Peer Advising

Graduate Student Advisors

The mission of the Peer Advising Group is to create a comfortable community to discuss and address concerns of first and second year PMB graduate students.

We provide ongoing advice as students navigate common and unique issues faced in the transition to graduate school. We facilitate connections with senior PMB graduate students and provide access to the myriad of campus and community resources to help new students face and resolve their concerns in a confidential and personalized manner.


The Peer Advising Group currently consists of eight graduate students representing both plant biology and microbiology doctoral programs.

  • Hector Trujillo 3rd year - MB
  • Heidi Wipf 4th year - PB
  • Neem Patel 2nd year - MB
  • Tuesday Simmons 4th year - MB
  • Victor Reyes-Umaña 3rd year - MB
  • Thien Crisanto 2nd year - PB
  • Kris Kennedy 4th year -MB
  • Carson Bickley 2nd year - MB

MB=microbiology; PB-plant biology

The group is advised and coordinated by Professor Arash Komeili and Graduate Adviser Rocio Sanchez.

The Graduate Student Peer Advising Group is not a replacement for faculty or staff advising, but rather a supplement. While it is important for a student to have a faculty mentor and staff adviser to provide guidance throughout the educational experience and doctoral training, peers can contribute to student success in ways that complement faculty/staff advising services.

The advantages of utilizing peer advising as a component in academic advising models include flexibility in delivery methods, peer-to-peer interaction and development of peer advisers. Peers may be better equipped to address certain aspects of advising than faculty mentors or staff members who serve as advisers. Peer advisers view the institution through a different lens than do faculty/staff and are more familiar with the graduate student experience. Likewise, peers can better relate to students’ concerns, because they likely went through the same experiences. Because of their ability to relate, peer advisers can form personal connections with other students and facilitate peer interactions.


First and second-year graduate students are encouraged to approach the graduate student peer advising group with any issues they would like to discuss. For some concerns, students may feel most comfortable when discussions with Peer Advisers remain confidential and such discussions are welcome. The Peer Advisers have received training in mentoring from Counseling and Psychological Services and are respectful of student confidentiality. However, there may be occasions when a problem arises that the peer adviser is not equipped to deal with. On these occasions, the peer adviser should discuss options with the student, for example, consulting someone inside or outside of the department for additional advice. It is up to the student to decide if it's OK for the peer adviser to share any identifying or situational information with any person being consulted.

Peer advisers should feel free to describe situations (in a general manner in order to get advice) to:

  • Head graduate advisers
  • Staff in the PMB Graduate Office
  • University Health Services
  • Other peer advisers
  • Head graduate advisers and staff in the PMB Graduate Office and/or University Health Services are here to support all students, including peer advisers. Peer advisers have a responsibility to report any information regarding potential harm to a student or potential harm to others by a student. If a student talks about harm to self or others the peer adviser should consult with Professor Arash Komeili, or Rocio Sanchez in the PMB Graduate Office. If the danger appears imminent, the peer adviser may consult first with Counseling and Psychological Services. 

Benefits and Roles for Peer Advisors


  • Develop valuable communication skills and confidence speaking in front of others
  • Peer advisers develop skills such as leadership, time management, and organization
  • Be recognized as a student leader and positive role model
  • Gain a greater understanding of PMB and University-wide policies
  • Serve as a vital resource to your peers and enrich the lives' of others
  • Enhance your resume and develop important professional skills


  • Engage in PMB recruitment and retention programs
  • Provide information about PMB and university requirements, policies, and procedures
  • Make referrals to a wide cariety of campus services and resources
  • Provide general information about career services and career options
  • Participate or lead workshops in PMB
  • Participate in PMB Orientation Day and Department and/or GGM (Graduate Group in Microbiology) retreat
  • Respond to student emails
  • Liaise with PMB, GGM or other campus student groups and departmental committee representatives
  • Commit to one or two years of peer advising

Contact Us

Graduate student peer advisers are available via email and in-person. To contact a peer adviser please send an email to any of the peer advisers listed below. We will get back to you right away.



Hector Trujillo
3rd Year, Microbiology, Komeili Lab

My research project focuses on the cell biology and physiology of a recently discovered bacterial organelle that we call the ferrosome. I am using genetic and fluorescent techniques to dissect the mechanism of ferrosome formation.

Outside the lab I am an avid reality-TV-competition-binger (think RuPaul’s Drag Race, MasterChef Junior, Big Brother, not really into KUWTK) but also cooking, Chardonnay consumption, going to comedy clubs, *very light* hiking and hanging out with the one and only Victor Reyes-Umaña (in that order).

I was drawn to becoming a Peer Mentor because I was the very first in my family to go to college and now I’m the first to start grad school. Because of this, joining PMB was both exciting and frightening. I found a community in this department and I want to be there for incoming students to help foster the supportive environment that PMB is known for.



Heidi Wipf
4th Year, Plant Biology, Coleman-Derr Lab

I am fascinated by the ways plants interact with, shape, and respond to their environment, particularly in concert with communities of microorganisms. With my research, I study how environmental and host factors shape the plant microbiome, where I am investigating the impact of agricultural soil management practices, heat stress, and host evolution on plant-microbe associations.

Outside of lab, I enjoy volunteering with various community and science outreach and communication organizations, writing, exploring the area’s open spaces, music venues, and poetry and storytelling events, biking, running, practicing yoga, experimenting with baking and fermentation, and more.

I really appreciate all the people and effort that goes into making our department such a supportive and engaged community. Peer advisors helped me immensely with get my bearing and transitioning to life in grad school, and as a peer advisor, I want to welcome new grad students and offer similar support and encouragement.

Neem Patel
2nd Year, Microbiology, Traxler Lab
My research focuses on soil microbial communities and microbial physiology and metabolism. Generally, I am interested in how microbial communities are re-established following high-intensity forest fires. I hypothesize that a small, defined group of “pyrophilous” microorganisms will successively, predictably, colonize these post-fire soils. Currently, my aim is to understand how these early colonizers affect the fate of pyrolyzed organic matter and soil organic carbon essentially mediating long-term community re-establishment.
I like to use my free time to stay active, pursue creative endeavors and generally cultivate a life that makes me happy, feel positive and balanced. I enjoy running, yoga, biking, and hiking. I am currently working on building my photography portfolio and improving my website. I love to read! I enjoy anything from sci-fi, weird fiction, astrophysics, genetics, political and social philosophy and novels on race, identity and socioeconomics.

I chose to be a peer-mentor because I enjoy listening to others experiences, sharing mine and lending motivation and encouragement to my colleagues. I mentored through the NYAS Next-Scholars program for 4 years and thoroughly enjoyed that experience and would like to continue doing so.

Victor Reyes-Umaña
3rd Year, Microbiology, Coates Lab
My research projects focus on both environmental microbiology and synthetic biology. I am particularly interested in understanding how microbes aid in cycling elements through the environment and also developing technologies that enable the production of carbon-negative biofuels.
I am an avid cyclist, and often go out on short trips throughout the bay area. I also enjoy traveling and visiting new places. Beyond that, I enjoy learning about science in general. When I’m not doing any of those things, you might find me drinking Chardonnay with the one and only Hector Trujillo

My reason for becoming a peer mentor is to help others who have been out of school for an extended period to transition back into the rhythm of studying. I’m also the first in my family to start grad school and want to help those who may find themselves in a similar situation navigate the territory.

Tuesday Simmons
4th Year, Microbiology, Coleman-Derr and Arkin Labs
I study the microbiome of crop plants and how the bacterial communities change when the plant undergoes abiotic stress. By studying these dynamics, one of my goals is to engineer microbial communities that have plant growth promoting properties under drought.
In my free time I love to spend time away from the busy city by going on hikes and camping. I also spend time volunteering with CLEAR, a science outreach group, and organize monthly farmer’s markets booths.


I benefited greatly from the peer mentors during my first year at Berkeley. I hope to share my experiences of working in two labs (one on campus and one off) and adjusting to graduate school with our new PMB family.


Thien Crisanto
2nd Year, Plant Biology, Niyogi Lab
My research in the Niyogi lab involves altering the regulation of light harvesting and energy dissipation so that more energy can be used in photosynthesis. I work with microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica, a promising lipid source for biofuel production and human consumption.
In my free time I love to be creative and stay active. I play the guitar and sing, paint, and macrame. I’m a science nerd at heart and gush over astrophysics, lichen, and fungus.  I also love to practice yoga, hike in a forest, and beachcomb. At home I am mom to over 110 plants.

I chose to be a mentor because I love normalizing experiences and motivating others. As an upper division undergraduate I mentored freshmen students in the sciences. The experience was very fun and rewarding.

Kris Kennedy
4th Year, Microbiology, Taga Lab
I joined PMB to study how microbes make important life decisions without the benefits (and disadvantages) of having a brain. I recently joined the Taga Lab to figure out how bacteria measure nutrient supplies using RNA molecules.

I’m committed to student diversity, wellness, and inclusivity on campus. On the weekends, you can typically find me eating food, occasionally with other people. For exercise that doesn’t involve pipetting, I practice martial arts and ride my bicycle around the East Bay. For mental stimulation that doesn’t involve staring at RNA sequence alignments, I read sci-fi and horror and enjoy video games and board games.

First year can be tough, especially if you’ve been out of school for a long while. My greatest challenges are being self-compassionate rewarding my own efforts. As a peer mentor, I want to support my classmates by being a good listener and exchanging experiences of success, failure and everything in between.

Carson Bickley
2nd Year, Microbiology, Komeili Lab
As research into bacteria has progressed, it has become increasingly clear that bacteria are more complex than we realized. I research the genes involved in the formation of magnetosomes, an iron-containing bacterial organelle, as a model system for bacterial organelle biogenesis.
In my free time, I volunteer with science outreach organizations, engage in wildlife photography, and play the bass guitar.
I am excited to be a peer mentor this year and help new students through the sometimes difficult transition to graduate school. I found PMB to be a friendly and welcoming community, and want to help provide the same support and warm welcome to a new cohort of PMB students.








Graduate Adviser
Rocio Sanchez
Head Graduate Adviser