Tag Archives: sackler students

Introducing SPINES

As scientists who come from underrepresented backgrounds, we have had many informal discussions about the climate at Sackler and advocating for diversity in the graduate programs at Sackler. While Tufts Sackler supports various pipeline initiatives (PREP, P2P, BDBS) we feel that it does not have mechanisms in place that intentionally create a space for minority scientists who are training at Sacker. We met in March and had an open discussion about our interests relevant to the group, the immediate needs of the community, and long term goals.

Programs aimed at diversifying the STEM academy have successfully increased recruitment of undergraduate and graduate students from groups traditionally underrepresented in careers in the sciences. An emphasis on recruitment may help to update the narrow image of what a scientist looks like, but additional action is needed to evolve the full picture of who scientists are. We are Scientists Promoting INclusive Excellence at Sackler (SPINES).

Inclusive excellence is a model first proposed by the American Academy for Colleges and Universities and recognizes that efforts of diversity can result in meaningful, measurable improvements in the excellence of an institution when that institution creates an environment that welcomes the cultural diversity of those included. For the STEM academy to benefit from a diversity of contributors, the culture and atmosphere of the STEM academy must update to include that of the new participants. It is this dissonance that may be responsible for the ever discussed “leaky pipeline” or disappearance of diverse bodies from the STEM career path as their career trajectory progresses. As problematic as the “pipeline” analogy is (we can unpack that for days), anyone concerned with progress in the sciences should recognize that this progress requires sustained conversations around social justice issues and retention of minority scientists.

SPINES believes we can help each other achieve inclusive excellence in the sciences by building a community of scientists at Sackler who recognize and celebrate each other’s diversity of ability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation and gender identity. We formally describe our mission below, but loosely we want to build spaces where we feel free to discuss all aspects of our lives as developing scientists. We will offer each other support even if this means giving technical advice as someone works through frustrating equipment errors in the lab or offering a shoulder to lean on as one struggles with the pain and helpless feeling from viewing the latest videotaped example of injustice on the nightly news.

Below we list some short-term goals for the group; however, we would like to highlight that our organizational model relies on horizontal leadership and community-based decision-making. We recognize that the needs and priorities of a community can change over time and therefore we encourage all members to take active roles in developing and implementing their ideas with the knowledge that the entire group will support them.

Short-term goals
• Enhance the diversity of speakers that are invited to give program seminar talks
• Learn about active bystander, anti-oppression, intersectionality, and privilege via reading books, articles, and invited  speakers
• Connect incoming underrepresented graduate students with a peer mentor
• Build professional connections with biotech/industry to address the lack of diversity in these sectors
• Provide networking opportunities

Our priority is to establish a welcoming community at Sackler where people of all backgrounds and identities feel nurtured and supported in achieving their scientific, personal, and intellectual goals.

Look out for our upcoming events and for more information see: https://tuftsspines.wixsite.com/tuftsspines

Written by: Camila Barrios-Camacho, Chris Bartolome, Janel Cabrera, Laverne Melón, and Vanessa Yanez

Humans of Sackler: Stacie Clark, “Full of Surprises”

Humans of Sackler, 1 December 2016

Stacie Clark, Molecular Microbiology, Third-Year Student: “Full of Surprises”

For this issue of Humans of Sackler, I had the chance to chat with Stacie Clark from the Microbiology program. As someone who mostly socializes within Neuroscience, it’s a real privilege for me to meet students from other programs and learn about some of the incredible, borderline-science-fiction work that’s going on right under my nose here at Sackler! Equally striking, I’ve found, is the treasure trove of unique passions and fascinating life experiences that lie just below the surface of our fellow students when we really get to talking. I’m grateful to Stacie for sharing a few of hers, and hope that you, dear reader, enjoy our conversation!


Hiking through Glacier National Park, Montana

AH: When did you realize that you wanted to pursue a career in science?

SC: My parents told me they always knew I’d end up in science. From the moment I could walk, I was outside digging for beetles and worms and building terrariums. I was in the honors science program in high school, and I did a year-long project on hand sanitizer and bacterial survival. I was working in a lab as a high school student, and realized I really liked doing that. I think I was born for science, and my parents were super-supportive. When I was growing up, we went hiking all the time, they took us to the EcoTarium in Worcester, and we were members at the Museum of Science and Aquarium. So I was always exposed to all sorts of science.


Swimming at a waterfall in El Yunque rainforest, Puerto Rico

 AH: What places have you traveled to outside of Massachusetts?

SC: I studied abroad in Puerto Rico. Worcester Polytechnic Institute does this differently: they call it the IQP, Interactive Qualifying Project. The point of this project is to teach you how to work effectively in groups and communicate with people outside the university. I worked in the rainforest in Puerto Rico, and we did a project evaluating stream crossings. We wanted to look at how their bridges were affecting stream flow and water quality, so we got to hike all through the [El Yunque] rainforest and evaluate all these different stream crossings. We got to see parts of the rainforest that no one gets to see!


With Pablo the capuchin monkey in Costa Rica

 AH: What did you do between graduating from WPI and starting your Ph.D. at Sackler?

SC: Before I started grad school, I had always wanted to work with exotic animals. So I literally just Googled ‘volunteer experience in Costa Rica’ and this small remote place in Costa Rica popped up. I booked a two-week trip, went by myself back-packing in Costa Rica, and volunteered at an animal rehabilitation center. It was quite an adjustment: I was on a mountainside in southern Costa Rica, and it got pitch-black at 6 o’clock at night. I would go into the rehabilitation center, clean the cages, prep all the food, and then feed and play with the animals. The monkeys were my favorite, and there was also an anteater. His name was Gomer; if you went into his cage and just yelled out ‘Hey Gomer!’ he’d come crawling out, and he loved being held. We’d do enrichment activities for some of them too – so with the anteater, I would walk with him out in the jungle and let him go searching for termites and ants on his own, and then I’d go bring him back to his cage. I think everyone should go on at least one trip by themselves, because you learn a lot about yourself and it’s just a good experience!


At the beach with Kid Rock

AH: What do you like to do when you’re not working in the lab?

SC: I volunteer at the animal shelter in Quincy; I’ve been doing that every Monday for four years. I take the dogs out for walks, play with them, cuddle with them if they want to… They only get to go outside twice a day, that’s the only time they get to really play with people. I understand that work-life balance is really important to your mental health, so volunteering on Mondays is the one thing that I won’t let grad school take away from me. It’s something that I do for me that I enjoy – and I’m also a big dog person. 


Group photo with the Leong Lab (middle row, second from right)

 AH: There are so many disciplines within biology – what got you interested in studying bacteria specifically?

SC: I’ve always been fascinated that an organism so small can have such a large impact on humans – that still blows my mind! They’re incredible organisms that can mimic the proteins we have, which I find pretty amazing. We’re full of bacteria, they do a lot for us – and the microbiota is a huge field now. Everyone is fascinated in studying microbiota and the impact they have on our health in general. 


Out on the town with friends

 AH: What particular species of bacteria do you study, and what makes it so interesting?

SC: Yersinia pseudotuberculosis is a model pathogen that we use to study community behavior of bacteria within its host. Yersinia can establish a distinct niche within the spleen of a mouse, and once it forms a microcolony, it can replicate to high numbers despite the presence of the immune system. You get a recruitment of innate immune cells to the site of infection, triggering a response in the bacteria to create specialized populations within that distinct cluster; I always thought that was cool, the response between the bacteria and the host cells.

Humans of Sackler: Jaclyn Dunphy, “Good Things Come to Those Who Waitress”

I’m Andrew Hooper, a fourth-year student in Dr. Jamie Maguire’s lab in the Neuroscience program.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the stories of how scientists came to be scientists.  Where are they from?  When did they recognize their passion for science?  How did they get their foot in the door?  What is it about their topic of interest that so captivated them?  And what breakthroughs just over the horizon would most excite them?  There are as many compelling, eye-opening answers to these questions as there are scientists, and I decided to highlight the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives at the Sackler School by gathering and sharing some of these stories.  Inspired by the format of Brandon Stanton’s wonderful “Humans of New York” blog, I called this project “Humans of Sackler”.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Jaclyn Dunphy, a fourth-year Neuroscience student in Dr. Phil Haydon’s lab.  We discussed the questions above and many more, and I’m very happy to share with you a small sample of our conversation in this, the first issue of “Humans of Sackler”.  Enjoy, and please look me up if you’d like to share your story and be the next Human of Sackler!


Humans of Sackler, 15 June 2016

Jaclyn Dunphy, Neuroscience, Fourth-Year Student: “Good Things Come to Those Who Waitress”

Graduating from the Masters program at Kent State NEOMED

AH: Did you come into college with a biology major, knowing that that’s what you wanted to study?

JD: I wanted to be a teacher when I started college because I had a really great biology teacher in high school. I went to Xavier, a private Catholic college, so I also thought I might want to be a religion teacher. For the first couple years I took biology, education classes, and theology classes. But I had a ‘coming to terms moment’ with what my major was going to be around sophomore year, and so I just went through the bulletin of all the courses that were offered and picked the ones I liked the best – and they tended to be related to biology, so I figured that’s what I should be doing. I didn’t know what I could do with the degree. I had never heard of graduate school until after I graduated!

At an air show with dad

AH: Were your parents interested in science, or did your interest develop totally independently from family?

JD: I think my interest in science definitely goes back to roots that I have with my dad. He has a workbench in the basement, and some of my earliest memories of us spending time together were us building rockets in the basement. He was very into space and stuff, so we would build rockets down there. Also, I was in this program for gifted students when I was in fourth and fifth grade, and we were assigned weird projects – like if you’ve heard of the ‘egg drop’ project, where you have to drop an egg off of a roof and get it not to crack? I would get assignments like this and take them home. I was really excited about them, but my dad was even more excited! So we would work on those things together, and I would go back to school with something that was, like, 80% his idea and 20% mine. So in those couple of years we had five or six things we worked on together in the workshop downstairs, and that was really fun… We built a bridge with Popsicle sticks, and I could stand on it. I could stand on it to this day! We made I-beams – not my idea. I’d never heard of that, but he was like ‘We need to build I-beams!’ We even sanded them – it was intense.

After a day of kayaking on the Charles

AH: After you finished undergrad, what did you do for work and how did you transition eventually to grad school?

JD: I was working at an upscale restaurant called Bistro on Main, close to Kent State’s campus, where Kent State professors take their seminar speakers out for dinner. So I had seen a couple groups of them come through, but one night I was waitressing for a table of four people: three people from NEOMED/Kent State and their invited speaker, Wendy Macklin. When I came to the table they were talking about prion disease, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s odd dinner conversation’. And they asked ‘How do you know what that is?’ in a very accusatory but jovial tone, and I said ‘Well, I just graduated with a degree in biology’ and they were like ‘Then what are you doing here?’ and I said ‘Waiting on you, what does it look like?’ So after that, all four of them took turns harassing me, they asked ‘Do you need a job?’ and I said ‘No, I have a great job, I’m making a lot of money doing this, I’m just trying to figure out what I want to do.’ And they said ‘Well, if you figure it out, then here’s my card.’ They put the card in the bill and they said, ‘Give us a call if you want to work as a technician.’ And I didn’t even know what that meant. At that point, I thought I was going to be cleaning rat cages. So I interviewed with one of the professors at the dinner, Bill Lynch, a few weeks later. It was the worst interview I’ve ever had, it was terrible! He’s a virologist: he asked me whether viruses are living or not. I didn’t know it at the time, but that’s a controversy among virologists. So I just picked a side, and then he argued me all around in circles until I switched sides, and then he asked me why I switched sides..! I left feeling so defeated; it was the first experience I’d had of someone who really, really questioned my thought process. I felt terrible, I felt like I had done such a bad job. But he ended up offering me the job because he liked that I didn’t give up, he liked my enthusiasm.

Demonstrating the Blind Spot at the Museum of Science, with Alex Jones (right)

AH: What was it about glial cells that made them so interesting to you?

JD: I fell for astrocytes – I liked that they were so abundant but they were so under-studied. There was so much to learn. What are they doing? There has to be more to the story. Later on, when I met Phil Haydon, he said that in the field of glia, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit, and I felt like that was very much the case. Glia are… I hate the word ‘support’ cells, but they are support cells for neurons. Neurons are like actors in the big play that is the brain, so the glia are stagehands, directors, producers, writers – they’re the ones that actually control the show. But the ones that you see and you care about are the neurons.