Season 3

This season of Vitamin PhD features hosts Maria Ayoub and Jenna Zajac, two PhD students in the Rehabilitation Sciences program at Boston University. This season, recorded over Zoom in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights a variety of topics, including mental health, work-life balance, grad school success, the mentor-mentee relationship, and cultivating professional connections.

Episode 1: Maria Ayoub, BS, & Dr. Jenna Zajac, PT, DPT: Your hosts for Season 3!

In this episode, Maria Ayoub and Jenna Zajac, two PhD students in Rehabilitation Sciences, introduce themselves, describe their journey from undergrad to grad, and touch on their current work. They also express their motivation in hosting Season 3 and highlight the themes and topics of the upcoming episodes. 

Maria Ayoub is a third year PhD student in the Rehabilitation Sciences program at Boston University. She received her B.S. in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland, College Park and spent her undergraduate years as a research assistant in the UMD Cognitive Motor Neuroscience Laboratory. She presently works in the Motor Development Lab with Dr. Simone Gill and is interested in motor development and performance, both across the lifespan and within the context of disorders affecting both motor performance and cognition. More specifically, she studies the interactions between motor performance and cognition among typically developing children and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Maria plans to utilize neuroimaging to examine differences in cognitive-motor performance between healthy and clinical populations. 


Dr. Jenna Zajac received her Bachelor of Health Science and Doctor of Physical Therapy degrees from Nazareth College in Rochester, New York. Currently she works at the Center for Neurorehabilitation with Dr. Terry Ellis. Her work includes conducting research assessments, treating clinical patients, and participating in the development and facilitation of research studies. In addition, she is working with neurologists from Boston Medical Center on rehabilitation strategies for individuals undergoing Deep Brain Stimulation. Jenna’s research interests include neuroplasticity and motor learning in Parkinson disease and the translation of evidence-based rehabilitation strategies into the clinic and community settings. In addition, she has presented at national conferences including the American Physical Therapy Association’s Combined Section Meeting. Her long-term goal is to use the knowledge and skills gained from her work to improve the human experience and quality of life for persons with Parkinson disease.

Episode 2: Navigating Mental Health and Mental Wealth with Michelle Baum, MSW

In this episode, Maria and Jenna chat with Michelle Baum, MSW and current MPH student at Boston University, about mental health. They discuss the culture surrounding mental health in academia, how to support someone struggling with mental health, how to support yourself, and the importance of social support. 

Michelle Baum, MSW is a public health social worker in her last year of graduate school at Boston University finishing up her master in public health. After completing her undergraduate degree in psychology and Spanish at the University of Michigan (Go Blue!), she moved to Boston to further her education in pursuit of a career at the intersection of public health and social work, focusing on mental health, health equity, and the social determinants of health. While at the Boston University School of Social work, she was involved in a research project investigating the effects of a cell phone app on promoting recovery from substance use disorders in a Latinx Spanish-speaking community in Boston. During the pandemic, she began working as a Care Resource Coordinator and is now working as a University and College Liaison for the Community Tracing Collaborative, the state’s COVID-19 contact tracing program. In her free time she loves to spend time in nature, run, do yoga, cook, watch videos of dogs, and spend time with friends, family, and loved ones.

Episode 3:  Navigating Self-Preservation and Finding Your Balance with Nirali Shah, PT

In this episode, Maria and Jenna chat with Nirali Shah, PT, about work-life balance. They discuss separating work from home, developing a routine that excites you, maintaining relationships, the importance of consistency, and self-care. 

Nirali Shah is a physical therapist from India, and is currently a third-year PhD student in the Rehabilitation Sciences program at Boston University’s Sargent College. She works with her mentor, Dr. Deepak Kumar, in the Movement and Applied Imaging Lab to examine the use of digital health and to investigate the use of mindfulness for chronic pain in knee osteoarthritis. Nirali’s long-term goals are to advance clinical practice in physical therapy through her research. She received the 2019 Ryan Summer Scholar Award, has been named the 2020 Sargent’s Elizabeth Whitney Post Scholar, and her work has been accepted for presentation at 2019 Osteoarthritis and Cartilage International Conference in Vienna.


Episode 4:  Navigating Surviving and Thriving in Grad School with Dr. Dan Fulford, PhD

In this episode, Maria and Jenna chat with Dr. Dan Fulford about success in graduate school. They discuss the transition from undergrad to grad studies, making the most out of your grad school experience, how to stay engaged long-term, and the importance of goal-setting. 

Dr. Fulford holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of Miami and a BA in psychology from UCLA.  He joined Boston University (BU) following a career development award through the UCSF Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute where, among other things, he focused on mental health informatics research.  Dr. Fulford is currently Assistant Professor in the departments of Rehabilitation Sciences, Occupational Therapy, and Psychological & Brain Sciences, and is affiliated with Mental Health Counseling/Behavioral Medicine, Behavioral Neuroscience, and the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at BU.  He is PI on grant-funded projects focused on human motivation and social dynamics using mobile assessment and intervention. He has served as grant reviewer at the NIH and NSF, and is a consulting editor for the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Psychological Bulletin, and for the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) – Mental Health

Episode 5:  Navigating the Mentor/Mentee Relationship with Dr. Jen Heemstra, PhD

In this episode, Maria and Jenna chat with Dr. Jen Heemstra about the mentor/mentee relationship. They discuss tips on choosing the right mentor, navigating difficult conversations and “managing up”, and maintaining professional relationships long-term. 

Jen Heemstra received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine, in 2000. At Irvine, she performed undergraduate research with Prof. James Nowick investigating the folding of synthetic beta-sheet mimics, which instilled in her a love of supramolecular chemistry. Jen then moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she completed her Ph.D. with Prof. Jeffrey Moore in 2005 studying the reactivity of pyridine-functionalized phenylene ethynylene cavitands. After a brief stint in industry as a medicinal chemist, she moved to Harvard University to pursue postdoctoral research with Prof. David Liu exploring mechanisms for templated nucleic acid synthesis. In 2010, Jen began her independent career in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Utah, and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2016.  In 2017, Jen and her research group moved to the Department of Chemistry at Emory University. Research in the Heemstra lab is focused on harnessing the molecular recognition and self-assembly properties of nucleic acids for applications in biosensing and bioimaging. Outside of work, Jen enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons, as well as rock climbing, cycling, and running.

Episode 6: Navigating and Cultivating Personal and Professional Relationships with Mandy Pinheiro, MS

In this episode, Maria and Jenna chat with Mandy Pinheiro, MS, about reframing the idea of networking and the development and maintenance of personal and professional relationships. They discuss how to expand your professional circle, overcome the fear of initiating connections, and brand yourself and engage on Academic Twitter. 

Mandy Pinheiro, MS, is a Molecular Biology, Cell Biology & Biochemistry Ph.D. Student at Boston University. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering and Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from The University of Akron. As a former NCAA Division I Track and Field student-athlete, she has always been fascinated by studying injuries and tissue regeneration. Her current research is focused on elucidating the molecular mechanisms of muscle diseases. She takes pride in being an extraverted scientist with a passion for engaging with people. She enjoys mentoring students and fostering inclusive environments in STEM. Outside of the lab, she has a leadership role in the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering organization as the Co-Chair of Advocacy and Outreach.