Shyam Kiran Akula was born in Arcadia, California to Maya and Rao Akula, immigrants originally from India who fell in love in Kuwait, but were forced to leave in 1990 due to the Gulf War. Leaving everything behind, Shyam’s parents started anew in southern California, wanting to give their family the stability their lives had lacked. Shyam is continually grateful for his family’s love and support in all of his endeavors.
Long interested in science and medicine, Shyam’s experiences in college at Washington University in St. Louis majoring in neurobiology, leading as a Civic Scholar with the Gephardt Institute for Civic & Community development, and working in a pediatric neurology clinic at St. Louis Children’s Hospital developed his passion for investigating rare diseases and caring for families afflicted with these conditions. His research with Professor Joseph Dougherty on risk factors for neurodevelopmental disorders won the Dean Quatrano Prize for its creativity and rigor. After college, he joined the Harvard-MIT MD/PhD program to train as both a physician and scientist, where he was named the 2017-2019 Harvard Stem Cell Institute MD/PhD Fellow. For his PhD research, Shyam joined the laboratory of Professor Christopher Walsh, where he currently conducts research on rare genetic diseases of cortical malformation to understand how specific genes influence normal human brain development.
Outside of his scientific work, Shyam is an advocate for effective education, and increasing educational access for first-generation and low-income students. In college, he served as a student representative to the board of trustees for Washington University and helped spearhead efforts to increase representation and support of low-income and first-generation students, resulting in the development of an Office for Student Success. At Harvard Medical School, he is currently taking part in efforts to re-design training experiences for students as a contributor to the Curriculum and MD/PhD Program Steering Committees.