PDA Officers 2021-2022



Nader Nikbakht


Nader is a Postdoctoral Associate at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research and Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT. His research area is broadly on the neuronal circuit mechanisms underlying sensory-motor behaviors. His PhD work at the International School for Advanced Studies (SISSA, Italy), focused on understanding the neuronal computations involved in multisensory perception and decision making. At MIT, he studies the neuronal mechanisms of sequence generation and learning with a focus on the cellular and circuit underpinnings of songbird vocalizations. He previously served as the MIT PDA IT & Information Committee Chair (2020-2021), where he set up efficient communication and publicity systems to reach all postdocs at MIT as well as maintaining PDA web services. As the president of PDA, he aims to ensure that the MIT PDA continues to succeed in providing guidance and support as well as excellent networking and professional development opportunities for all MIT postdocs in a more diverse, fair, and inclusive work environment.


Laura Maiorino

Vice President

Laura is a postdoctoral James S. McDonnell Foundation Fellow in the Irvine Lab at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Her research focuses on the circuit of signals triggered by therapies that activate the immune system against cancer. Her long-term goal is to establish a framework to pair patients with the therapies they are most likely to benefit from based on which immune cells populate their cancers. Before joining MIT, Laura received a PhD in Biological Sciences from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (NY), where she studied the spread of cancer to distant sites, and a M.S. in Medical, Molecular and Cellular Biotechnology from San Raffaele University in Milan (Italy). Outside the lab, she loves spending time with friends especially when food, music or sporting events are involved. She will talk at length about travelling, politics, and her dog Zissou.


Benedict Borer


Benedict (Ben) Borer is a Swiss National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT. He seeks to understand how microbial hotspots, the “bacterial cities at the micro scale” influence and govern the global biogeochemical cycles using both experimental and modeling approaches. Before coming to MIT, Ben obtained a BSc in environmental sciences at ETH, an MSc in hydrology and water resources management from Imperial College London and a PhD at the interface of soil physics and microbial ecology back at ETH. In his free time, Ben enjoys outside activities such as hiking, camping or running and spends considerable time experimenting in the kitchen – and is mostly seen with a cup of coffee in hand!

As Treasurer of the MIT PDA, Ben manages the budget for the entire PDA for the year and facilitates reimbursements for all PDA committees and external spending affiliated with the PDA. Please reach out to him over email if you have any questions or a coffee break!


Shubhra Jyoti Saha

Corresponding & Recording Secretary

Shubhra (you may pronounce it as shu-vro) is a postdoc at Niles Lab in the Department of Biological Engineering. He is particularly interested in validating new drug targets in Plasmodium using functional genetics in order to elucidate the role of the gene of interest towards parasite survival, and then leverage high-throughput screening to discover clinically efficacious novel compounds against malaria parasites. Before starting his position here at MIT, Shubhra received his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 2019 from Jadavpur University, India. Shubhra is a football enthusiast (of Die Mannschaft and FC Bayern Munich) and enjoys playing football, cricket, and watching fantasy tv shows. He also loves to explore Boston and New England neighborhoods in his free time. During his graduate studies, he was actively involved in the Research Scholars’ Association of his home institution and served as a joint-secretary cum e-convener there. Currently, he is also associated with the Democratic Research Scholar Organization (DRSO), India’s largest research scholars’ association that fights for the rights-justice-welfare of research scholars across the nation and voices against administrative atrocities. His experience and communication skills would be beneficial to convey MIT PDA’s efforts and interest to all MIT postdocs (including the newcomers) in the best possible way.



Arusha Acharyya

Advocacy Committee Chair

Arusha is a post-doctoral associate in the MIT Chemistry department since Aug 2021. Originally from India, Arusha obtained her PhD from UPenn, where she worked on developing spectroscopic and microscopic tools to study protein dynamics and interactions. Her current research at MIT focuses on understanding how energy transfer occurs through light-harvesting protein complexes responsible for photosynthesis, using single-molecule spectroscopy. When not in lab, Arusha loves traveling and trying out new food and binge-watching tv shows.
In MIT PDA, Arusha is excited about her role as the advocacy committee chair to communicate any issue or concern particularly regarding careers, benefits and inclusion and diversity of postdocs, with the administration. She looks forward to serving as a voice for the MIT postdoc community and advocating for its overall betterment.



Aakanksha Rana

IT & Information Committee Chair

Aakanksha Rana is a postdoctoral associate at the McGovern Institute of Brain Research. Her research interests include medical image analysis, deep learning, computer vision and immersive technologies. She received her Ph.D and masters degree from Telecom Paris (France) with majors in computer vision and machine learning. She has also received training in machine learning domain in different roles at BWH & Harvard Medical School, INRIA, Technicolor Research and Innovation Center and Trinity College Dublin. As IT and Information Committee Chair, Aakanksha is excited to facilitate information channels for improving postdoc experience as great as possible. She loves travelling, exploring cultures, reading and hiking.




Kaiyuan Ni

Professional Development Committee Chair

Kaiyuan is a postdoctoral associate at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. His research focuses on engineering alum-based vaccine adjuvant for infectious disease and cancer. Kaiyuan’s research goal is to ultilize synthetic chemistry and biology tools to study vaccine adjuvants for precision vaccination. Before joining MIT, he obtained the PhD degree in chemistry at the University of Chicago, where he worked on developing functional molecular nanomaterials for cancer immunotherapy. Earlier than that, he completed his BSc. in chemistry at Xiamen University (China), mainly focusing on developing molecular imaging probes for cancer diagnosis. Outside the lab, Kaiyuan likes hiking, birding and photographing.


Davide Ciccarese

Fundraising Committee Chair

Davide Ciccarese is a postdoctoral associate at the Department of Earth Atmospheric and Planetary Science at MIT in Andrew Babbin’s lab. His scientific work is to decipher the complexity of microbial communities through the lenses of synthetic ecology to distill simple principles that describe their development and ecosystem functioning. Here at MIT, he is investigating the microscale processes that drive microbial assembly and their functional role in shaping the biochemical cycles in the ocean. Combining image analysis and analytical chemistry, he seeks to understand the fundamental mechanisms that drive carbon export and the emission of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas) in the ocean. He earned his Ph.D. at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). He studied the underlying rules that dictate the spatial self- organization of bacterial communities as a response to environmental heterogeneities (e.g. complex surfaces, temporal fluctuations). Outside the research world, he is a writer and published (in Italian) six non-fictional books about sustainability, food, and agriculture and won two national book prizes. He loves running, cycling, reading books, and talking about food.

As Chair of the PDA Fundraising committee, he aims to find solutions to secure funds for the PDA, help chairs obtain donations to support their events, facilitate networking with donors and find new opportunities to support the PDA association and its development.

© 2020 Patankar Photography & Design

Karthik Sankar

Orientation Committee Chair

Karthik Sankar is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering. His research focuses on developing computer aided synthesis planning tools. Before joining MIT, he received a PhD from Stanford University where he investigated natural product biosynthesis. Outside the lab, he likes rock climbing, road biking, working out, and performing in Improv shows.

As co-chair of the PDA orientation committee, he hopes to contribute to the postdoc community by welcoming its new members.



Katya Arquilla

Human Affairs/DEI Chair

Katya Arquilla is a postdoctoral associate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, working with both the Human Systems Lab and Interactive Robotics Group. The focus of her research is on quantifying human state to improve psychological health and task performance in challenging operational environments (e.g., long-duration crewed space exploration missions). She completed her MS and PhD degrees in Aerospace Engineering Sciences with a focus in Bioastronautics at the University of Colorado Boulder. Before her graduate studies, she taught middle and high school math and physics at YES Prep Public Schools for two years after completing her BS in Astrophysics at Rice University. As chair of the DEI committee, it is Katya’s goal to give postdocs across the Institute a strong voice in the many growing DEI efforts and bring together postdocs interested in making MIT a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for people at all levels.

Jonathan Cottet

Community Building Committee Chair

Jonathan Cottet is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Laboratory for Energy and Microsystems Innovation (Professor Cullen Buie) in the Mechanical Engineering Department. His research focuses on using electric fields for characterization and deposition of microbes.  During his PhD between Ecole Centrale de Lyon and EPFL, Jonathan focused on the development of microsystems for the controlled formation of cell aggregates by dielectrophoresis.

As Chair of the PDA Community Building Committee, he hopes to enable all postdocs to easily advertise activities they want to do and find people with similar interests. Jonathan always welcomes new ideas, so please don’t hesitate to reach out for questions, concerns, or ideas that might serve MIT postdoc

Screenshot from 2021-11-18 18-14-26

Diana Gomes

Community Building Committee Co-Chair

Diana Gomes is a Swiss National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the Knouse Lab at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT. Her research focuses on developing novel approaches to deliver genome-wide screening into the mammalian heart. Diana hopes to use this tool to identify and overcome barriers to cardiac regeneration. Before joining MIT, she received a PhD in Life Sciences from University of Geneva (Switzerland), where she studied insulin resistance in Hepatitis C virus infection, and MSc in Pharmaceutical Sciences from University of Porto (Portugal). Outside the lab, she enjoys cooking, hiking and traveling. As co-chair of the PDA Community Building Committee, she aims to create more opportunities for the MIT postdoc community to get together and share interests outside the lab.

Philipp Stegmann

Sports Committee Chair

Philipp Stegmann is a postdoctoral Leopoldina research fellow in the Department of Chemistry at MIT. His research focuses on the statistical analysis of stochastic processes such as quantum transport, spin and molecular dynamics, biochemical reactions and photon emission. The central objective of his research is to develop and establish mathematical schemes to deduce information from measured statistical data. He received his PhD degree from the University Duisburg-Essen in Germany where he worked on electron-transport statistics. In his free time, Philipp likes running, cycling, bouldering and watching (as well as playing) soccer.  Sport is a great way to connect postdocs beyond the borders of their department. As Chair of the PDA Sports Committee, he supports the network of postdoc sport activities in the hope of uniting the postdoc community by the desire for sport.