Recipients of the PhD Achievement Award

  • 2014 Recipients
  • 2013 Recipients
  • 2012 Recipients

2014 Recipients of the PhD Achievement Award

Samuel Hartzmark, Marshall School of Business, Finance & Business Economics

Samuel’s work brings an interdisciplinary approach to the study of finance. He explores empirical patterns suggested by psychology and economics that are not incorporated in the field’s current theory. His research has been published in the Journal of Financial Economics and the Quarterly Journal of Finance. In 2013, Samuel’s paper on investor trade assets was awarded the UBS Global Asset Management and the Michael J. Barclay Young Scholar Award from the Financial Research Association. With offers from a number of schools, Samuel accepted a position at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Chin-Hao Huang, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Political Science and International Relations

Chin-Hao’s research explores how and why emerging economies and rising powers in Asia take on self-constraining commitments and comply with international norms. He is the primary author of ten publications, including refereed articles, research monographs, Congressional testimony, and book chapters in leading presses such as the Oxford University Press and Routledge. In 2014, Chin-Hao received a Collaborative Research Grant from the MacArthur Foundation to study the theoretical, empirical, and policy implications of China’s rise on U.S. security partnerships in Southeast Asia. Beginning in 2015, Chin-Hao will join the faculty of Yale as an Assistant Professor of Political Science.

Ana Lee, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Comparative Literature

Ana’s dissertation examines the place of China in the literary and visual cultures of Brazil and Cuba from the mid-nineteenth century into the twenty-first. Her focus is the literary, theatrical and visual representation of emblematic Chinese figures, such as the mandarin and the coolie, particularly as they emerge in discussions about citizenship and ethnicity in the last two countries in the Americas to abolish the institution of slavery. In 2014, Ana received a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in the School of Liberal Arts at Tulane University. In 2015, she accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Luso Brazilian Studies in the Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures at Columbia University.

Nan Li, Viterbi School of Engineering, Civil Engineering

Nan’s research brings together a number of disciplines including emergency response, civil engineering, and computer science. He has developed novel methods for the localization of first responders and trapped occupants during building emergencies. His work has resulted in 11 high-quality peer-reviewed journal papers and 14 peer-reviewed conference papers. One of his papers received the Charles M. Eastman Top PhD Paper Award, which recognizes the importance of developing young researchers in the field of integrated IT through the life cycle of design, construction and occupancy of buildings and related facilities.

Yin Tian, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Mathematics

A PhD candidate in mathematics, Yin’s research centers on low-dimensional topology, representation theory and mathematical physics. In particular, his work focuses on the interaction between “categorification” and quantum physics. The practical application of “categorification” is to give improved invariants of knots, a concept intricately related to quantum computing. In the fall of 2015, Yin will begin a three-year position as a Research Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics at Stony Brook University. The position will allow him to interact with mathematicians and physicists and to explore questions of common interest.

Tianyin Zhou, Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics

As a graduate student, Tianyin developed the methodology for predicting local DNA shape features on a genomic scale. This approach has been described as a breakthrough in genome research because it makes possible the analysis of sequencing data in 3D, which more accurately reflects the molecular mechanisms and physical interactions involved in recognizing the double helix by proteins. Tianyin has co-published six papers in journals such as Cell and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His work has received four significant paper awards, including several Top-10 Paper Awards from the International Society for Computational Biology. Tianyin also received the Harrison M. Kurtz Award given to the most outstanding PhD student in the biological sciences at USC. He was recently hired by Google where he will apply machine learning in search algorithms.

2013 Recipients of the PhD Achievement Award

Julia Staffel Dornsife School of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Philosophy

Julia’s dissertation is titled, Reasoning with Degrees of Belief, and her specialization is epistemology. She has been offered postdoctoral positions at Australian University and the University of Bristol’s Departments of Philosophy. Julia is a USC Provost Fellow and received a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Graduate School.

Saber Naserifar, Viterbi School of Engineering, Chemical Engineering

Saber is a PhD candidate in Viterbi’s Chemical Engineering Department. His doctoral thesis is on the Molecular Modeling of Silicon Carbide Nanoporous Membranes and Transport and Absorption of Gaseous Mixtures. In 2012, he was the winner of the Material Engineering and Science (MESD) and the Soft Matter Journal Award at the annual American Institute of Chemical Engineers conference.

Yi Zhu, Marshall School of Business, Business

Yi’s research aims to advance the understanding of marketing processes in light of emerging new media. His paper won the 2012 Shankar-Spiegel Best Dissertation Proposal Award offered by Direct Marketing Association, and the CIBER dissertation grant offered by Marshall. Another paper is currently being revised for publication in the Journal of Marketing Research. Yi was a USC Provost Fellow.

Susana Ruiz, School of Cinematic Arts

Susana’s dissertation is titled Playing for Change: Crafting and Creating Intersections Between Social Justice, Non-Fiction Storytelling and Game Design. She is the co-founder of Take Action Games in Los Angeles and she authored a chapter in “Designing Games for Ethics: Models, Techniques and Frameworks.” In 2009, Susana received the Adobe MAX Award from Adobe Systems Incorporated for her project, “Finding Zoe.” Susana is a USC Provost Fellow and received a Dissertation Completion Fellowship from the Graduate School.

Martin Hilbert, Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism, Communication

Martin’s research is a multidisciplinary, public-policy and public relations oriented approach to understanding the changing role of information and communication in social, economic, psychological and political development on a global scale. His work has been featured in Scientific American, The Economist, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, NPR, BBC, Sueddeutsche, among others.

Harshvardhan Vathsangam, Viterbi School of Engineering, Computer Science

Harshvardhan was an Annenberg Fellow in Computer Science and his research thesis is on using motion information from cellphones to accurately predict how many calories people burn as they move throughout the day. He received the Institute Merit Prize for Academic Performance from the India Institute of Technology, Maras in 2008. A US patent has been filed for his research via USC Stevens titled, “Physical Activity Monitoring and Intervention Using Smartphone and Mobile App.”

2012 Recipients of the PhD Achievement Award

Suresh Nallareddy, Marshall School of Business, Business

Suresh was born in a small rural village in Southern India with little access to education, he was able to overcome great obstacles to earn a prestigious National Merit Scholarship and attend one of India’s top engineering colleges, the Birla Institute of Technology and Science. He subsequently went on to work as an academic teaching associate at the Indian School of Business (IBS). Suresh’s excellent performance at IBS led him to USC, where he has excelled in his research and in his teaching. Suresh’s dissertation work under the USC Leventhal School of Accounting challenges conventional arguments and provides new explanations for the infamous market anomaly of Post-Earnings-Announcement Drift (PEAD), providing valuable new insights to accounting literature and research. In addition to executing cutting-edge research, Suresh is a dedicated instructor, committed to creating quality learning environments for his students. Undergraduate students in his management accounting course gave him the extraordinary evaluation ranking of 4.91 out of 5 possible points. For his groundbreaking research and commitment to teaching, Mr. Nallareddy earned a USC Doctoral Fellowship, the Mary Pickford Foundation Doctoral Teaching Award through the USC Marshall School of Business, and job offers from six renowned international universities. He joined Columbia University as an Assistant Professor in the Accounting Division of Columbia Business School this summer.

Elizabeth Zuniga, Neuroscience Graduate Program

Elizabeth Zuniga received the USC PhD Achievement Award for her accomplishments in neuroscience. The daughter of an immigrant family from Mexico, Elizabeth grew up in the farming communities of the San Joaquin Valley. She fell in love with science in high school. During her undergraduate career at UC Berkeley, Elizabeth began delving into developmental neuroscience research, earning a Biology Fellows Grant from the university. As a PhD candidate at USC, Elizabeth has honed her diverse research background to focus on signaling pathways involved in craniofacial development. Elizabeth has earned numerous awards for her exceptional research in cell and neurobiology, including “Best Poster” at multiple conferences, an NIH NRSA F31 pre-doctoral fellowship from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, and was honored as the Graduate Student of the Year by the USC Neuroscience Program for the 2011-2012 academic year. Elizabeth has also authored four publications, serving as the primary author in two of these. Following commencement, Elizabeth joined the lab of S. Larry Zipursky at the University of California, Los Angeles as a post-doctoral fellow.

Eric Hoyt, School of Cinematic Arts, Critical Studies

USC Provost’s Fellow, Eric Hoyt, earned his PhD in 2012 in Critical Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts. Coming to academia from the Los Angeles entertainment industry, Eric brings the unique perspective of industry practice to the field of Film and Media Studies. For an early version of his article, “Writer in the Hole: Disney v. Wilder, Copyright Law, and the Battle over Ideas,” Eric earned the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Student Writing Award (2009), the highest honor for graduate students in his field. He is a co-editor of the international anthology, Hollywood and the Law, and will revise his dissertation,“Hollywood Vault: The Business of Film Libraries, 1915-1960” into a book. Eric is committed to the development of digital tools for data sharing and analysis, serving as the Digitization Coordinator for the Media History Digital Library (, a project dedicated to the digitization of classic media periodicals that has been hailed by academics and journalists alike. Similarly, Eric is heading the development of a second data sharing and analysis tool, Lantern , to bring his vision for a collaborative and dynamic field of Film and Media Studies to fruition. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has appointed Eric to a tenure-track position as Assistant Professor of Communications Arts.

Nicholas Scurich, Dornsife School of Letters, Psychology

Nicholas’ research bridges the fields of psychology and law, and his ultimate goal is to create a coherent model of legal decision-making through the testing of behavioral assumptions. In the course of his research, Nicholas has published eleven peer-reviewed articles, and is the primary author of eight. He has also presented more than a dozen papers at academic conferences. Nicholas’ innovative work earned him a Mental Health Law Fellowship with the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Ethics, and Policy at the USC Gould School of Law for the 2010 – 2011 academic year. At this time, Nicholas is an assistant professor at the University of Irvine for a joint appointment between the Psychology & Behavior and the Criminology, Law & Society departments.

Rowan Martindale, Dornsife School of Letters, Earth Sciences

College Doctoral Fellow, Rowan Martindale earned her PhD in Earth Sciences in 2012 from the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. A world expert on Triassic reef paleoecology, Rowan’s research focuses on reef paleoecology and the response of reef ecosystems to ocean acidification events throughout time. Rowan has authored seven peer-reviewed articles, of which she is the primary author of four, and has presented more than a dozen posters at national and international conferences. She received the award for “Best Oral Presentation” at the 2011 Southern California Geo-biology Symposium. NPR affiliates KPCC ( and KQED ( interviewed Rowan for her contribution to the Hönisch et al. 2012 Science paper. In addition to her pursuit of academic excellence, Rowan is committed to teaching, receiving the Dornsife Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award for two consecutive semesters. Rowan accepted an offer of a post-doctoral position with Harvard University.