P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans


James Occean, 2024

PhD, Stanford University

James Occean is an immigrant from Haiti

Fellowship awarded to support work towards a PhD in Cancer Biology at Stanford University

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, James Occean’s early life was shaped by his parents' migration to the United States in pursuit of better living conditions. James was entrusted to his grandmother’s care and relocated to Thomassique, Haiti. During his childhood, he grew fascinated with local mermaid folklore and would go on childlike “research” quests to investigate their existence. This curiosity served as the catalyst for his enduring passion for discovery. 

At the age of 10, James embarked on a new chapter by immigrating to the US to reunite with his parents. He later pursued a Bachelor of Science degree in biomedical sciences at the University of South Florida (USF) as a first-generation college student. Under the mentorship of Abraham Salinas-Miranda and Nicholas Thomas, he conducted epidemiological research to identify predictors and risk factors for intimate partner violence among women in his native country, Haiti. This effort culminated in James' first lead-author publication. Continuing his undergraduate journey, James expanded his research into the biological sciences to understand how trauma exposure increases susceptibility to psychiatric disorders, a phenomenon typically observed in trauma-exposed women in Haiti. He joined Monica Uddin's lab and studied genetic and epigenetic mechanisms that underlie PTSD. His research revealed that DNA methylation at a stress-sensitive gene influences the likelihood of developing PTSD after experiencing certain traumas.  

After completing his undergraduate studies, James took on a post-baccalaureate fellowship at the National Institute on Aging at the National Institutes of Health. In Payel Sen’s lab, he investigated how changes in epigenetic modifications and chromatin drive mammalian aging and related decline. During his two years in the Sen lab, James led and contributed to several peer-reviewed publications, secured over $140,000 in research grants for his work on DNA hydroxymethylation, and received the Early Career Scholar award from the American Aging Association. 

Following his fellowship, James pursued a master’s in bioinformatics at Johns Hopkins University. Concurrently, he ventured into industry and specialized in data science at Personal Genome Diagnostics within Labcorp Oncology. His work contributed to the verification and validation of kitted assays designed to detect cancer-related and clinically relevant genomic variants.  

  • MS Bioinformatics | Johns Hopkins University 2024
  • BS Biomedical Sciences | University of South Florida 2020
  • PhD Cancer Biology | Stanford University
  • AGE Early Career Scholar (March 2022)
  • Inter-Laboratory Proposal Research Award, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health
  • Outstanding Poster Award (May 2022), Postbac Poster Day, National Institutes of Health
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