Graduate Students on the Rise


By Kristin Luciani, ‘09

UC San Diego graduate students generate new knowledge that will benefit humanity, create new companies and help solve 21st-century global challenges. As the campus works to grow its graduate student population, fellowship support is critical to ensuring that UC San Diego can attract and retain the best students—those who will raise the level of research on campus, inspire undergraduates and go on to become tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. The following are just a few of our current outstanding graduate students.

Naina Kurup, Biology

Naina Kurup is studying synapses in the tiny nematode, C.elegans. Her goal is to better understand the formation and maintenance of synapses, or the rewiring of the neuronal circuits during critical time windows. Kurup’s research could potentially uncover important clues for functional recovery after stroke, which results in the loss of nearly 14 billion synapses a minute, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

This year, Kurup received the Latham & Watkins LLP Fellowship, an award recently established by John Wehrli, a UC Berkeley alumnus, and his law firm, Latham & Watkins.

“I am so thankful to Latham & Watkins and Mr. Wehrli for their support,” says Kurup. “It was definitely a welcome affirmation that my research matters. Some might not understand the value of basic science research—that while it might not cure cancer immediately, in the long run, it all adds up.”

Nicholas Obradovich, Political Science

A fifth-year Ph.D. candidate, Nicholas Obradovich focuses his studies on a combination of climate change, environmental conservation and the political economy of development.  More specifically, he is studying the politics and economies of sub-Saharan Africa.

“Over the last few years, aided by generous fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Gramercy Fund, as well as grants from multiple agencies, I’ve been able to conduct field research in Ghana, Malawi and Mexico focused on the local-level politics of climate change in developing countries,” he says.

Obradovich hopes that his research can inform policymakers struggling with the daunting task of finding ways to gain the political will to mitigate carbon emissions and the worst of global warming, as well as aid those attempting to implement climate adaptation measures.


Sarah Lerch, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Sarah Lerch studies the silica cell walls of diatoms, a major group of algae that produce a significant amount of the Earth’s oxygen. Through Scripps Classroom Connection (SCC), she also teaches seventh grade students at Wangenheim Middle School in San Diego. The SCC not only helps enhance connections between graduate students and K-12 education, fostering the next generation of scientists, but it fine-tunes her teaching and communication skills.

“My research on diatoms provided the foundation and inspiration for everything I taught my students,” Lerch says. “My research allowed me to bring diatoms into the classroom, connecting what we were learning to the real research I do every day.”

Lerch is a recipient of the National Science Foundation GK-12 STEM Fellowship in K-12 Education as well as a Regents Fellowship. Through this assistance, Lerch hopes to inspire and empower young students to take on scientific research.

Introducing the UC San Diego Graduate Division

Formerly known as the Office of Graduate Studies, the Graduate Division recently revitalized its mission and brand to better reflect its role on campus, and to be consistent with our sister UC campuses. Serving as a central resource for all things grad, the Graduate Division works behind-the-scenes and in collaboration with faculty, staff and students to guide today’s scholars on their upward trajectory to becoming tomorrow’s leaders.  Learn more at

To learn more about supporting graduate students through fellowships, visit