Emily E. Ackerman

Emily E. Ackerman

She/her · University of Pittsburgh

Hello! I'm a recent chemical engineering PhD using network and mathematical modeling to study immunoregulation during influenza and SARS-CoV-2 infection. I'll be joining the Lahav Lab at Harvard's Systems Biology department this fall.

I am a recent PhD graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s chemical and petroleum engineering program. My thesis work can be divided into two areas:

  • Antiviral drug target identification using network biology
  • Dynamic modeling of the immune response to viral infection

Working at the cellular and systems level, my aim is to better understand the mechanisms driving observed immunoregulatory behavior to improve drug development. While initially using influenza A virus as the primary infection of study, I repeated network controllability studies to efficiently prioritize drug repositioning candidates for treating SARS-CoV-2 infection at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a queer, disabled woman in STEM, I am passionate about the advancement of underrepresented populations in STEM. I have had the opportunity to perform diversity and equity work in academia with Future of Research, the TAE Consortium, and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute as a Gilliam Fellow. I am also an active advocate in the disability community for equitable access to education and technology. In my free time, I enjoy painting, union organizing with my fellow grad workers, and spending time with my cat, Poppy.


Mathematical Modeling

MCMC parameter fitting methods for ODE models of the immune response to viral infection

Network Biology

Virus-host protein networks to identify disease host factors and drug opportunities

Diversity and Equity Work

Advocacy for underrepresented populations in academia, particularly the disabled



Board of Directors

Future of Research

Aug 2020 – Present

Co-director of the Labor Task Force, investigating labor conditions of early career researchers


  • Perform large scale survey of workplace conditions for academic early career researchers (in progress)
  • Work with Board of Directors and Executive Board to empower junior researchers through equitable, grassroots action

Co-founder, Executive Board Member

TAE (Transforming Academic Ecosystems) Consortium

Jan 2020 – Present

An initiative based group of ECR’s aiming to redefine the conversation around mental health in academia, particularly by supporting the unique needs of underrepresented researchers.

Website and Social Media initiative lead


  • Hold weekly meetings to guide and act on initiatives.
  • Create and maintain website and social media
  • Organized mental health sessions at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s 2020 Gilliam Fellowship meeting

Ph.D. Candidate

Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering

Shoemaker Immunosystems Lab, University of Pittsburgh

Aug 2015 – Present Pittsburgh, PA


  • Chemical Engineering and Systems Biology curriculum
  • President, Graduate Women in Engineering Network
  • Organizer, Graduate Student Unionization Campaign

Research accomplishments:

  • Identified host factors of influenza infection using virus-host protein network topology and controllability analyses
  • Prioritized drug repositioning candidates for SARS-CoV-2 infection using network controllability methods
  • Developed model of immune response to influenza infection and software to perform shared parameter fitting on multiple data sets.


Albany Molecular Research Inc. (AMRI)

Jun 2015 – Aug 2015 Rensselaer, NY

Computer-Aided Drug Discovery (CADD) department under Dr. Douglas Kitchen

  • Development of in-house docking/scoring methods for protein interactions
  • Optimization and automation of all methods for department-wide use

Undergraduate Researcher

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

May 2013 – May 2015 Troy, NY

Awarded funding to participate in the Undergraduate Research Program under Dr. Curt Breneman
Research accomplishments:

  • Identified ligands to inhibit HIV GP120-CD4 binding using high-throughput screening methods
  • Developed novel super-flexible docking/scoring method with binding site comparison in Autodock Vina and MOE
  • Assisted small team in writing an R21 NIH grant proposal

Undergraduate Student

B.S. in Chemical Engineering

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Aug 2011 – May 2015 Troy, NY

Experience in:

  • Traditional chemical engineering curriculum
  • Process controls modeling in Simulink, Aspen Plus
  • Bioprocessing laboratory


Outstanding Research Assistant

Dr. James Coull Memorial Fellowship Award

Awarded annually to one senior Ph.D. student

Outstanding Ph.D. Paper, Summer 2019

A Dual Controllability Analysis of Influenza Virus-Host Protein-Protein Interaction Networks for Antiviral Drug Target Discovery

OXE Research Award, Best Oral Presentation, Chemical Engineering Department Research Day

Network Methods for Identifying Regulators of Influenza A Virus

Gilliam Fellow, Gilliam Fellowships for Advanced Studies

A graduate fellowship for underrepresented groups preparing to enter academic leadership roles to foster the development of a healthier, more inclusive academic scientific ecosystem

NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, Honorable Mention

A graduate fellowship which supports outstanding STEM graduate students based on broader impacts and intellectual merit

Recent & Upcoming Talks

The Accessibility and Tech Cycle

Identifying Regulators of Infection in Virus-Host Networks

The Accessibility Gap for Tech Users and Developers

Network Methods for Identifying Regulators of Influenza A Virus Infection


Disability Advocacy

As a proud disabled person, I am passionate about equity for the disabled, both inside and outside of academia. I am committed to fighting the often overlooked ableism that is engrained into our institutions, particularly at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities.

A stick figure stands at the bottom of two steps to REPRESENTATION. The first is labeled 'equal access to tech for users' and the second is labeled 'Developer access to industries'
A cycle with four parts: 1. Better, more accessible tech, 2. Greater access to education, 3. More disabled people in STEM, and 4. More representation in industry

Driven by an experience with autonomous robots whose inaccessibility poses a tangible threat to the disability community, I am interested in exploring the inequity created by the inaccessibility of tech and education. I believe that representation in STEM and the design process is key, and that it must be addressed at two levels: making tech accessible for the disabled user to gain equitable access to education, and making the tech industry more accessible and supportive for disabled developers.

Writings and Interviews

(Photos are links)

Disability and Design

On Living Disabled

Valuing Disabled Voices in STEM Workshop

In May 2021, I had the privilege of hosting a workshop to highlight the experiences and research of disabled academics. Talks included Dr. Cassandra McCall of Utah State University, Cynthia Bennett of CMU and Apple, and Ashley Shew of Virginia Tech as well as a disabled student panel.

Coming soon! Ologies podcast episode

I am available for talks, podcasts, consulting, collaborations, and more, just ask!