Dr. Vilaiwan Fernandes receives Dean's Convocation Medal

June 01, 2015

As one of SFU's most outstanding graduate students from the Faculty of Science, Dr. Vilaiwan Fernandes is being recognized with the award of the Dean of Graduate Studies Convocation Medal. On behalf of SFU, we congratulate Dr. Fernandes on her outstanding achievements. 

Dr. Vilaiwan Fernandes says, "I am the child of a Thai mother and an Indian father, and moved to Canada from India when I was 16. This has left me uncomfortable nearly everywhere except somewhere in the middle and, in part, has even defined my approach to science. For my B.Sc. I majored in Ecology and Evolution and minored in Mathematics."

The interdisciplinary nature of her research has reaped research rewards. At SFU, she worked in Dr. Esther Verheyen's lab, where she studied how neuronal cells are specified during eye development. Since the protein components and cell behaviors underlying eye formation are similar across species from fruit flies to humans, understanding how this process is controlled in the fly eye can provide meaningful insight into human vision and eye formation.

Dr. Fernandes' doctoral dissertation, The ‘who, where and when’ of neurogenesis during Drosophila melanogaster eye development, was also nominated as an "Exceptional Thesis" for its leading-edge research, superb writing and excellent illustrations. Her findings have also opened up a new and highly promising research area for Dr. Verheyen's lab.  

Dr. Fernandes achieved A+ grades in all of her graduate courses, and received a significant number of scholarships, including the Provost Prize of Distinction, an NSERC Doctoral Scholarship, the Weyerhaeuser Molecular Biology Graduate Scholarship and the Phyllis Carter Burr Graduate Scholarship in Developmental Biology and Cell Biology. She has since received a prestigious $90,000 NSERC postdoctoral fellowship to work in Claude Desplan's lab at New York University, where she is studying developmental neurobiology.

Dr. Fernandes says, “I'm excited to apply what I learned about eye development to study other parts of the visual system. In the Desplan lab I am looking at how neurons from the retina grow into the brain and form connections with other neurons there.”

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