Student Spotlight: Nikola Danev

Nikola Danev

February 2, 2021

Nikola Danev is a doctoral student in genetics, genomics, and development from Skopje, North Macedonia. After earning an undergraduate degree at Columbia University, he decided to pursue further study at Cornell for the research and collaborative community.

What is your area of research and why is it important?

My research area of interest is cell signaling and development. While I’m currently rotating in different labs with different projects, I ultimately want to explore what factors contribute to a cell’s fate decisions. For example, questions like how does a stem cell know when and how to differentiate, or how does a neuron know where to branch out, and similar questions fascinate me. Besides the importance of these questions for medical applications, they are also important for better understanding the world around us and ourselves. 

What are the larger implications of this research?

The most obvious implications of this type of research are the potential medical applications. If we can thoroughly understand the molecules governing the timing of processes such as differentiation, migration, and other similar processes, we can come closer to understanding the processes involved in metastasis and cancer; or if we understand the signaling behind neural development, we can come a step closer to understanding neurodegenerative diseases. Of course, genetics paves the way for many other precision medicine approaches as well. Less obviously, a thorough understanding of genetics and development would also result in a greater understanding of ourselves and the world around us, which would lead to a greater appreciation of our space.

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

Biology, to me, is a fascinating unsolved puzzle and genetics is the instruction manual to putting the pieces together. By studying the genome, we study the foundational code of life itself, and by probing and modifying it, we learn more about life. My fascination with biological pathways and the mechanisms behind signaling, combined with my passion for genetics and its applications in human medicine, are the driving force behind my motivation to pursue a career in research.

What do you hope to accomplish or what impact do you hope to have in your leadership role with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA)?

I believe the GPSA must be a representative body for all students. I aim to provide a platform and space for graduate and professional students to be able to express their needs, concerns, and priorities, so that the GPSA can amplify their voices and convey their messages to the administration, faculty, staff, and the rest of the Cornell community. Ultimately, my goal is to make the GPSA more accessible and representative of our diverse community; I hope to make the GPSA a safe space for anyone to speak and know that they will be heard such that they will be able to have direct input in policymaking at Cornell, while upholding the principles of democratic shared governance.

How is your involvement with the GPSA shaping your graduate school experience?

Having moved to Ithaca during a pandemic, it was certainly difficult to connect meaningfully to the graduate and professional community. Thanks to the GPSA, I’ve been able to meet many incredibly passionate people that care about our shared space. Through these connections, I’ve been able to not only learn about the priorities of the graduate and professional students at Cornell, but also have found a sense of community within our campus. Overall, I think the GPSA has provided me with a lot of motivation to pursue my personal, professional, and academic goals.

What are your hobbies or interests outside of your research or scholarship?

In my free time, I like to ski and play tennis – fortunately, Ithaca provides so many opportunities for both of these sports. I’m also a bartender, but given the circumstances, I’ve had to adapt and experiment with mixology at home, which has been a really great way to pass the time. Finally, I really enjoy film photography and am actively looking for a darkroom in Ithaca (so please let me know if you know of any)!

Why did you choose Cornell to pursue your degree?

Cornell stood out to me for many reasons, but the two that most influenced my decision to pursue a Ph.D. here are the research and the community, and I think they both go hand in hand. The work being done at Cornell is at the cutting edge of my field and I think that is in part due to Cornell’s strong collaborative community. Even during my interview weekend before I was admitted, it was clear that the graduate students had a sense of teamwork and collaboration, which I did not see at many other places. Cornell invests a lot in training and mentorship, and while we still have areas to improve on, I think that we are among the very best places to pursue professional and advanced training.