Critical to our success 

Postdoctoral scholars are critical to DRI’s mission to amplify and invest in transformative, multidisciplinary research, scholarship and creative activities and our strategic goal of becoming a premier public research university. Postdoctoral scholars, fellows and associates play an integral role in scholarly endeavors, research labs and Centers across all colleges.

As part of SDSU’s Strategic Plan implementation and related initiatives to support inclusive research excellence on SDSU campuses, DRI is working to expand networking, community engagement, and professional development opportunities for postdoctoral and non-tenured researchers.


Join DRI’s postdoc community A postdoc Google group ([email protected]) will serve as a source of information on campus seminars, mixers and networking events hosted by DRI. Please email [email protected] to be added.

Consider an Individual Development Plans (IDP). An IDP is a dynamic document that identifies career goals, sets a path and helps postdocs manage their career development plans.  IDPs have long been used in the business world and because their effectiveness has been proven, they are increasingly used by universities to promote graduate student and postdoctoral training. IDPs are required by some funding agencies (e.g., NIH), but DRI recommends IDPs for all postdocs, irrespective of their funding mechanism. Learn more about IDPs. 

Become a NCFDD member: The National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity is an independent professional development, training, and mentoring community for faculty members, postdocs, and graduate students, dedicated to supporting academics in making successful transitions throughout their careers. Postdocs at SDSU are able to access NCFDD membership. Contact [email protected] for more information.

Grant writing and grant development: Each semester, DRI offers programming that supports and teaches early-career scholars how to communicate effectively with grant officers, develop successful proposals and share their research with media and other stakeholders.


Postdoc spotlight

Dr. Katherine Nesbit
PI: Dr. Nick Shikuma
Area of research: Molecular mechanisms of host-microbe relationships

Katherine Nesbit


What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

One of the most exciting parts of my position is working with our animal model, a marine tube worm named Hydroides elegans. Most people aren’t terribly enthusiastic about worms, but I think these animals are absolutely fascinating, diverse, and complex. The larvae are so fun to study, and I could (and often do) spend hours looking at them under the microscope. They have distinct behaviors, specialized anatomy, and seeing their interactions during development in real-time with cellular resolution is always rewarding.

Can you tell us a little bit about the cutting edge research/scholarship you are doing? What key questions is your work answering?

As a postdoc in the Shikuma Lab, I am interested in understanding the diverse nature o fhost-microbe relationships. All animals are in constant and co-evolving relationships with bacteria, and there are many ways that bacteria can be beneficial to their hosts, including playing important roles in development. We don’t have a very strong sense of the types of molecular mechanisms that enable bacteria to influence the development of animals, and so my work aims to better understand how this is accomplished. The questions we want to answer are 1) what genes and products do bacteria have/make that influence developmental processes; 2) how is the animal detecting and translating bacterial information into developmental outcomes. We use the marine tube worm, Hydroides elegans, as a model because this humble worm requires interaction with bacteria to complete its life cycle (through bacteria-stimulated metamorphosis). By combining innovative synthetic biology tools and forward genetics
approaches, we are starting to tease apart how different bacteria impact development.

What is your career trajectory and how is your SDSU postdoc position helping you achieve that?

My long-term goal is to run an independent research program as a tenure-track faculty member at a research and teaching institution. My work here at SDSU is helping me to gain additional technical, teaching, and mentorship skills that will help me to run my own lab. I have had opportunities to give lectures, design and seek funding for independent research projects,
publish additional research


Previous Spotlights

Rodrigo Monjaraz Ruedas

PI: Dr. Marshal Hedin

Area of research: Molecular phylogeography and phylogenomics of spiders 

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

My postdoc research is part of an NSF Collaborative Research grant between San Diego State
University and the University of California, Davis, focused on phylogenomics and spatial
phylogenetics of trapdoor spiders in California. Trapdoor spiders are extremely homogenous in
their morphology and for instance extremely hard to identify, which has result in a
underestimation of their true diversity, using genomic scale data and one of the most extensive
sampling ever done in the CAFP, collected in the last 20 years and comprising around 10 genera
and 120 species with more than 2500 samples, I’m using novel methods to estimate genetic and
phylogenetic diversity across California both to learn more about trapdoor spider biodiversity.


Can you tell us a little bit about the cutting edge research/scholarship you are doing? What key questions is your work answering?

I’ve always been a cave lover, not only for the amazing rock formations inside the caves but also
for the incredible environment they represent, especially the fauna inhabiting them. When I was
an undergrad, I was amazed by the large diversity of arthropods I found inside caves. Arachnids
was the group that captured my attention the most, which sparked my interest to pursue a career
in arachnid biology and evolution. I grew up as an arachnologist reading the amazing research
from the Hedin Lab so joining the Hedin lab as a postdoc was a joy and great pleasure to me. I
am excited to be involved in the cutting edge research, learning and contributing to novel
methods and techniques to describe the evolution and diversity of arachnid fauna in California.

What is your career trajectory and how is your SDSU postdoc position helping you achieve that?

I grew up in Mexico City and completed my PhD in the Biology Institute there. Arachnology
research in Mexico is still really limited, so one of my career goals is to promote arachnology
and evolution for Mexican students, but also extend it to Latin-American students interested in
arachnids. My current position is helping me acquire more knowledge not only on new methods
and techniques, but also providing me experience with mentoring and teaching by learning new
research philosophies.

Monica Espinoza 

PI: Dr. Faramarz Valafar

Area of research: Role of HSIs in the educational pathways and experiences of Latinx and other minoritized students in STEM

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

I am very excited about the research at SDSU, from its diversity to the depth of its scientific inquiries. I feel empowered by the mentoring I am receiving and the closeness of this scientific community, which are allowing me to grow and contribute to the growth of others simultaneously. The research I am conducting now is a blend of my prior knowledge and my current passions, making me very excited at pursuing knowledge here everyday!


Can you tell us a little bit about the cutting edge research/scholarship you are doing? What key questions is your work answering?

My work investigates genetic diversity across isolates of Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) in the construct of a larger genetic pool shared by all Mtb isolates, the pangenome. This contributes to the knowledge of conserved and variable regions of the Mtb genome across isolates and how these relate to important factors such as the acquisition of drug-resistance or characteristics of distinct Mtb lineages. I am also currently beginning a project on a specific family of genes (PE_PGRS) important for Mtb pathogenesis via host immune-pathogen interactions.  This research hopes to understand this elusive family of PE_PGRS genes and their role in Mtb's activation and manipulation of the human immune system, informing future work developing intervenable therapeutic targets.


What is your career trajectory and how is your SDSU postdoc position helping you achieve that?

I hope to pursue scientific research as a career through either an academic position or in industry. My current postdoctoral position is providing opportunities to sharpen my investigative skills, refine my analytical approach, and pose meaningful questions at the frontier of science. I am also receiving the opportunity to engage in teaching and mentorship, which I feel are important for the future generations of scientific research. Reaching this new height in my scientific career is very meaningful to me, now with this training I hope to keep climbing to newer heights! 

Mowaffaq Adam
PI: Dr. Christal Sohl
Area of research: cell and molecular biology, biochemistry

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?
I am from Sudan, I was born in Abu Dhabi, received my bachelor’s and master’s degree from Bangalore University in India and after the completion of my Ph.D. at University Science Malaysia in Malaysia, I sought a position that fulfill my passion for research and mentoring students, a dream that came to reality only at SDSU. Every day is a great opportunity for learning and self-development at this university and I am so inspired by the mentorship I am receiving from my supervisor Professor Christal Sohl and through mentoring and assisting all graduate and undergraduate students, the Sohlmates. In the Sohl lab, I am leveraging my prior knowledge in molecular and cell biology with the enzymological training I am receiving in this laboratory to understand the biochemistry and the function of mutant enzymes. I hope to unlock  the secrets of enzyme mutations, and how they contribute to the occurrence of cancer. This position is so close to my heart as it is my first step in pursuing my ultimate dream of becoming a successful educator, researcher, and professor. I believe that this is the best place to start my academic journey and the training I am receiving here is the best that I could ever have. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the cutting edge research you are doing? What key questions is your work answering?

I am investigating the effect of the isocitrate dehydrogenase (IDH1) gene mutation and expression of this mutant protein on cells’ phenotype. IDH1 catalyzes the reversible NADP+-dependent conversion of isocitrate to α-ketoglutarate (α-KG) to provide critical cytosolic substrates and drive NADPH-dependent reactions like lipid biosynthesis and antioxidant regeneration. Mutant IDH1 catalyzes the conversion of α-KG to the oncometabolite D2HG, causing gene hypermethylation that drives tumor formation. IDH1 point mutations have been  reported in ~85% of lower-grade gliomas and secondary glioblastomas, ~12% of acute myeloid leukemias, and ~40% of chondrosarcomas.  In my work, I am creating cellular models that mimic mutant IDH1-driven tumors so we can understand the cellular consequences of mutants we have shown to have widely varying catalytic properties. This work will provide us with an insight into the role of D2HG in tumor formation. 


What is your career trajectory and how is your current postdoc position helping you achieve that?
Teaching and conducting research are my ultimate goals, and both bring joy and purpose to my life. I am taking this opportunity as a postdoc at SDSU to gain the knowledge and skills that will allow me to succeed as an educator and researcher. For my future as an educator, this post will develop my sense of leadership, enhance my approach to mentoring students and guide them in developing their mindset and academic growth. I also have a great opportunity to improve my critical thinking, research approach, construction of hypotheses, and writing skills, and can prepare for my future career goal as a principal investigator by providing me with opportunities to apply for grants. Being a postdoc at SDSU is not all about research but also about serving the local community through being involved with organizations such as MARC and IMSD programs that support and foster intelligent young scientists from diverse groups. This post has changed my life for the better and I am excited to inspire future students for a better future and scientific community. 


Victoria Rodriguez-Operana

PI: Dr. Felisha Herrera Villarreal

Area of research: Role of HSIs in the educational pathways and experiences of Latinx and other minoritized students in STEM

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

I currently serve as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow for the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RES-ISTE) at San Diego State University. Prior to joining the RES-ISTE team, I earned my B.A. in Psychology from University of California, San Diego and completed my M.A. and Ph.D. in Education with an emphasis in Human Development and Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). One of the most exciting aspects of my current SDSU postdoc position is the ability to engage in education research centering the communities in my hometown. As the granddaughter of Filipino and CHamoru families who arrived in San Diego by way of the U.S. Navy, I was born and raised in San Diego; this is home. Along with my mentor, RES-ISTE Director and PI Dr. Felisha Herrera Villarreal, I co-lead our RES-ISTE research team on multiple National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded projects focused on Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) in the San Diego/Imperial Valley region and across the nation. I have been blessed with the opportunity to collaborate with some of the best and brightest colleagues and students in the region to conduct research on issues related to educational equity, really pushing the field forward in terms of understanding how we can better serve and support minoritized students in STEM. Sharing my passion for research and building community with my mentor and mentees in this supportive space has been extremely rewarding. 


Can you tell us a little bit about the cutting edge research/scholarship you are doing? What key questions is your work answering?

Our work at the Research & Equity Scholarship Institute broadly examines the role of community colleges and HSIs in the educational pathways and experiences of Latinx and other minoritized students STEM through several projects funded by NSF: ED-SYSTEMS (DUE-1644990), HSI-STEM (DUE-1832528), and NSF INCLUDES ALRISE Alliance (HRD-212002). It has been amazing to see how each successive project has built upon the last. ED-SYSTEMS (DUE-1644990) allowed us to examine the STEM pathways of Latinx and other minoritized students, with a particular focus on those who began at community colleges, successfully transferred to four-year institutions and attended HSIs. We also deepened our understanding of students’ lived experiences navigating STEM across multiple institutions qualitatively through focus groups and digital narrative interviews. Engaging in conversations with students yielded powerful stories that informed our work on HSI-STEM (DUE-1832528). This project is supported by NSF’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program (HSI Program), which aims to enhance undergraduate STEM education and build capacity at HSIs. The most exciting aspect of this work was the opportunity to partner with HSI community colleges in the region. Through interviews with faculty, staff, and administrators, we learned so much about HSI- and STEM-focused initiatives across multiple campuses and potential opportunities for further development of support for students. Our latest efforts with the NSF INCLUDES ALRISE Alliance (HRD-212002), further builds upon this work by developing an HSI network of faculty, staff, administrators, and students at 2-yr and 4-yr HSIs and emerging HSIs. With servingness and intentionality to serve Latinx students at the forefront, the ALRISE alliance is focused on providing culturally-responsive experiential learning opportunities for Latinx students in STEM and building capacity across institutions. 


What is your career trajectory and how is your SDSU postdoc position helping you achieve that?

My lifelong goal has been to work in a field that allows me to improve the lives and experiences of those in my community. My work as a postdoctoral research fellow with RES-ISTE has allowed me to pursue those goals through education research, with an emphasis on servingness and understanding the ways that we as institutions and institutional agents can intentionally serve the students in our communities. This important research was made possible through the collaborative efforts of my mentor, Dr. Herrera, and the many individuals (postdocs, graduate and undergraduate students, and alum) that have been an integral part of the RES-ISTE familia. I have learned so much from this amazing group. I am especially grateful for the sense of community that we have collectively created and maintained over the years. As I progress in my career as a scholar and educator, I aspire to center community in all my endeavors.