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. Visit Postdoc in the Spotlight to meet some of the outstanding postdoctoral scholars at SDSU and learn about their innovative and game-changing research and scholarship.


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.

Whole scholar approach

Thriving, succeeding, and advancing as a postdoctoral scholar at SDSU means thriving as a member of the SDSU community. DRI has identified additional resources for postdocs that can support a whole scholar approach 

Principal Investigator Status at SDSU: Post-docs at an advanced career stage may have reason to submit competitive grant applications more-or-less independently. SDSU Research Foundation can award PI status to Post-Doctoral scholars, with the approval of the primary mentor and departmental approval. 

The most common approach by departments is to award the Post-Doc adjunct faculty status, and requirements for that appointment vary. Please check with you mentor and department chair if you think this status would help accelerate your professional development.


Mental health resources: For scholars with benefits from the Foundation, you can find out about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which provides evaluation and crisis intervention for Foundation employees, their eligible dependents, and anyone who resides in the employee's household. Confidential services provided by licensed professional counselors through Aetna Resources for Living include: problem assessment and referrals on issues such as: substance abuse, relationship, budgeting or financial problems, stress, parenting concerns. Employees, their eligible dependents and roommates, may use this free, confidential service at any time. To obtain services, call 1-800-342-8111.

Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE): CIE elevates, celebrates and supports the diverse community of San Diego State through professional learning, community building, advocacy, policy recommendations and organizational structures. CIE aims to foster an affirming campus culture based on the core values of excellence, equity, diversity, belonging and inclusion. Each semester, there is rich programming on a range of topics including inclusive conversation, implicit bias training, anti-oppression programs, as well as other topics. Click here for more information on current programs

Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL): For scholars who are interested in advancing as instructors, we encourage you to learn more about CTL. The mission of CTL is to support current and future instructors in a scholarly approach to teaching and fostering a culture of inclusive excellence in teaching and learning. Programming includes resources on course design, syllabus design, classroom management, and other resources for new instructors. To learn more about the resources, click here

Postdoc in the Spotlight


Dr. Sarah Kimbley

PI: Dr. Karen Emmorey

Area of research: neural mechanisms underlying language processing in deaf and hearing individuals


Tell us about your scholarship: What questions is your work answering?
My research, in collaboration with Dr. Karen Emmorey, aims to develop a neurobiological model of sign language comprehension that considers modality-specific linguistic processes.

Within a larger NIH-funded project, I investigate how sign language is processed in the brain—investigating whether adult learners of ASL perceive signs as complete gestures or can discern their internal phonological structure. This research is pivotal in enhancing our understanding of the plasticity of neurobiological networks for sign language comprehension and could inform treatments for language impairments in deaf signers.

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?
I am exhilarated to be engaged in cutting-edge research on the neural mechanisms underlying language processing in deaf and hearing individuals. This area of study is particularly captivating because it provides valuable insights into the neurobiological networks responsible for human language comprehension, specifically focusing on how the brain interprets linguistic phenomena unique to signed languages.

I am also thrilled about working under Dr. Karen Emmorey and collaborating with a diverse team of Deaf and hearing ASL signers. This collaboration will contribute to my professional development and leadership in interdisciplinary research. As a Deaf female scientist. I am excited to pursue by scientific passions in the supportive postdoctoral community at SDSU which cultivates a spirit of collaboration and mutual growth.

What is your career trajectory and how is your current postdoc position helping you achieve that?
My ultimate aspiration is to lead a neuroscience and sign language-focused research lab as a tenure-track professor at an academic institution that prioritizes research and pedagogy while championing the inclusion and empowerment of deaf students in their journey to becoming scientists. At the heart of my academic pursuit is the integration of neuroscience with sign language, aiming to illuminate the neural mechanisms underpinning language processing across modalities. My postdoctoral position lays the groundwork for this ambition, offering an invaluable opportunity to delve into the complexities of language processing and neuroplasticity, with a particular focus on sign language.


Previous Spotlights

Dr. Julio Fregoso

PI: Dr. Felisha Herrera Villarreal

Area of research: Postsecondary Education and Community College Leadership

Tell us about your scholarship: What questions is your work answering?

My research is deeply rooted in unraveling the experiences of marginalized communities in higher education. Central to my scholarship is an exploration of the challenging issues faced by community college (transfer) students of color in the United States, specifically examining how institutional characteristics and campus climates shape their academic journeys. This line of inquiry extends to a critical analysis of structural barriers confronting Black and Latine/x men in community colleges, a topic I thoroughly examine in my recent book chapter. Within such work, I delve into systemic definitions of academic merit and grit, evaluating their implications for equitable educational outcomes, notably in the context of aspirations for transferring to four-year institutions.

My research interests are diverse yet interconnected, spanning across the realms of community colleges, transfer student outcomes, and campus racial climate assessments, all with a keen eye on policy implications. Methodologically, I am committed to employing and further developing critical quantitative approaches that foreground race, ethnicity, and other marginalized identities. I plan to integrate these approaches with econometrics, spatial statistics, and big data visualization to offer powerful insights into the experiences of traditionally marginalized groups in higher education. This focus aligns with critical issues such as student success, persistence, and retention, particularly within community college settings. Moreover, my work extends to examining campus racial climates beyond the community college context, exploring their broader policy impacts across both two-year and four-year educational institutions.

Looking ahead, my research is increasingly oriented towards policy influence, a direction reinforced by my involvement in Pennsylvania State University's inaugural research-to-policy collaborative. This initiative, designed to boost the participation of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color in policy work, resonates with my goal to blend academic research with practical policy applications. As part of this program, I am proposing a comprehensive econometric analysis of student loan policies, focusing on long-term financial well-being and the equitable distribution of loan accessibility and burden among diverse demographic groups. This project represents my commitment to connecting academic research with meaningful policy development, particularly in the spheres of entrepreneurship and economic policy.

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Research and Equity Scholarship Institute on Student Trajectories in Education (RESISTE), I have a distinct focus in my research. My work as a postdoc centers on examining the role of community colleges in fostering STEM pathways. Specifically, I along with other postdocs work to enhance Experiential Learning outcomes for Latine/x and other marginalized students. This study is particularly relevant for those enrolled within Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) or emerging HSIs (eHSIs). What excites me about this role, is the unique opportunity to collaborate with other postdocs and student researchers at the center. Their unique perspective rooted in lived experiences offers a breadth of perspectives that inform the work we all do for the center.

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

As a former first-generation college student, current first-gen postdoc, and former Pell-grant recipient, I am enthusiastic about the prospect of joining the faculty at a four-year college or university. My aim is to add to the groundbreaking work conducted by esteemed scholars of color, who inspire me in my field. A central element of my career goals is to mentor students from disenfranchised backgrounds, as I was guided by others. I hold a particular interest in tackling the challenge of math or quantitative anxiety. This issue often stems from veiled, institutional  pedagogical approaches that inadvertently undermine marginalized students' confidence in their abilities. Such anxiety can profoundly affect students' perceptions and their capacity to effectively use quantitative methods in their research. My dedication lies in transforming these experiences into empowering opportunities for students to realize and harness their potential in quantitative disciplines (should that be their aspiration). 

Dr. Kenisha Shipley

PI: Dr. Natalie Mladenov

Area of research: Urban water quality

What excites you about your current SDSU postdoc position?

I am excited to be back at SDSU! I received my Bachelor’s in Chemistry here at SDSU and having the opportunity to come back as a postdoc has been a real full circle moment for me. My time as an undergraduate had such a huge impact on me and it has been a great experience to be back in a different capacity where I am able to offer mentorship, conduct independent research, and collaborate with students and faculty. It has also been great to see how much the campus has grown and diversified since my time as an undergraduate. Another aspect of this position that excites me is having the opportunity to expand on my research interests from coastal ocean chemistry which was the focus of my PhD work to urban water quality.

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

I am working with Dr. Natalie Mladenov’s group in the Water Innovation and Reuse Lab and my project is focused on investigating anthropogenic contaminants in urban waters. Our study site is nearby campus at Alvarado Creek where we recently completed the deployment of our sensor platform, which is equipped with a submersible fluorometer and dissolved oxygen sensor. The sensor platform uses telemetry and data-logging capabilities, allowing us to monitor water quality in real-time. Ultimately, we would like to determine if the real-time use of in-situ fluorescence sensors are a viable option for early detection of polluted waters in urban stream systems. Some of the research questions I’ll be working to answer include (1) What are the biogeochemical processes underlying diel and long-term dynamics of fecal indicator bacteria in urban waters? (2) To what extent can tryptophan-like fluorescence track microbial and wastewater-derived pollutants? (3) Can we detect the frequency of bacterial pollution in riverine environments using real-time fluorescence data?

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

My ultimate career goal is to have a position as a professor and run my own research lab at a minority or Hispanic serving institution. Becoming a professor is particularly important for mebecause I know how meaningful it can be for underrepresented students to have representation at this level in the STEM fields. This postdoc position is helping me to gain invaluable experience that will help facilitate future opportunities in academia. In my first year, I’ve had opportunities to learn and develop various research techniques, participate in funding workshops, and collaborate with other research groups. I will definitely continue to develop my skills in these areas and I also have plans to gain more mentorship and teaching experience.

Dr. Katherine Nesbit

PI: Dr. Nick Shikuma

Area of research: Molecular mechanisms of host-microbe relationships

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 of
host-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 papers, mentor students in the lab, and learn new skills at the bench
in bacterial genetics. All of these opportunities have been instrumental in propelling me towards
my goal of being a professor in the near future.

Dr. 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.

Dr. 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! 

Dr. 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. 


Dr. 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.