Skip to main content

11 Ph.D. Students Named 2023 Prize Teaching Fellows

May 8, 2023
Eleven Ph.D. students from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) have been named Prize Teaching Fellows for the 2022-2023 academic year: Eason Cao (Cell Biology), Max Clayton (American Studies), William Frazer (Earth and Planetary Science), John Garmon (Physics), Xinyu Guan (French), Justin Hawkins (Religious Studies), Matthew King (Physics), Alexandria Palazzo (Chemistry), Alejandro Quintana (Classics and History), Shivnag Sista (Physics), and Sidharth Tyagi (MD/PhD Program). The prize has been given annually by GSAS since 2000. Recipients are nominated by their undergraduate students and the faculty members they assist while serving as Teaching Fellows.
“The goal of doctoral education is often seen as that of transforming fact seekers into generators of knowledge,” said Lynn Cooley, Dean of the Graduate School. “However, it goes beyond the creation of new knowledge: a Ph.D. should also give you the skills to disseminate that knowledge out in the world where it will have the greatest impact.” In reading the nominations, Dean Cooley remarked, “it was abundantly clear that how these teaching fellows have inspired their students.”
Brief biographies of the winners along with selections from their nominations are included below.
Eason Cao
Eason Cao is a second-year PhD student in the Cell Biology department and Integrated Graduate Program in Physical and Engineering Biology at Yale. He received his B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences from Fudan University, China. His current research investigates the mechanics and biochemical mechanism of HIV-1 capsid nuclear import using DNA nanotechnology. He has the talent to use colors, symbols, and graphic figures to make the sophisticated knowledge more friendly and intriguing to students. Prior to being a TF, he had hoped to create something long-lasting in the MB&B 300 course. He is very grateful to his students who gave him considerable encouragement and shaped his teaching characteristics to help him become a better educator.
From the nominations: “Eason was the best TF I have ever had at Yale. From the very first discussion section, his slides were elegant, informative, and simply beautiful to learn from (even with illustrations of molecules, systems, and organs that he drew himself!) … Overall, Eason was without a doubt the most amazing, supportive, engaging, and caring TF that I’ve had here at Yale, and he undoubtedly played a pivotal role in my biochemistry learning experience.”
Max Clayton
Max Clayton is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Studies at Yale and a J.D. candidate at the University of Connecticut School of Law. His research interests encompass the history of post-reconstruction U.S. state formation, law and political economy, and religion and U.S. empire. His dissertation interrogates the strategies employed by western states to alienate Native lands in the early 20th century, showing how dispossession shaped state growth, regional economic development, and political disputes over natural resources.
From the nominations: “Max was the best TF I’ve ever had! He was funny, understanding, and engaging. I enjoyed talking with him after section and during office hours, and he did a great job structuring discussions without taking up too much space. He gave great feedback on assignments, both before and after they were submitted.” “Max was a fantastic Teaching Fellow and nurtured vibrant, inclusive discussion among a diverse group of students. I looked forward to his discussion sections more than any other class this semester.”
William Frazer
William Frazer is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, focusing on solid Earth geophysics. His work uses earthquake waves to better understand the structure and dynamics of the mantle, with a focus on evidence hydration of Earth’s deep interior. William is passionate about facilitating geology field experiences for undergraduates. Prior to coming to Yale, William graduated from Binghamton University with a Bachelor of Science in geological sciences, specializing in geophysics.
From the nominations: “Will was in charge of the field trip to Oman as well as timekeeping during class and interjecting relevant fun facts and clarifications in lecture. The Oman field trip was a massive undertaking, and the way that Will managed it was mad impressive. Although there were many unforeseen challenges, Will took everything in stride admirably and always kept a smile on his face. I think it takes a really special person to be able to have executed the field trip as well as he did - it takes level-headedness, passion (for the rocks and for travel), adaptability, and so much more.”
John Garmon
John Garmon is from Centreville, VA, part of the Washington, D.C. area suburbs. For his undergraduate education, John studied at Virginia Tech, receiving a B.S. in Physics and B.S. in Electrical Engineering. He is in his third year at Yale as a PhD student in Physics, working with Professor Rob Schoelkopf on experimental quantum computing research. John began teaching/tutoring in early high school, primarily helping others with math and chemistry homework. At Virginia Tech, he often helped the freshmen and sophomores in his dorm with the homework for their various engineering-related classes. During school breaks John still regularly returns to his high school physics teacher, Mrs. Wells at Centreville High School, and volunteers in her classroom. Mrs. Wells has been a great inspiration for John and has helped foster his physics teaching skills.
From the nominations: “John Garmon is a remarkable and devoted physics teacher. He is quick to abandon stuffy and confusing formulas in favor of intuitive and useful problem-solving methods. He gives attention to all students who seek it, and when students are struggling with the same thing, he is super effective at facilitating group collaboration in a fun and productive way … John never shows a hint of frustration when he has to explain basic concepts, or go over things twice, and is always happy to hear questions or suggestions for different ways to do the same thing. A large proportion of my entire class makes a point to come to his office hours every week because we  know he is prepared to give great explanations and wrestle with different students’ intuitions  for the same ideas.”
Xinyu Guan
Xinyu Guan is a Ph.D. student in French, completing the Graduate Certificate in Film and Media Studies. Her current research focuses on early 20th century and postwar French literature, film, and cultural history. She is interested in exploring questions of multilingualism, translation between text and image, “foreignness” as a concept and construct, and interdisciplinary approaches to literary theory and criticism. Xinyu holds a B.A. in French (Intensive track) from Yale University. Her two-term research thesis, “The Chinese identity in Marguerite Duras’s L’amant (1984),” was awarded the James T. King Prize for Distinction in the Senior Essay. She received the Scott Prize for Best Undergraduate Essay in French for two consecutive years.
From the nominations: “[Xinyu] is so incredibly adept at teaching French that I sometimes wonder if she invented the language altogether. She effortlessly displays a knack for building a strong linguistic foundation in students… Xinyu is a fundamental reason in me pursuing French as one of my languages and pursuing the intensive language track altogether. This means Xinyu’s teaching ability has affected, on a grand scale, my plans for the future of my academic career. I cannot think of anything more deserving of a prize like this.”
Justin Hawkins
Justin R. Hawkins is a PhD student at Yale, where he studies Religious Ethics and Political Theory. His dissertation is entitled Crowned with Glory and Honor: The Virtue of Magnanimity, and its Discontents. He holds an MAR in the Philosophy of Religion from Yale Divinity School, and a BA in Government from Georgetown University. He lives in New Haven with his wife Moriah, and their soon-to-be-born first child.
From the nominations: “Justin is arguably one of the greatest TFs I’ve ever had. He is quick, almost never has to reference his notes, and is exceptionally intelligent. He is riveting in section and can answer any question that any of us can throw at him. He has a passion for theology that becomes exceptionally clear when he teaches.” “He is a teacher of the highest caliber, and he will be an excellent professor upon leaving Yale.”
Matthew King
Matthew King is a first-year PhD student in the physics department studying experimental neutrino physics. He is interested in using liquid argon detectors to probe the elusive particles for the answers they can provide to our greatest fundamental questions about the structure of the universe. In June, Matthew will be transferring to the University of Chicago to continue working with Professor Bonnie Fleming, his advisor. He will miss everyone at Yale that he had the opportunity to know, especially his students. He is deeply grateful to them for nominating him for this award, and he hopes that once he has left Yale, they will inspire future generations of students.
From the nominations: “Matt King has been one of the best TFs I have ever had. He TFed my PHYS 410 class last semester and is currently a TF for my PHYS 430 class. Matt always goes out of his way to ensure everyone feels like they belong in the class, even when sometimes it is hard to feel that way … Matt does his best to understand how students are feeling in the class and then relays this information to the instructor of the course, which is incredibly helpful as students don’t always feel comfortable voicing concerns directly to the instructor. Overall, Matt is an excellent instructor, he goes beyond the role of a TF, and I am so glad to have his encouragement and support.”
Alexandria Palazzo
Alexandria is a first-year chemistry PhD student in the Herzon Lab working toward the total synthesis of (−)-lomaiviticin A, a cytotoxic bacterial metabolite. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from Florida State University, where she worked under Igor Alabugin on the development of novel syntheses for polyaromatic hydrocarbons. During her undergraduate, Alex participated in a study abroad internship in England, where she delivered presentations to schools and communities on green biology and chemistry. At FSU, Alex was a teaching assistant for both biology and organic chemistry courses, and she is continuing her love of teaching at Yale by pursuing a teaching certificate through the Poorvu Teaching Center. Her hope is to become a professor, and further her contributions in scientific outreach.
From the nominations: “Alex was the best TF I have ever had. She was an amazing teacher and guide and I hope that everyone has a chance to have a TF like her.” “I learned so much in discussion sections and study halls and she made me look forward to attending both every week. She’s super passionate about the material and her excitement about organic chem is contagious. She is the reason why organic chemistry was my favorite subject this semester.”
Alejandro Quintana
Alejandro is a third-year PhD student in the combined program in Classics and History. His interests lie in the social and cultural history of the eastern Mediterranean in antiquity, with a focus on Greco-Roman Egypt. His current research seeks to use the wealth of surviving Greek and Egyptian papyrus documents to reconstruct the mobility of everyday ancient Egyptians. He also excavates at the ruins of Hermopolis Magna (el-Ashmunein) to try to reconstruct the organization and administration of this Egyptian city during the Roman period. In teaching introductory Latin (LATN 110), he emphasized the multiplicity of voices surviving from antiquity, juxtaposing Latin literature with everyday graffiti from Pompeii and inscriptions from the provinces across the empire.
From the nominations: “Level 1 languages at Yale are known to be notorious for the difficulty and workload, but Mr. Quintana has struck a balance that has enabled us to learn the language in a fun but effective way … Mr. Quintana’s teaching style is transparent and designed to help us succeed. The goals of assessments or exams are communicated to us and enable us students to best prepare for the course objectives. Mr. Quintana is also easily accessible after class or via email whenever confusion arises.”
Shivnag Sista
Shivnag Sista is a third-year graduate student in the Physics Department. He works with Prof. Corey O'Hern on trying to understand the flow and clogging of soft and deformable particles. This is a broad setup that encompasses many physical phenomena, ranging from metastasis of cancer cells to the flow of droplets through microfluidic channels. This work tries to design models that capture the behavior of these ubiquitous, yet complex systems using computational methods. Outside of research, Shivnag teaches undergraduate students at the Poorvu Centre in addition to his TF duties.
From the nominations: “Shivnag is goated. He goes way above and beyond… he had an unnatural ability to explain how things come about (which probably comes from his really strong understanding of the material). I literally can’t imagine a TF being better than Shivnag. Any student in a class that has him as a TF should feel incredible lucky and grateful.” “Shivnag loves physics and is an amazing communicator of his passion and his knowledge. Best TA I’ve ever had.”
Sidharth Tyagi
Sid Tyagi is a fourth-year MD/PhD student at Yale and is a native of Aurora, Colorado. He completed a Bachelors in Biochemistry and a Masters in Physiology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he taught the Human Anatomy Laboratory as well as Immunology. His passion for research, clinical medicine, and teaching brought him to the Yale School of Medicine’s Medical Scientist Training Program and to the Waxman lab, where he now studies the molecular basis of Pain and the development of non-addictive analgesic agents. Sid wants to be a physician-scientist that runs an academic lab focused on developing medications that target ion channels. He is greatly excited by biotech entrepreneurship and the relationship between biopharma and academic research.
From the nominations: “Sid encourages participation in section in an approachable and accessible manner, allowing everyone in section the opportunity to speak and positively responding to their answers with encouragement and gentle corrections. He fosters a truly intellectually stimulating environment where he helps students distill information and learn how to identify key frameworks and guiding questions when approaching complex material…Sid is an incredibly empathetic TA and his care for our success is evident through his time and effort during section and outside of it.”