Guest Blogger Jonathan Dentler Introduces “Pius Aeneas”

Introducing the series, Pius Aeneas
By Jonathan Dentler 

Jonathan Dentler is a first year student in the History Department Ph.D program. He is interested in the history of visual cultures, philosophies and theories of history, and modern American and European history.

Los Angeles begins with the grunts and bellows of elephant seals on the beach, bloated creatures that live most of their lives a mile deep gorging on squid and crustaceans. It starts there, on the beach near the golden bluffs of Hearst’s mansion, Disneyland’s alter ego. 

It continues with the drive down, through San Luis Obispo, down through Santa Barbara, the first dull and lazy pastels of Spanish memories. Down over the mountains, more cars, automobiles in communion on the highway, through the valleys, then you see it. Hollywood – the number of churches surprised me. “The Asiatic city of the innumerable churches, holy Moscow!” I felt like Napoleon – same hubris. There’s a church near my casita; its bells ring out the hour as I look out my window at the palm tree hills, gradients of social capital. The light here never changes – that’s what almost everyone who ever wrote about Los Angeles says. The pleasurable go-with-the-flow monotony lulls one to reverie: washed out light blue, brown, dusty green, until the cars seduce the evening sky to mimic their color palate. That’s when the acrylic ecstasy hits.

What is USC? It’s the University of Southern California. What is Southern California? It’s the last true American frontier. Southern California is the Wild West, it’s cowboys and Indians and Mexicans and it’s the expanse of the Pacific with the dull beat of the surf, the dull beat of dreams, it’s Space. Follow me; follow me like the acolytes of a bizarre, fatalistic Sun Cult worshipping spirits from outer space. Follow me as I blog about being a grad student in the history department at USC.

I came here to study the history of images in a city built on images. It’s not just the moving pictures; it’s the whole panorama city of postcards, orange groves, wax museums, car wash billboards and the miasmic Americana dreamscape.

The Not-So-Small Price for Scientific Research

From the series Science Through Unpolished Glass

The Not-So-Small Price for Scientific Research
By Brian Leung
Brian is a PhD student in the USC Neuroscience program

These past few weeks, every news organization and social media website has been posting about the discourse happening in Washington DC and the employees affected by the shut down. To go off on a tangent, I have friends who are in science who are being funded by the NIH and NSF whose labs had to be shut down because of the government.

This lab that studies soil chemistry and the co-habitation of many microorganisms, it’s implications for sustainability and how understanding the fundamental building blocks of agriculture can influence human health. Yes, it’s not about drugs and disease, but everything in science is related. Although some science headlines mentioned NASA and the NIH, not very many talked about the nitty-gritty details and the exorbitant price to maintain your typical biomedical laboratory. With that in mind, let me give you a sense for how much biomedical research costs per scientist.

Let’s ask the first question: what goes into biomedical research? Off the top of your head, you might say things like: the drug, animals, animal food, veterinary care, chemicals, and supplies.

So how much do drugs cost?
Let’s go to this drug LY-364947 from Sigma Aldrich (L6293-25MG) and order a gram of this drug. They sell this drug in quantities of 25mg priced at $531.63. Now multiply that by 40 to get 1 gram of this drug, we get $21,265.20! This doesn’t even include shipping and tax! How much does 1 gram look like? Imagine your thumbnail covered in a pile of salt. That’s roughly how a gram looks like. 


Animal care & food:
Let’s continue using this hypothetical scenario. We want to know whether this drug, LY-364947 actually is beneficial. Let’s use adult rats (12 months) to get an estimate for how much animals cost. If we have 15 animals that get the drug and 15 animals that don’t get the drug, then there are a total of 30 animals. If we need to raise these animals to become old enough to receive this drug from birth to experimentation date and the price to raise one animal is $.45 per day, then it would cost: 30 animals x $.45 x 365 days = $4,927.50! This doesn’t even include the price of the vets, the antibiotics for the sick rats, and other overhead costs. What’s even crazier is that scientists juggle more than 2 to 3 projects simultaneously! We are now looking at $14,782.50!

Chemicals and supplies:
Chemicals and supplies can range and vary depending on the need and the type of project. For example some antibodies (aka fluorescent dyes and stains) that are used can range from $300 to $1,800! These antibodies are used to generate pictures like this:

(reference: Breuning, J., Gate, D., et al.)

Also, chemicals, supplies, and other resources we see on CSI don’t come cheap. Typically, each researcher may spend an average of $1,250 per month on supplies. If we multiply that by 12 months, we get $15,000!

So what’s the point of talking about all these numbers? Well, during the shut down, scientists couldn’t go to work. If we continue using our hypothetical example, animals that need the drug treatment did not get the drug, then the entire scientific study has been jeopardized. That means, the entire project would need to be re-done. Especially if these animals were already sick and needed this drug to be “cured,” the animal veterinarians on site would most likely sacrifice these animals and put them out of their pain. That also means, lost data and $51,047,20 lost! (Imagine if you were a grad student on this project. Well, there goes graduation, delayed by another year!) Now imagine how many clinical research labs at the NIH that are affected by this shut down… hundreds!

The price for how much money was wasted and invested in these projects is just astounding. To set up these experiments, it will probably take several more months to get things back in line. Now that the government is running again, rumor has it, several months from now, there may be another shut down. At this point, I don’t even want to imagine how much this will hinder the biomedical sciences in the US.

Introducing The Graduate School Guest Bloggers for Fall 2013!

We are excited to announce that eight graduate students are joining the Graduate School team this fall to blog about their experiences as USC graduate students. Our guest bloggers will discuss topics ranging from adjusting to graduate student life, to balancing studies and outside life, to preparing to enter the job market.

This week, Adam Feinman, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering, kicks us off with the introduction to his blog series, “Badges: Trials and Tribulations on the Road to Graduate/Professional School Success.” Check in regularly for more stories from our graduate student bloggers.

Have comments or questions about the guest bloggers’ series? Email

Join us in welcoming Adam!


Trials and tribulations on the road to graduate/professional school success

By Adam Feinman

I despise the days when new students arrive on campus. They are so bright-eyed and cheery. They are giddy with anticipation about what the future holds for them. They are excited to learn and discover (amongst other things). After 4+ years of working on my Ph.D., it can be a deeply painful reminder of how long I’ve been here, what I’ve had to struggle with to get this far, and how far I have yet to go.

But it also fills me with joy. I look at who I am today compared to who I was at the beginning of graduate school, and I don’t regret it. The hard years of attaining a professional or graduate degree are not merely the road to graduation. The process is itself the goal. It is important to attain knowledge in the process, but the struggles behind accomplishment are what shape us, personally and professionally, for the rest of our lives.

My column for this blog, “Badges” is about the process. It is about the struggles we all face in these school years, but more importantly, it is about the fulfillment created by facing those struggles and achieving greatness in the process. These stories can raise awareness of issues students face, but can also inspire us take pride in our own personal processes, past, present, and future.

My first post(s) will be about adapting to doing research in an unfamiliar area. Later topics may include such things as: being married (or a parent) in graduate school, dealing with stress and the potential emotional and mental issues that come that, adapting to a new culture, etc. If you have stories to tell of your graduate/professional school woes, how you felt through them, and how you have (or are currently) facing them, or if you have other topics you would like to hear about, please contact me at All names or potential personal identifiers will be changed in blog posts for privacy.

USC Provost Fellow Highlighted by the American Chemical Society

Congratulations to USC PhD candidate Priscilla Antunez for having her article “Solution-Phase Synthesis of Highly Conductive Tungsten Diselenide Nanosheets” published in Chemistry of Materials. Priscilla’s article was also featured in the American Chemical Society’s Chemistry and Engineering News. Priscilla is a USC Provost Fellow and a National Science Foundation Fellow.

View Priscilla’s published article in Chemistry of Materials.

Read the American Chemical Society’s highlight of Priscilla’s research in the Chemical and Engineering News.

USC Annenberg Fellow Receives the Intel PhD Fellowship Award

Congratulations to Annenberg Fellow Joshua McVeigh-Schultz, a PhD candidate in the USC School of Cinematic Arts Media Arts and Practice program, who recently received the Intel PhD Fellowship Award!

McVeigh-Schultz’ research explores the intersections between platform affordances and communication rituals with particular emphasis on audience-performer interactions, such as during civic performances like town halls, political debates, and parliamentary rules. His work imagines alternative configurations to these otherwise familiar rituals. For example, McVeigh-Schultz seeks to find what a political debate would look like if the audience were able to convey live feedback to a candidate through the objects and architectural features that we tend to take for granted, such as the speaker’s lectern, the microphone, and the stage lighting. For his dissertation, McVeigh-Schultz is prototyping objects that convey aggregated real-time audience feedback, such as an animatronic microphone that moves based on the input from a live audience. McVeigh-Schultz puts an interesting twist on the conventional use of animatronics by exploring how objects can come to stand in for live audiences.

To explore questions of how heightened levels and new styles of audience engagement will spur the invention of new rituals and challenge the dominant logic of public address, McVeigh-Schultz will also incorporate a filmmaking component to tell a story about the alternate world in which these animistic objects and alternative rituals exist. The Intel PhD fellowship will support both the platform development and filmmaking components of his dissertation. Next year, McVeigh-Schultz will assemble a team of developers to help build an audience-feedback app toolkit for a variety of animistic objects, and will also put together a film crew to help tell the story about the world in which the animistic microphones might live. Last year, McVeigh-Schultz had the opportunity to intern with Intel’s Interaction Experience Research group under Jay Melican, who is now his fellowship mentor. During this internship, McVeigh-Schultz also worked with Senior User Experience Lead Adam Jordan to explore platforms that enable playful engagement with data. 

USC Graduate School Honors Two-Time Trojan with Rockwell Dennis Hunt Award

Kenisha Strong works as a graduate assistant for the USC School of Social Work and an English instructor for the Office of International Services. (Photo/Nathan Carter)

Kenisha Strong ’09 remembers the first time she visited the USC Campus.

“My grandmother rounded up all her grandchildren, drove us an hour to the USC campus and proudly gave us a tour of her alma mater,” Strong recounted. “I remember how happy, excited and proud she was, and I vowed then that I would also become a Trojan.”

Strong made good on her promise when she earned her bachelor’s from USC with a double major in anthropology and communications in 2009. She is now in her first year as a master’s student in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs (PASA) at the USC Rossier School of Education.

It’s not surprising that Strong will be a two-time USC alumna — Trojan blood runs in the family. Besides her grandmother, who received a master’s degree in psychology in 1984, Strong’s grandfather earned his PhD in education in the 1970s.

In honor of her achievements and dedication to USC, the USC Graduate School recognized Strong with the 2013 Rockwell Dennis Hunt Scholastic Award. Each year, the award is given to one graduate student who also completed his or her bachelor’s degree at USC. The award is given in honor of Dean Hunt, who in 1920 became dean of the USC Graduate School, a position he held until his retirement in 1945.

In addition to pursuing two degrees at USC, Strong has been a vibrant presence in the USC community — athletically, academically and professionally. During all four years of her undergraduate career, Strong was a pole vaulter on the USC track team, and ultimately earned a place among the top 10 women pole vaulters in USC history. She accomplished this all while maintaining top marks in her coursework: Strong earned the scholar-athlete recognition during her junior and senior seasons.

Strong also got involved with AngeLingo, an undergraduate online writer’s magazine sponsored by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. She became an editor for the magazine during her senior year and also worked on a blog connected with the publication.

Taking advantage of the many opportunities USC had to offer, Strong studied abroad for a semester in Brisbane, Australia, in 2007, where she became interested in learning about other cultures. The experience influenced not only her anthropology major, but also her future career trajectory.

Following commencement in 2009, Strong moved to Stockholm, where she began teaching English-language courses to children between the ages of 5 and 14. It was during this time that her interest in education as a profession really took hold.

After nearly a year in Stockholm, Strong returned to California, where she taught English as a second language to adult learners at the University of Laverne. Now, as a graduate student at USC Rossier, Strong is an English instructor in the Office of International Services’ English Language Program, which helps the families of international students at USC transition into their new environment.

Strong has continued to work as an instructor of English as a second language because of the tangible difference it makes in people’s lives, and, in joining USC Rossier’s PASA program, she is preparing herself to make the greatest impact possible in the lives of students.

“I know the transformative power of education,” Strong said. “I hope to work in a community college environment where I can aid students with their transition into a university, opening doors for them that they may have never considered themselves.”

The USC Graduate School will present Strong with the Hunt Award at the Academic Honors Convocation in April. Strong’s family, including both of her Trojan grandparents, plan to attend the ceremony.


Published March 12, 2013 on USC News

USC PhD Candidate Awarded the David J. Morafka Memorial Research Award from the Desert Tortoise Council

Michael W. Tuma, a PhD Candidate in Integrative and Evolutionary Biology, was recently awarded the David J. Morafka Memorial Research Award from the Desert Tortoise Council.

 The award, named in honor of David Morafka, a USC graduate and former authority on North American gopher tortoises, will enable Tuma to investigate life history variation in the Agassiz desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), a threatened species listed under the California and federal Endangered Species Acts. Tuma will develop population models to determine how climatic differences have contributed to natural selection pressures that have affected the tortoise’s life span, growth rates, size and reproduction rates.

Provost Fellow Ranjan Pal Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to Investigating Cyber Insurance

Provost Fellow Ranjan Pal Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to the Investigation of Cyber Insurance
By Lauren Evashenk

We live in a digital world, and our lives are replete with the evidence. On a regular day, we check email, browse the Internet, engage on social media sites, and open mobile apps for practically every aspect of our lives. Yet, how many of us routinely ponder the vulnerability created by our reliance on cyberspace?

USC Graduate School funded Provost Fellow, Ranjan Pal, has spent his graduate career identifying our cyber risks, and, more importantly, crafting security responses to these hazards. A Ph.D student in Computer Science, Pal investigates the economics of improving network security using analytical tools from economics, computer science and mathematics.

When thinking about computer security, antivirus products come to mind. Although such products are practically our only barriers of defense against cyber threats to the virtual representations of our characters, identities, and personal information, Pal notes that few people purchase the best software because of the ease of downloading free versions. Furthermore, those who do pay full-price for the top products often do not know how to properly use the full features. As a consequence, the antivirus software many rely on fail to address and remove all the threats we encounter in our daily lives.

Through his research on the economics of information security, Pal seeks to mitigate the barriers to proper cyber security. Specifically, Pal’s focus is incentives alignment among the various parties involved in the cyber insurance market. The cyber insurance market, Pal argues, is necessary to protect users as more of our lives move to the digital realm. However, Pal also asserts that in order for the cyber insurance market to blossom and function effectively and efficiently, the interests of regulatory agencies, cyber insurance companies, security product vendors, network users, and the network at large must be balanced. As the market currently exists, it is not feasible to provide individual users with cyber insurance policies.

Under the guidance of Viterbi School of Engineering faculty mentors Konstantinos Psounis, Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering and (jointly) Computer Science, and Leana Golubchik, Professor of Computer Science and (jointly) Electrical Engineering, Pal is taking an interdisciplinary approach and using mathematical techniques to create solutions for balancing market interests. He is also collaborating with Dr. Pan Hui, who is jointly associated with Deutsch Telekom (T-Labs) in Germany, and HKUST in Hong Kong.

Currently in the 5th year of his doctoral work, Pal plans to graduate by the end of the year. Before continuing in academia, Pal hopes to work in an industry research lab to bring his doctoral research to real industry projects, and ultimately make an impact in regular people’s lives through enhanced cyber security and the availability of cyber insurance.

Pal thanks his advisors, Drs. Golubchik and Psounis, for giving him the freedom and support to work on the research he loves.

Gifted musician joins USC Thornton’s composition program

Georgi Dimitrov selected USC in part because of its strong composition faculty. (Photo/Kadi Lee)

By Lauren Evashenk
January 22, 2013

Georgi Dimitrov loves the contrabass clarinet and the uniqueness of a really high contrabassoon. And though he prefers the alto flute to the flute, Dimitrov is quick to point out that writing for “instruments that are not among one’s favorites is often a welcome challenge.”

Dimitrov is a first-year composition major in the Master of Music program at the USC Thornton School of Music. One of two students to enter the composition program this year, he studies under Distinguished Professor of Composition Stephen Hartke, who has been lauded as one of the foremost composers of his generation.

Though he is only beginning his graduate career, Dimitrov is already a promising composer. Last summer, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation recognized Dimitrov with the Graduate Arts Award.

Presented to a maximum of 15 graduate students each year, the award provides individuals who display exceptional creative or artistic talent with a scholarship to be put toward graduate studies in his or her chosen artistic field. Dimitrov was one of only two students nominated for the award by the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), his undergraduate institution.

Thanks to the Graduate Arts Award, Dimitrov was able to pursue his graduate studies at the institution of his choice. After completing his BFA degree in music composition at CalArts, Dimitrov joined USC Thornton in the fall. Dimitrov selected USC because of its strong composition faculty and for the opportunity to have outstanding musicians — namely USC Thornton peers — play his music.

“I hope to draw from [the faculty’s] experience and knowledge,” he said. “They’ve been successful composers for 20 or 30 years and have had their own music performed around the world. They will help me to see what I can’t see on my own, and thus my notes will get better.”

During his first semester at USC, Dimitrov crafted solos and chamber music while completing an orchestral piece. Though the accomplished musician learned to play the violin as a boy, he is also now studying the viola, and he looks forward to concerts scheduled for March when USC players will perform his pieces.

Following the completion of his master’s degree, Dimitrov hopes to pursue a doctoral degree and to teach composition.

Dimitrov’s website,, is under construction, but music lovers can preview a few of his compositions on his SoundCloud stream.!/article/45899/gifted-musician-joins-usc-thorntons-composition-program/

USC Chemistry Ph.D. Candidate Awarded the STEM Chateaubriand Fellowship

Elena Ferri began asking big scientific questions at an early age. Growing up in Novara, Italy, Elena was wondering how the human body works long before it was time to head to university to discover the answers. Now, years and degrees later, Elena is the recipient of the prestigious Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Chateaubriand Fellowship.

Awarded by the Office for Science and Technology (OST) of the Embassy of France in the United States, the Chateaubriand Fellowship encourages collaborations, joint projects, and partnerships between the United States and France by providing funding for doctoral students at American universities who wish to perform research in a French laboratory as part of their Ph.D. studies.

Elena’s career began at the University of Milan, where she earned Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Industrial Chemistry and Industrial Chemistry and Management, respectively. After completing her coursework, Elena worked in a university lab for a year, where she fell in love with research.

“I love science,” Elena said. “Chemistry allows me to answer the biology questions I’ve had since childhood… As a researcher, I get to solve a few [of those] little problems every day.”

To continue her studies and research, Elena joined the USC Chemistry Ph.D. program and the lab of Dr. Charles McKenna, professor of chemistry and Vice Dean for Natural Sciences in USC Dornsife.

Dr. McKenna laid the groundwork for Elena’s current project when he formed a partnership with scientists at the Institut de Biologie Structurale Jean-Pierre Ebel (IBS) and the Institut Albert Bonnoit of Grenoble, France, for which he was awarded a Partner University Fund (PUF) grant in 2010. This collaboration brings together scientists of both countries, including student researchers, such as Elena. The Prime Minister of France recently recognized Dr. McKenna’s scientific accomplishments and collaborations with French scientists and institutions by naming him a Chevalier, or Knight, of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Order of Academic Palms), one of France’s oldest and most prestigious civic honors.

Elena has now also made a name for herself with the Chateaubriand Fellowship. She is the lead chemist on the PUF grant-funded joint project. For the past year and a half, she has researched bromodomains, proteins that are able to recognize particular modifications of chromatin (part of the cell nucleus). Bromodomains are involved in cancer, viral infection and inflammatory diseases. For this reason, the team’s research has great implications for the future of medicine and the development of drugs to treat harmful diseases. “Our project aims at designing potent and selective inhibitors of bromodomains, utilizing our expertise in molecular modeling and organic synthesis and our collaborators’ expertise in structural biology and biochemistry,” Elena says of the collaboration.

This December, Elena will travel to the Institut de Biologie Structurale in Grenoble, France, to test and continue her work alongside the partnering French biologists in the lab of Dr. Carlo Petrosa, the project’s primary French collaborator. Other partners in the project are Saadi Khochbin and Mary Callanan of the University of Grenoble, and Jerome Govin of the Center for Atomic Energy. The team is working on epigenetics, or cell memory, which is a hot area of research. Elena is honored to be researching the same question as so many masters in the field.

As well as being eager to continue her research, Elena is excited to live in Grenoble, a city of scientists. Home to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF), a university, and numerous institutes and research facilities, Grenoble attracts scientists from around the world. Elena looks forward to spending nine months in Grenoble’s vibrant scientific community.

Elena will enter the fourth year of her doctoral studies upon returning to USC in August. She hopes to continue her career as a research scientist upon graduation.!/article/43432/doctoral-student-earns-stem-fellowship/