2019 Incoming Grad Series: Kirstin Rollins

by Daina Tagavi, Professional Development Peer
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 8:00 AM

This is the second article in our 2019 Incoming Grad Series, which features backstories and fun facts on 8 students who are part of our most diverse incoming class in recent memory.

We are delighted to introduce you to Kirstin Rollins, an incoming ​​PhD student in ​Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, with an emphasis in Neuroscience and Immunology. Kirstin was born in ​Washington but spent the last few years studying at the University of Texas, Austin. During ​her time at UCSB, she will be focusing on the interaction of the immune system and neurological disorders.

Read on to learn more about ​Kirstin's research interests and about her experience as a professional Hawaiian dancer!


Growing up in Washington State, Kirstin and her three brothers were homeschooled by ​their father. Under a model ​they liked to call “Edutainment,” a combination of self-paced curriculum and alternative learning tools, she and her siblings were launched into a college duel enrollment program at the age of 13-14. At this stage of higher education, she was fascinated by biological factoids and the study of microbiology. However, it was the incredible pool of resources at UT Austin (where she earned ​her bachelors) that inspired ​her pursuit of a future in Neuroscience.


Kirstin told us that "during [her] interview period at UCSB, [she] felt an unparalleled connection to the MCDB program." The tight-knit community of researchers appeared to forge a network of collaboration within the university and sister universities across California. Kirstin was excited at the wide variety of prospective projects aligning with ​her interests, where rotations would provide a chance to explore advanced toolsets before specializing. Additionally, she reports, her Pacific Islander heritage always draws her back to the West Coast. 


Prior work in fMRI influenced Kirstin's search for a different approach and scale of studying brain function. Projects in the worm model, C. elegans, guided her towards the cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease. From the transition between upper-class undergraduate years and a PhD program, she found particular interest in the interaction of the immune system to neurological disorders.



Kirstin told us that her absolute love and passion is Hawaiian (Hula) dancing. For the last 8 years, she has been professionally training and performing in the art. One amazing thing is the diversity of styles in Polynesia. Though the expressions may differ slightly, the shared “Aloha spirit” unites people by an openness of heart and mind. Originally introduced to the culture through her mother, she found additional enrichment through bigger showcases and costume design.

Kirstin also told us several fun facts about herself! Despite only living in Texas for three years, she has a habit of accidentally talking in a fake southern accent when very nervous. Kirstin also played in a co-ed water polo group for 10 years. On the team, she was one of two lefties - the only other being her little brother. Lastly, after working the past summer as a camp counselor, ​Kirstin has become proficient in origami, crafts, and a couple card tricks. Trained in belaying kids for rock climbing, ​she is hoping to make use of the UCSB adventure pass to become more skilled herself.

Welcome, Kirstin!

Be sure to subscribe to the GradPost and check back each day until the start of classes for the continuation of our Incoming Grad Series. Up next is Matthew Devlin, an incoming Ph.D. student in ​​Mechanical Engineering from ​San Diego, who is coming to UCSB from the L'Oreál USA research headquarters, where he learned a ton about mascara!