phil is especially grateful for the professors at UT who challenge him daily to think outside the box of conventional approaches to policymaking.

Christos Kallo (he/him)

Christos Kalli

English | College of Liberal Arts

Christos Kalli uses poetry to map U.S. counterhistory of the epic form from the 1960s to the present. Christos focuses on how ethnic American writers creatively revised the social, political and cultural revolutions of the newly multicultural nation at the time. His research offers a comparative and theoretically innovative analysis of the epics by contemporary American poets.

Collectively motivated by questions of social justice and belonging, the poets that Christos studies revised a literary form to renegotiate national values, oppose historically contingent inequalities and devise alternative forms of community. Christos’s valuable and unique research helps to carve out a central place for ethnic writers in the development of the epic form.

Jonathan Hecht (he/him)

Jonathan Hecht

Philosophy | School of Nursing

Jonathan Hecht’s first-hand experience as a healthcare professional informs his research on the functionality of Rapid Response Teams in hospitals as a Nursing Ph.D. student at UT. His work explores the development of expertly trained nurses to support Rapid Response Teams as they combat patients’ clinical deterioration.

A two-time UT Austin alumnus, Jonathan appreciates the approachability of his accomplished professors. Professors’ willingness to break down complex concepts into easily understandable terms has been a throughline during Jonathan’s Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. pursuits at UT.