Joseph Skeate, PhD Student

Joseph Skeate, PhD Student

Joseph is a 4th year doctoral candidate in the Medical Biology program at the Keck School in the laboratory of Dr. Martin Kast. In 2011, Joseph enrolled in the master’s program in Molecular Microbiology and Immunology because of the emphasis that the program placed on carrying out research alongside the coursework. During this time, he began his academic career by investigating the syndemic relationship between the Herpes Simplex Virus and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) while working with other members of the Kast lab on projects that focused on the basic science behind HPV infection. Joseph went on to work as a research technician for the Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center Beckman Immune Monitoring Core working alongside Dr. Diane Da Silva and was fortunate enough to be included in an expanding number of projects that focused on novel therapeutic strategies that targeted HPV-driven cancers. In addition to his research, Joseph also began teaching science to 6-12th graders for the USC Neighborhood Academic Initiative Program’s Saturday academy and started taking part in the USC JEP Wonderkids program. Through this program, Joseph mentors students in the local community as well as learn how to effectively communicate scientific concepts to the next generation.

Joseph was accepted into the PIBBS program in 2015 and began his PhD. Since that time, he has continued his work with the Kast Lab examining therapeutic methods to combat HPV-driven cancers as well as cofactors that influence HPV uptake and infection. Joseph has been part of over 20 publications (one still in submission) and has presented his work at both local and international conferences in the United States, South Africa, and Australia. The research he has done with his mentors has been recognized at these conferences with several honors, including an international award for Best Poster in Basic Science as well as an American Association of Immunologists Young Investigator award. It is Joseph’s firm belief that without the collaborative and teaching atmosphere that has been championed by his mentors and the Keck School, none of this would have been possible.

Joseph believes that the Keck School has some of the brightest researchers and medical professionals in the field, but on top of excelling academically and in the clinic, the Keck School also values community engagement with KSOM students/staff/faculty actively working to reach out to the local communities and inspire/mentor the youth within them. Joseph hopes that the lasting legacy of the Keck School is that we are truly able to make each successive generation better than the one that came before it. To make that vision a reality, Joseph will continue to take part in community outreach and strive to mentor and raise capable scientists wherever he can in his career.

Two of Joseph’s favorite memories at the Keck School include communicating science to the larger community. Last fall he was part of the group that put on the Medical Superstars Workshop at L.B Weemes Elementary School for 4-5th graders. Joseph was one of the speakers and gave a short presentation explaining what a research scientist does. During the day, the kids broke off into groups to explore and learn about different concepts related to cancer (DNA, Biotechnology, and Pathology/Oncology). The students were so engaged in the activities and interested in what the speakers had to say. Joseph’s other favorite memory involves a short film that he and his friends worked on with the SC CTSI for the USC Dornsife Science Film competition. The whole project was a blur – scripting, taking a series of photos of an exam room so that a green-screen could be used, creating animations with Powerpoint, purchasing music rights, and long nights of editing. Overall, the scientists who had little to zero understanding of filmmaking somehow managed to bring it all together in a little neat package called “Vaccine Voyage.”




Catherine Wang, MD

Catherine Wang, MD

Catherine Wang is a third-year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine. During her time at Keck, Catherine has actively participated in the student community as co-president of the Dermatology Interest Group, research chair of non-profit organization UV&Me, an academic coach tutoring fellow medical students, and a peer counselor with Keck Peer Support. She is also a contributing author for the non-profit online diagnostic resource VisualDx and writes articles on the diagnosis and management of dermatological diseases. Catherine is also deeply engaged with research. Her passion for learning and discovering through investigation started at UCLA as a pre-medical student studying Huntington’s disease and continued on through medical school at Keck conducting clinical research studying sarcoidosis and patient satisfaction with psoriasis care. Her experiences led her to pursue a dedicated year of biomedical research at the NIH, wherein she has been selected for the Medical Research Scholars Program. She is excited to spend the upcoming academic year studying onco-dermatological diseases at the NIH facility in Bethesda, Maryland. She hopes to contribute to the work of NIH physician-scientists and conduct research that can impact patient care. Outside of school, Catherine enjoys exploring new Los Angeles eateries with friends and family and has recently started to self-learn how to play the ukulele.

What draws Catherine to the KSOM is the unique and diverse patient population seen at LAC+USC. As a medical student, she has the privilege to work with the underserved population of the Greater Los Angeles Area and to learn from their diseases that present in both classic and rare forms. She is also excited by the pervasive spirit of collaboration, and enjoys working closely with classmates, residents, attendings, nurses, and hospital staff to deliver compassionate patient care to the whole patient.

One of Catherine’s most memorable and favorite experiences at the Keck School was caring for her very first patient on the wards. She was on her Pediatrics rotation when she volunteered to take care of a patient who was unfortunately diagnosed with Stage IV precursor T-cell lymphoblastic lymphoma. For weeks, Catherine saw him almost every day and grew close to the patient and his family. She cared for him in more ways than providing health care, from playing multiple rounds of the card game Uno to accompanying him to IR when he was scared about getting a catheter placed for his chemotherapy regimen. With her team, she also learned the latest guidelines in treating this cancer and helped to coordinate care amongst the multiple specialists required to treat this devastating, systemic disease. This experience reminded her of why she went into medicine – to hear patient stories, support them during a time of immense vulnerability, and to learn from and be inspired by both patients and physicians. Catherine believes that the health care providers at LAC+USC and Keck truly go above and beyond to care for their patients, and she is excited to be learning from a group of compassionate and dedicated clinicians.

Brandon McFarlin

Brandon McFarlin, Student

Brandon is a second year Medical Biology Doctoral Student at KSOM. His academic career began at Bradley University in Peoria, IL earning a B.S. in Biochemistry. His research experience in mechanisms of stress response from Bradley University was complemented by his brief training in long-term insulin independence in diabetic patients at Northwestern University. These research experiences cultivated his research interest in high incidence chronic diseases. This interest led him to pursue the Programs in Biomedical and Biological Sciences (PIBBS) here at the Keck School. PIBBS gave Brandon the opportunity to rotate through three laboratories for eight weeks during the first year before choosing the lab of Dr. Alicia A. McDonough, where he will complete his PhD work. In Dr. McDonough’s lab, he is working on investigating mechanisms that regulate fluid and electrolyte homeostasis, acute and chronic blood pressure regulation, and (patho)physiological mechanisms of chronic kidney disease and type II diabetes mellitus.

Over the course of a year, Brandon has had the opportunity to presented some of the lab’s results in an oral presentation at the American Physiological Society (APS) Epithelial Transport Group Pre-Experimental Biology meeting and in a poster session at the main EB meeting, where it was ranked in the top-10 abstracts and received a Meritorious Research Award and travel award from the APS. Brandon was also chosen to present this same work as a talk and poster at the University of Zurich, Switzerland and awarded a travel grant. These early opportunities led to a nomination from the Graduate Student Office to the ARCS Foundation where he received an ARCS Foundation Scholar Award. Brandon attributes all of these opportunities and accolades to the environment that KSOM has cultivated to promote cutting-edge science and building up the next generation of scientists.

Brandon was attracted to KSOM because of the uniqueness of the PIBBS program. He believes that the program is optimally set up to allow students to explore a variety of research interests while taking the same fundamental courses to establish a foundation that allows for seamless transition into their specialties.

Brandon hopes that the lasting legacy of KSOM will be that of an institution that continues to provide highly-ranked education and research while serving surrounding communities and giving back to future generations. In just a couple years, he has experienced these aspects of KSOM first hand and aims to carry on this legacy by driving forward new advances in biomedical research while also reaching back and getting other underrepresented minorities in the Los Angeles and Chicago-land area excited about their potential futures in science.

When he is not working away in the lab, Brandon enjoys searching for new scenic hikes and exploring the diverse range of restaurants and entertainment that make Los Angeles such a desirable place to live


Liza Raffi

Liza Raffi, Medical Student

Nominated by: Morgan Lee

Liza Raffi is second-year medical student at the Keck School of Medicine. Although she has not decided yet on what she would like to specialize in, over the past year she has found herself drawn to medicine-based specialties and community health. The research team that she was a part of over the summer played a large role in this. Led by physician Dr. Elizabeth Burner, the project involved long hours in the LAC-USC Emergency Department talking to patients with uncontrolled diabetes about their medication habits and social support networks, something that was difficult at times but immensely rewarding at others. Lisa was also a TA for medical Spanish, Co-editor of Synaesthesia (the HSC campus student art magazine), and Events Co-chair of the student board of the Salerni Collegium Alumni Association. When not studying, she enjoys working together with classmates on events ranging from voter registration road trips to coffee shop Story Slams to an outdoor screening of the movie Coco, which was held at old County this October.

The Keck School’s appreciation for the humanities has continuously surprised and impressed Liza. Typically, a medical school doesn’t strike people as somewhere students become more in touch with the arts, but at Keck, this actually seems to be the case! Liza thinks that the HEAL curriculum is a big part of this, with its ability to flexibly and adaptively generate programming tailored to students. So many people are familiar with the experience of passing through Hoyt Gallery, stopping to browse, and becoming glued to a touching piece of art. There have been countless other activities, from poetry workshops to figure drawing lessons to lunchtime opera concerts to open mic nights. And these events are led by classmates, faculty, and community members. These sessions provide students the opportunity to step away from what they’re doing to exercise a different part of our mind, and Liza has seen how this can have a profound effect. Liza hopes that Keck’s lasting legacy will be continuing down this unique road and maintaining space for students to explore the humanities throughout their education, whether it be through art or some other way.

Liza’s favorite experience at Keck is a moment that she shared with a research patient with whom she had been speaking at length about his Type I Diabetes and how it affected his life. The patient was being treated for an episode of diabetic ketoacidosis and even through the discomfort, he. He was smiling and talked with pride about his daughter. At one point during the conversation, he grew quiet and began to cry. Close to tears herself, Liza took his hand and stayed with him for the next 20 minutes. When it was time for him to leave, the patient gave Liza big smile and said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d cried and he felt better for having done so. Liza will always remember this moment and its potent mixture of relief, happiness and astonishment. She will always carry with her the memory of this patient’s resilience.


Anna Ter-Zakarian

Nominated by: Elhae Nezami, PhD, Associate Dean for Undergraduate, Masters and Professional Programs

As part of the dual MD/MBA program with the Marshall School of Business, Anna conducted consulting projects in quality improvement initiatives for several healthcare institutions, including the Keck Hospital of USC, Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), and Kaiser Permanente. For the past three years, she has also been actively engaged in helping the children of Armenia through the Armenian EyeCare Project, organizing and facilitating multiple medical mission trips to prevent and treat childhood blindness. Other causes that she has volunteered for include the non-profit organization Datev Outreach, providing supportive services to families affected by domestic violence. In addition, she has worked in high impact labs both at USC Dornsife as well as CHLA studying histone regulated DNA replication and molecular profiling of retinoblastoma tumor cells.

Anna points to the mission statement etched on the entrance of Old County Hospital calling providers “to give their services without charge in order that no citizen of the county shall be deprived of health or life for lack of such care and services” as her guide. First engraved in the 1920s, the spirit of this mission endures at the Keck School of Medicine, providing a sense of commitment to service that permeates the institutional culture. Anna hopes the measure of her accomplishments will reflect how truly she was able to honor this bond and provide compassionate care for all – regardless of origin or ability.

The most meaningful moments in Anna’s time here at the Keck School all involve her engagement with the Keck community. From navigating between anatomy labs and lectures with classmates, to learning pearls of medicine first-hand from her physician heroes, such as Dr. Jonathan LoPresti, to meeting patients entrusting her and her colleagues with the supreme honor of guarding their health. These intimate connections helped her discover new dimensions about herself and feel more human and present. Anna looks back with humility, gratitude and joy knowing that the Keck community has helped to develop in her a spirit of resilience and a deepened sense of purpose.