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Tenth Annual Harvard Horizons Symposium Features Presentations From Nine Ph.D. Candidates

The Harvard Horizons symposium, hosted at Sanders Theatre, showcased the work of nine Harvard Ph.D. students Tuesday.
The Harvard Horizons symposium, hosted at Sanders Theatre, showcased the work of nine Harvard Ph.D. students Tuesday. By Mariah Ellen D. Dimalaluan
By Megan S. Degenhardt and Tiffani A. Mezitis, Contributing Writers

Nine Harvard Ph.D. students presented their research to the public at the 10th annual Harvard Horizons symposium held Tuesday evening in Sanders Theatre.

The Harvard Horizons program, founded in 2013 by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, is offered to a handful of Ph.D. candidates each year and provides students with mentorship on effective research presentations and professional growth.

This year’s cohort includes Gbemisola O. Abiola, Floor S. Broekgaarden, Steven W. Kasparek, Ryan Keen, Lydia A. Krasilnikova, Adam J. Longenbach, Garry S. Mitchell, Jinyoung Seo, and Emilio Vavarella.

GSAS Dean Emma Dench moderated the event while Ph.D. students presented research from their respective field of study.

Seo, a Ph.D. candidate in Chemistry and Chemical Biology, presented on how a solid refrigerant can replace traditional air conditioners, which emit powerful greenhouse gases.

“Right now I think we use about 20 percent of electricity through our air conditioner, which is huge,” Seo said in an interview. “Improving, for example, efficiency by 10 percent could actually have a dramatic impact on this whole climate change challenge.”

Seo said his work aims to improve understanding of “seemingly simple concepts” and “amplify unexpected connections and opportunities” between fundamental ideas.

Psychology Ph.D. candidate Kasparek discussed how violence can shape bias and affect mental health. Kasperek said in an interview that he “always wanted to work with kids who experience adversity,” and his work has centered around this topic.

“This project that I presented at Horizons was originally looking at trying to see if there’s any kind of link between experiencing violence and being more likely to be involved in violence later in life through bias,” Kasperek said.

His research monitored children starting at the ages of five or six for a period of four years and examined correlations between participants’ abilities to form in-group favoritism and symptoms of anxiety and depression.

“Kids who experienced violence favorite their in-group less,” Kasparek said of his research findings. “That led to more symptoms of depression and anxiety — not more symptoms of aggression or externalizing problems, which is what we originally hypothesized.”

Krasilnikova, a Ph.D. candidate in Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, investigated the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in preventing the spread of the virus.

“When viruses replicate inside of our bodies, they make mistakes, and we use those mistakes called mutations to retrace how the virus spread from person to person,” Krasilnikova said, explaining her work.

Using this technique, Krasilnikova traced an outbreak in Provincetown, Massachusetts, that took place in summer 2020. She found that, though “vaccination dramatically reduces risk of death and disease severity and risk of long term effects, it does not eliminate spread.”

Her research concluded that in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, people need to follow additional safety precautions, such as masking, even after being vaccinated.

Mitchell, a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, investigated the ethics of programs intended to prepare minority students to enter elite colleges. He concluded that minority students who attend such programs carry a “meaningfully different burden” compared to the children they grew up around.

In order to achieve upward mobility, Mitchell said, they are not only held to a different standard than their white counterparts, but they often have to sacrifice their identities.

“While we might hope to be reducing inequality there might be some ways that we’re actually exacerbating it within groups,” he said.

Scholars in the Horizons program were able to interact and become familiar with each other’s research. Krasilnikova said she appreciated being able to see what other students were researching because “you never know how things are going to connect.”

Students also lauded the program for teaching the skill of communicating academic research to a wide audience.

“As a Ph.D. student, there’s a lot of bumps along the way and along the journey,” Mitchell said. “To have a moment where your work is celebrated and recognized, not only by the peers in your field, but by a much broader audience is a really exciting opportunity, and a really rare one.”

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