CNLM Award Ceremony brings accolades and amusement at the Irvine Improv


On May 9, 2024, the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory (CNLM) descended on the Irvine Improv at the Irvine Spectrum for the 2024 CNLM Award Ceremony.

The annual award ceremony recognizes the accomplishments of the CNLM community including postdoctoral researchers, graduate trainees, undergraduate students, and faculty. Traditionally held in the Herklotz Conference Room at the CNLM, this year’s venue offered awardees the unique opportunity to accept their awards on a stage that has hosted legendary comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher, and Margaret Cho, surrounded by their lab mates, family, and friends.

The luncheon ceremony was emceed by LA comedian Joe Dungan, who revealed he had once taught CNLM Director Michael Yassa perform stand-up comedy. He mentioned self-deprecatingly, “those who can’t do, teach.”

I’ve always dreamed of getting a bunch of neuroscientists together at a comedy club. Thank you for making my dream come true.

Manuella Oliveira Yassa, Ph.D.
Director of Outreach & Education

Dungan provided a light-hearted introduction that highlighted the challenges and humor of the everyday life of a UC Irvine student. “What impresses me most about those attending UCI for so many years is how they were able to find parking,” joked Dungan.

The event hosts, collectively referred to by Dungan as ‘Doctors Yassa’, were CNLM Director Michael Yassa and CNLM Director of Outreach and Education Manuella Oliveira Yassa.

The nine undergraduate awardees were first to go on stage to accept their awards. Each also received $1,000 to support their educational journey. “What an honor it is to be a recipient of the Friends of the CNLM award! I am incredibly grateful and extend my heartfelt thank you to the generosity of the Friends of the CNLM for establishing this award,” said sophomore Michelle Zheng. “This accolade encourages and inspires me to continue to pursue my passion for science education and outreach.”

While those in attendance filled their plates with comedy club fare, including quesadillas and Improv sliders, the 17 graduate student and postdoctoral scholar award recipients came to the stage to give a two-minute pitch on their research. Some even incorporated humor into their talk. “I am so glad to hear that Mike Yassa enjoys giving out these awards because I very much enjoy receiving them. This sounds like a winning long-term partnership,” quipped Jacob Rounds, a recipient of the John W. Haycock Memorial Graduate Student Award. Jacob went on to explain how his research into associative memories may help those who are struggling with relapse.

LA comedian Joe Dungan emceed the award
ceremony and set the tone throughout the evening.

Some presenters took a personal and heartfelt approach. Brittney Boublil, recipient of the Roger W. Russell Award in the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, shared a personal story. “Shortly after joining Laura Ewell’s lab, I found out a close friend’s mom was diagnosed with the same type of epilepsy we study in the lab. It really brought home the impact of our research.”

The afternoon concluded with the faculty awards, celebrating seven outstanding recipients. Two new awards were introduced this year: the Team Science Award and the Alumni Award. The recipient of the Alumni Award, Ursula Staubli, surprised the audience with her own two-minute comedy routine where she described joining Gary Lynch’s lab after leaving her home country of Switzerland. “This was a strange place where I did not speak the language and people ate exotic foods like hot dogs and chili dogs,” said Staubli sarcastically.

What many of the attendees might not have known was that the Irvine Improv used to be neighbors to UCI when it was located at the University Town Center from 1986-1999. Students 25 years ago could walk from class directly to the Irvine Improv for comedy night.

“Hosting this event at the Irvine Improv gave our awardees the stage they deserve,” said Director Michael Yassa. “I was honored to share the stage—and a laugh—with these wonderful colleagues.”


CNLM award recipients pose on the stage at the Irvine Improv. Thirty-three awardees were celebrated during the ceremony. Find out more at

CNLM award recipients pose on the stage at the Irvine Improv. Thirty-three awardees were celebrated during the ceremony. Find out more at