The Blog


Student Spotlight – Jerrell Tisnado

Our Student Spotlight allows the opportunity for you to get to know our students a little better in their own words.  More information about Student Life at UCLA and in the surrounding Los Angeles area can be found at our Student Life website.  Check back regularly to read about the differing backgrounds and perspectives that make up our GPB Bruin community.

Home Area

Biochemistry, Biophysics & Structural Biology


Fellowship Support

Bridge to the Doctorate, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Ford Fellowship


Where is your hometown?

I have lived in the San Diego area all my life, but last year (2014) I moved to Westwood to attend UCLA.


Where did you attend for undergraduate?

I began my undergraduate work within the San Diego Community College District (SDCCD). After completing all my general education courses within SDCCD, I transferred to the Chemistry Department of San Diego State University (SDSU) as a junior. I graduated with my B.S. in Chemistry – Emphasis is Biochemisty, Magna Cum Laude.


What led you to pursue research training in graduate school?

One day, during my high school years, I saw a TV commercial that showed professionals working in white lab coats. This captured my attention. They looked pretty cool in those clean white coats surrounded by high-tech lab equipment, busy performing esoteric tasks. I wanted to be just like them.  Child-like as it may seem, this was my “calling” to the hard sciences.  The desire lingered and I eventually entered college and began taking science-related coursework.  Although much tougher than anticipated, I realized I had an aptitude for the subject matter and earned good grades. Eventually my appreciation for sciences expanded into something much more substantial. Participating in scientific research offers me a chance to learn about the natural biological processes occurring all around us, while at the same time giving me an opportunity to contribute to that knowledge and possibly helping others therapeutically.


Who is your mentor?  Which lab do you currently work in?

Dr. William Gelbart, of the BBSB home area, is my PI. His lab was my third and final rotation. I decided to stay in his lab because, not only did I think he was an outstanding PI, but I really enjoyed both the lab environment and the research projects being worked on. But it bears mentioning that I have had the privilege of knowing several instructors peppered throughout the MBI home areas who have been important mentors for me. These include Dr. Feng Guo of the BBSB, Dr. Michael Carey of Gene Regulation, Drs. Leanne Jones and William Lowry of the CDB, and Dr. Diana Azurdia, coordinator of the Bridge to Doctorate program. These mentors have played vital roles for me regarding administrative issues, educational directions, and scientific research advising.  


What are your research interests?

After taking courses during my first year, I found that I was interested in a wide range of scientific fields including, developmental biology, immunology, genetics, gene regulation, and others. I find all these fields very interesting, but at the end of the day I want my work to eventually translate from the bench to the bedside. To that end, I am now mainly focused on learning about gene therapy. I find it a challenging but exciting area of research that requires considerations from several of the aforementioned fields.


What are your future goals?

I believe it is too soon for me to say what my future goals are outside of earning a PhD. I suppose it depends on the experiences that I will have during my graduate training that will be a good indicator of where I should go. Faculty positions at major universities are very competitive, so I cannot easily say that is definitely my path. A lot of my research interests actually overlap with the biomedical industry. Tool, diagnostic, or therapeutic development in the private sector is definitely somewhere I can see myself in the future.  I am excited to see where I land in the future, but for now I want to focus on becoming a successful biomedical scientist while earning my PhD.


Why did you choose UCLA?

I chose UCLA because I felt a very welcoming atmosphere from most of the staff and students. This was in addition to the cutting edge and highly collaborative scientific research being performed here. Plus, the campus is beautiful! UCLA is a competitive campus yet not oppressive, and I think that’s a combination that’s not easily achieved.


What are your interests and hobbies other than research?

My strongest interest is cars. I enjoy upgrading and modifying cars, and installing select aftermarket products to alter appearance and performance. That is on hold for the present, but after graduating I would like to get a muscle car and continue tinkering. Other interests include reading manga and going out with friends and family. There are a lot of interesting things to do and see in LA, so I definitely have an interest in exploring my new city when I have free time.


What do you like best about UCLA?

What I like best is the faculty at UCLA. The main reason I’m here is to learn how to be a successful biomedical scientist with mentorship and guidance from UCLA faculty. I have found our faculty to be of the highest caliber, each not only having a wealth of knowledge in their respective field, but eager to discuss and share this information at anytime. Choosing an area of study was the hardest decision because each instructor did an outstanding job promoting his or her field. 

The second thing I like best about UCLA is its flexibility. I entered graduate school under the UCLA Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB) PhD home area, but after three rotations I found my interested lie in a laboratory that overlaps more with the Biochemistry Biophysics and Structural Biology (BBSB) PhD home area. The transition between home areas was facilitated without objection because UCLA acknowledges that the scientific interests of students may change, especially during their first year.