Ingredients for Scientific Success: Tenacity and Curiosity

The Graduate School of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research has gathered eight scientifically curious and highly tenacious individuals from around the world for its 2015-2016 class of predoctoral researchers.

These are important attributes for success in a rigorous program that stresses critical thinking and development of experimental expertise. Upon completing six months of modular course work and another six months of laboratory rotations, these novice researchers will be challenged to identify a significant biological question that they will investigate for the next several years of their lives.

Meet the eight unique individuals that comprise this class…


María Angélica Bravo Núñez

As a child growing up in Mexico, María Angélica Bravo Núñez gravitated to science as a way to better understand the world around her. She joined the team of a university immunology laboratory while still in high school, and has worked in a lab setting ever since.

Bravo Núñez earned a BS degree in genomic sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. She explored genomic engineering at the Center for Genomic Sciences in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where she helped create a genetic biological computer using Bacillus subtilis as a model system. Her team won a top award in the 2012 iGem Latin American Jamboree for their entry.

Encouraged by a friend to visit the Stowers Institute, her campus visit and interview sealed the deal. Bravo Núñez is certain that the Stowers Institute will help her grow into a better scientist and a better person.

Viraj Doddihal

Viraj Doddihal credits his parents for starting him on the road to the Stowers Institute, a journey that began in a small, rural town in the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

They supported his interest in science by enrolling him in a competitive high school in the city of Mysore. Doddihal’s rigorous high school education prepared him to attend a five-year BS and MS degree program at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research.

Doddihal first learned of the Stowers Institute while investigating planarian regeneration at the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine. Eager for the opportunity to learn more from a pioneer in that field, he applied to the Stowers Institute’s predoctoral research program.

Cassandra Kempf

Cassandra Kempf became interested in science as a teenager after her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an immune disorder that attacked his nervous system and ultimately claimed his life.

Kempf has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and philosophy but chose to return to school after a stint teaching high school chemistry. She earned a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2014.

She sees the Stowers Institute as a place where her desire to unravel problems intersects with what humanity needs—new approaches for targeting disease—and hopes to help people in ways that science wasn’t able to help her father.

Nicole Nuckolls

Nicole Nuckolls was set on becoming a speech pathologist until she took her first freshman biology class at Rockhurst University in Kansas City. Immediately hooked on biology—she admits to reading her textbook for fun—Nuckolls discovered an unparalleled sense of joy and excitement from being in the lab.

Nuckolls boosted her research experience at the Stowers Institute at the urging of her advisor. She worked in the laboratory of Scott Hawley, PhD, where she identified female meiotic mutants in Drosophila melanogaster and graduated with a BS degree in biology in May, 2015.

She is happy to continue her research where she feels at home. Nuckolls plans to use the knowledge she gains to investigate the world around her in a career devoted to science

Kyle Patton

A concussion from a high school football game coupled with curiosity about evolution sparked Kyle Patton’s fascination with neuroscience and evolutionary developmental biology.

Patton actively pursued both interests after high school at Wheaton College, designing his own major in interdisciplinary studies combining biology, psychology, and chemistry. His master’s thesis explored the role of stress on the evolution of learning and memory, and drew extensively from the work of Stowers Associate Investigator Kausik Si, PhD.

Patton is thrilled to continue his research at the Stowers Institute and learn from some of the foremost leaders in neuroscience and evolutionary developmental biology.

Irina Pushel

Irina Pushel credits her parents, who moved her family from Belarus to the United States when she was 6 years old, for setting her on a scientific path.

She developed a passion for research as a high school student at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, and chose to continue her education at Michigan State University because the institution allowed her to conduct research in her freshman year. While at Michigan State, Pushel earned a BS degree in biochemistry and molecular biology/biotechnology

A strong believer in the importance of basic research, Pushel chose the Stowers Institute because of its community of individuals committed to the same goal.

Kevin Ramos

Becoming an independent researcher is a lifelong dream for Kevin Ramos, whose boundless curiosity and ambition emerged in childhood. Growing up in an environment with little emphasis on education challenged Ramos, but it also taught him the self-motivation and resourcefulness he needed to pursue a career in science.

Ramos drew on those skills to earn a BS degree in biology with a chemistry minor from Boston’s Suffolk University in 2014.

A firm believer of learning through doing, Ramos sees himself as a good fit for the Institute, which seeks individuals who “stress critical thinking and rapid development of experimental prowess.” He looks forward to a future spent pursuing cutting-edge research, exploring the unknown, and tackling complex questions.

Jelly Soffers

A native of the Netherlands, Jelly Soffers felt a special connection to the Stowers Institute during her interview visit, when she read the Institute’s motto “Hope for Life” inscribed in Dutch (“Hoop Doet Leven”) on the soaring glass panels above the library’s fireplace.

Soffers earned a BS degree in molecular life sciences at Maastricht University in 2009. While there, she became intrigued by the pathways that regulate growth and development, and how mechanisms that regulate embryonic growth become dysregulated during cancer development. Soffers explored that relationship further while working toward a master’s degree in oncology and developmental biology.

Soffers intends to maximize her time at the Institute, filling her “scientific backpack” with the skills and experiences necessary to prepare herself for a challenging postdoc position, with the hopes of one day starting her own research group.

Learn more about these amazing individuals at