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My name is Dr. Robert W. Fernandez. I am a Junior Simons Fellow at Columbia University. I received a PhD in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University and was a 2014 PD Soros Fellow.



I was born in Lima, Peru and grew up in NJ. I went to community college at Union County College where I majored in Business Administration. I did my undergraduate degree at York College, City University of New York where I majored in Biotechnology. As a former undocumented immigrant, mentors played a vital role in navigating my undergraduate and doctoral studies and I believe in pushing it forward. I am extremely passionate about STEM mentorship as I believe that every underrepresented student deserves a chance to access higher education. I have worked towards this goal this through Científico LatinoSTARS II Program at Yale, and Yale BBS diversity initiatives . 

As a scientist, I am driven to understand how complex nervous systems develop and the role of transcription factors in the development and maintenance of neurons and neural circuits. Through my Ph.D. research, I mapped  all neurotransmitter GPCRs in the C. elegans egg-laying circuit (Fernandez et al., 2020) to elucidate how these neurotransmitter GPCRs regulate egg laying. At the undergraduate level, I studied the social behavior of fruit flies and whether dopamine regulates social avoidance of stressed fruit flies. 



Cadena, M., Amaya, C., Duan, D., Rico, C.A., García-Bayona, L., Blanco, A.T., Santana Agreda, Y., Rodríguez, G.J.V., Ceja, A., Martinez, V.G., Goldman, O., and Fernandez, R. W. (2023). Insights and strategies for improving equity in graduate school admissions. Cell, 17. PMID: 37595563.

Edwards, M., Johnson, M.D.L., Fernandez, R.W., Montgomery, B.L., Adelaja, A., and Akingbade, T. (2020). Mentoring to Foster a Diverse Future. Cell, 3. PMID: 33125880.

Fernandez, R.W., Wei, K., Wang, E.Y., Mikalauskaite, D., Olson, A., Pepper, J., Christie, N., Kim, S., Weissenborn, S., Sarov, M., and Koelle M.R (2020). Cellular expression and functional roles of all 26 neurotransmitter GPCCRs in the C. elegans egg-laying circuit. Journal of Neuroscience 40. PMID: 32847964.

Fernandez, R.W.*, Akinleye, A.A.*, Nurilov, M., Feliciano, O., Rouzyi Z, O’Donnell, J., and Simon A.F. Modulation of social space by dopamine in Drosophila melanogaster, but no effect on the avoidance of the Drosophila stress odorant. Biology Letters. 2017 Aug 9. PMID: 28794277

Leung, W., Shaffer C.D., [ et al, including Fernandez R.W.]. Retrotransposons are the major contributors to the expansion of the Drosophila ananassae Muller F element. G3. 2017 Aug 7. PMID: 28667019

Collins, K.M., Bode, A., Fernandez, R.W., Tanis, J.E., Brewer, J., Creamer, M., Koelle, M.R. Activity of the C. elegans egg-laying behavior circuit is controlled by competing activation and feedback inhibition. eLife. 2016 Nov 16. PMID: 27849154

Wise, A., Tenezaca, L., Fernandez, R., Schatoff, E., Flores, J., Ueda, A., Zhong, X., Wu C., Simon, A.F., and Venkatesh, T. Drosophila mutants of the autism candidate gene neurobeachin (rugose) exhibit neurodevelopmental disorders, aberrant synaptic properties, altered locomotion, impaired adult social behavior and activity patterns. J. Neurogenetics. 2015 Jul 14. PMID: 26100104

Fernandez, R., Nurilov, M., Feliciano, O., McDonald, I., and Simon A.F. Straightforward Assay for Quantification of Social Avoidance in Drosophila melanogaster. J Vis Exp. 2014 Dec 13. PMID: 25549275

Deshpande, G., Willis, E., Chatterjee, S., Fernandez R., Dias, K., and Schedl, P. BMP Signaling and the Maintenance of Primordial Germ Cell Identity in Drosophila Embryos. PLOS One. 2014 Feb 14. PMID: 24551179


Public Voices Fellowship of the OpEd Project x PD Soros Fellow                                                                    May 2023

The year-long fellowship will provide a cohort of twenty PD Soros Fellows with extraordinary support, leadership skills, and knowledge to ensure their ideas shape not only their fields, but also the greater public conversations of our age.

Latino Leaders – Maestro Award of Ultimate Drive                                                                                                    Oct 2021

Award given to one hardworking and trailblazing Latino in the U.S. who is making a lasting impact in their community

100 inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists in America                                                                                                   Sept 2020

Cell Mentor featured me in the list of 100 inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists in America based on scholarly achievements, mentoring excellence, and commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion                                                                                               


Certification of Special Congressional Recognition                                                                                                    July 2020

This award was given by the Senator of Arizona Martha McSally for the science outreach work done by Científico Latino


Yale-Jefferson Public Service Award                                                                                                                            May 2020

These awards considered to be the Nobel Prize for Public Service recognize Yalies who inspire the Yale community through their innovative, outstanding and sustained contributions in service to the greater good


2018 Community Service Award of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences                                                      May 2018

GSAS students who engage in public scholarship, disciplinary-related community outreach, and community service



Yale BBS Annie Le Fellowship                                                                                                                                      May 2018

Awarded to students who have demonstrated leadership or service to Yale and the New Haven communities, an exemplary record of academic achievements, and outstanding interpersonal skills


Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans                                                                                              Sept. 2014

Awarded PD Soros Fellowship for outstanding immigrants that supports two years of graduate study


Academic Excellence in Biotechnology                                                                                                                       May 2013

Awarded to the York College undergraduate with the highest GPA in the Biotechnology major in the Biology Dept.


Honors in Biotechnology: Senior Thesis                                                                                                                     May 2013

Awarded to the York College undergraduate with the best senior thesis in the Biology Dept.


Distinguished Graduate Award: Outstanding Academic Achievement and Exemplary Leadership                      May 2013

Awarded to the York College undergraduate who has shown leadership and academic excellence at York College


CUNY YORK Study Abroad/Study Away Notice                                                                                                         Dec. 2012


Victoria Finnerty Undergraduate Travel Award                                                                                                            Oct. 2012

Genetic Society of America Travel Award to attend Spring 2013 54th Annual Drosophila Research Conference


ABRCMS Student Travel Award for 2012 ABRCMS                                                                                                     Oct. 2012

Accepted to present poster presentation at 2012 ABRCMS

Alliance/Merck Ciencia National Scholarships – College STEM                                                                               Sept. 2012

Hispanic student with good academic standing and majoring in STEM field


Certificate of Academic Excellence                                                                                                         Sept. 2010 – May 2013



Distinguished Honor Studies Scholar Award                                                                                                               May 2009

Excellent presentation for an honors independent study project at Union County College

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