Tag Archives: students

New England Graduate Women in Science & Engineering Retreat, August 19th

NE GWiSE Inaugural Retreat!

New England Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (“N-E-G-wise”) is a new alliance between groups of graduate women in STEM from universities in Boston and across New England. We’re joining forces to address the issues facing graduate women in STEM. Join us for our first event, the NE GWiSE Inaugural Retreat, this summer! Details can be found below or at our website, https://negwise.wordpress.com .

Description: Come join us at NE GWiSE’s Inaugural Retreat- a day of connecting graduate women from different universities and collaborating to help make NE GWiSE an organization that can effectively address the issues we face and create change within our community.

We will start off the day being inspired by our opening keynote speaker (TBD). Next, we will have introductions by partner GWISE groups and breakout sessions to discuss how NE GWiSE will function. Finally, we’ll end the day with a scavenger hunt and BBQ social! This is a great opportunity to meet graduate women from different departments and universities, share best practices and recurring issues, and foster collaborations and friendships across the region. We hope to see you there!

Registration closes August 16th at 5pm so sign up now!

Date: Saturday, August 19th, 2017

Time: Registration is 12-1 pm, Opening Keynote starts at 1 pm, Event goes until ~7 pm

Location: BU College of Graduate Arts and Sciences and BU Beach

Coffee and snacks will be served throughout the event. Dress is casual.

 

 

Humans of Sackler: Patrick Davis, “I’ve been Accused of being a Science Robot”

Humans of Sackler, 23 March 2017

Patrick Davis, Neuroscience, Fifth-Year M.D./Ph.D. Student: “I’ve been Accused of being a Science Robot”

For this issue of Humans of Sackler, I had the opportunity to sit down with Patrick Davis, an M.D./Ph.D. student in the Neuroscience program. Although I see medical students coming and going around Sackler every day, I confess I haven’t gotten to know many of them – or much at all about the medical school curriculum. So it was a great pleasure to learn more about this from somebody who is as passionate about medicine as he is about science research; Patrick and I had a particularly engrossing conversation about the differences between these two kinds of higher education, and I hope you, dear reader, enjoy and benefit from it as much as I did!

 

Young Pat with the Chestnut Hill Academy Theoretical Physics Group

AH: How did you become interested in studying science?

PD: I had a physics teacher in 11th and 12th grade – Marty Baumberger – who was just the best teacher ever. He got me so into physics that I started a Theoretical Physics group at Chestnut Hill Academy… I went to Brown University as a physics major. I loved the open curriculum, but I was a terrible student. I didn’t do well my first year, so I switched to an economics major for about a year, and that was completely unfulfilling. Eventually I came to my senses and switched to biology… The thing about Brown: it’s chaos. There are no required classes, so you just mix and match and do whatever. There are requirements for your major, but you could theoretically never take a math class if you never wanted to. What happened to me was the best-case scenario: the first year and a half made me a more dedicated student. I learned that if I’m not doing something I really want to do then I’m going to be lazy, and if I don’t work hard then I’m not going to do well.

 

At a Macklis Lab get-together, chatting with friend and mentor Alex Poulopoulos (left)

AH: What was your first experience with neuroscience research?

PD: When I graduated from Brown, I didn’t know right away that I wanted to do med school or neuroscience. I ended up working at Jeff Macklis’s lab at Mass General Hospital for two years after college, and that was my first real exposure to neuroscience. Jeff made his name with a series of studies on induction of neurogenesis in the neocortex. I met Alex Poulopoulos there, who has been a mentor ever since, and a very good friend. I would credit Alex almost entirely with piquing my interest in neuroscience, but also with my development as a scientist. I love to come up with an idea, test it, go through the whole process myself, interpret my own data, talk to other people about their data – I like the actual scientific process. Alex just started his own lab at University of Maryland School of Medicine; anybody reading this, please apply to his lab! You could not ask for a better person to work for. He’s interested in how neural circuits self-organize, which is extremely interesting to me as well.

 

With pals from Brown University

AH: Why did you choose the M.D./Ph.D. path and how have your medical and scientific training differed?

PD: I could never be just an M.D. because I love science too much. The fundamental quality of a scientist is curiosity; medicine is more like service and helping people, curiosity about the people themselves, empathy. The preclinical years are a lot of memorization, but once you get into the hospital, it’s more like an apprenticeship. You’re learning how to do the day-to-day things that a doctor does: how to walk through clinical decision-making, interview a patient, present that information to other doctors, how to work with your hands if you’re doing a surgery rotation… Because medicine is an applied science, the goal there is all oriented around the health of the patient; I don’t think that’s really what science is about. For a long time, medicine has been done in a very parochial way: people in this hospital do it this way, people in another hospital do it another way. Evidence-based medicine still gets a lot of pushback. Take stenting for example: doing a coronary artery stent for someone with angina. About half of the stents in this country are done for stable angina – chest pain when you exercise, but not an acute threat to your health – and it’s now been shown over and over again that that is no better, and possibly worse, than just giving them statins and blood pressure reduction medication and telling them to eat their vegetables and exercise a little bit. It’s because doctors think in terms of, ‘I see it happen, it intuitively makes a lot more sense to me, so it must be this.’ Of course the lines are blurred in real life, but a true scientist would say, ‘We have to trust the evidence, why don’t we look at what’s causing the increased risk of doing the stent, or why do statins work?’ The curiosity that is absolutely necessary to be a good scientist is not necessary to be a good doctor… The types of mind that are selected for by these two professions are almost non-overlapping, they’re completely different.

 

Even science robots enjoy a night on the town every now and then

AH: What do you like to do when you’re not studying medicine or neuroscience, and how do you find the time and energy to do it all?

PD: I love to teach, I really like being in the didactic role and seeing people learn and discover things for themselves. I tutor for the MCAT, I used to tutor for the SAT, I’ve volunteered for things like middle school science fair mentoring and the Brain Bee. These kids in the Brain Bee were extremely impressive; they knew more facts for this test than I would have! Thomas Papouin and I also started a class trying to teach grad students the basics of the scientific method. There’s a whole rich history of how to think formally and scientifically; and the more aware you are of it and the more you practice it – like by applying these things to your own rotation project or qualifying exam – the better you get at it. The notion that, by just reading papers, this will happen – for some people, maybe it will, but the purpose of the program is to maximize the probability of this happening for everybody… I’ve been accused of being a science robot: the joke between Alex Jones and me is that when I get home, I have a scotch and read PubMed… The M.D./Ph.D.s that I’ve spoken to, the ones that succeed, are recharging one half of their brain while the other one works. Like a shark, like a science shark!

 

Relaxing by a picturesque mountain lake in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru

AH: Have you had many chances to travel outside of the U.S.?

PD: I’ve traveled through Europe a bit, I’ve been to Peru, Brazil… I was in Berlin at one point, and I decided to just hop on a train and go to Prague. I spent two full days and a night there, and it was awesome. Most of the people spoke English at tourist-type places, but it was fun to walk around, take pictures, be completely by myself… I had a Cormac McCarthy book called “All the Pretty Horses”, and it was nice just being on the train, reading or watching the sites, then walking around the city and going to a café for a coffee or beer. I don’t know much else about Prague, but aesthetically, I can’t imagine a prettier city. Part of why I enjoyed the city so much was because I didn’t expect it to be that way: of course when you go to Rome, you know that one of the greatest civilizations existed here and that every step you take is rich with history, but I didn’t expect this in Prague.

 

Enthusiastically sharing data at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting

AH: What topic have you studied for your thesis work?

PD: Under Leon Reijmers’ mentorship, I’m trying to figure out how ‘extinction learning’ happens in the brain: it’s a medically-relevant type of learning that underlies treatment for psychiatric disorders like PTSD. In extinction learning, the patient repeatedly gets exposed to the thing they’re afraid of, you gradually increase the ‘stimulus intensity’, and they learn that it’s safe. So for example, if they’re afraid of spiders, you would show them a picture of a spider at first, then maybe have them in a room where there’s a spider in a corner, then work your way up to having them handle a spider. What I’ve found is that there’s a particular cell type in the amygdala – the parvalbumin interneuron – which acts a critical hub for this kind of learning: if you silence these cells, then you shut down the process of extinction learning. Now I’m using that finding as a jumping-off point to really figure out what’s going on. I’m manipulating parvalbumin interneurons with different frequencies of stimulation and seeing how the amygdala – and the rest of the brain – responds to that. It looks like I can ‘toggle’ the fear state up or down just by controlling this specific type of neuron!

 

Contemplating the mysteries of the universe

AH: Where do you see the field of neuroscience heading in the near future?

PD: I think that we have tools in neuroscience that 15 years ago, you couldn’t have even fathomed. Not just optogenetics, but recording techniques, chemogenetics, optical electrophysiology, simultaneous local field potentials with single units, closed loop systems… The engineers like Ed Boyden have done us a great favor. But now it’s time for us to step up. I think that in the next 2, 5, 10, 15 years there are going to be many, many discoveries that are really going to blow things open. Once we fall out of love with the mere application of modern tools to hypotheses we already kind of assumed to be true, then we’re going to ask the question: how? You have to record neurons’ endogenous activity, then do experiments that are really informative about what’s going on. In neuroscience, because we have these techniques, we can start asking this kind of question.

GSC Committee & Club Updates: April 2017

Tufts Biomedical Business Club (TBBC)

from Aaron BernsteinCMP

Upcoming Events

TBBC Case Study Group: Mondays – 5-7PM, Jaharis 508

Practice solving cases, gain insight and tips, and learn more about the field of consulting.

TBBC Tufts Biomedical Alumni Speed Networking Night: Th Apr 13 — 6-8PM, Sackler 114

TBBC, in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Relations will be hosting a speed networking night! Meet fellow students and Tufts alumni who are working in the biomedical field from across all of Tufts campuses and programs, including Sackler, Fletcher, Medical, Dental, Nutrition, and the Gordon Institute. Mingle with old friends and new. We look forward to seeing you! Food and drinks will be served at this facilitated networking event.

TBBC Biotech BUZZ with Lily Ting: F Apr 14 — 9AM, M&V Lobby (Stearns 108)

Dr. Lily Ting is a life scientist and entrepreneur with 12 years of experience in academia and industry. Lily received her PhD from New South Wales University in Sydney and a post doc in the Gygi Lab at Harvard Medical School. After her experience leading projects in the academic sphere, Lily worked in a business development role at Athletigen and is now an Associate at PureTech Health. PureTech is a venture creation firm focused on bringing innovative solutions to the fields of neuroscience, immunology, and gastrointestinal diseases. She is also an avid dragon boat racer and just won gold, silver, and bronze in Puerto Rico!

TBBC Consulting Seminar Series: ClearView Heathcare Partners: Tu Apr 18 — 5-6:30PM, Sackler 507

Representatives from ClearView Healthcare Partners will speak to students about consulting and ClearView’s Connect to ClearView program for advanced degree candidates. 

TBBC, the Sackler Dean’s Office, GSC “Sackler Speaks” Flash Talk Competition: M Apr 24 — 5PM, Sackler 114

A well-developed flash talk is an effective tool to quickly and easily communicate your work to others. These take time to develop and usually evolve over a series of iterations. Sackler students will have a chance to give their scientific flash talks before a judging panel and other students. All presenters will receive helpful feedback and compete for nice prizes. This will be a low-key, fun event with appetizers and beer, and a chance to network with other students and professionals.

Recent Events

TBBC Biotech Buzz with Joel Batson, PhD, of RA Capital

F Feb 24: TBBC hosted Joel Batson, Science Project Manager at RA Capital. Joel introduced students to a new web-based tool he is developing and offered students the opportunity to collaborate with him and his team.

TBBC Career Seminar: Teresa Broering, Director of R&D, Affinivax

Tu Apr 4: Teresa Broering, current Director of R&D at Affinivax, a Cambridage, MA-based company developing a next generation approach in vaccine technologies, and former Director of Immunology at AbVitro as well as Senior Director of Product Discovery at MassBiologics, joined us for a discussion of her career path and her current role with Affinivax, and the current state of the biotech industry.

CMDB and Genetics Programs Come Together in Portland, Maine

For the first time, the Genetics and CMDB programs came together for a retreat in Portland, Maine for the snow and slush-filled weekend of April 1st. The retreat brought together students from different programs to interact and learn more about one another’s’ research, as well as students from different campuses. Both the Boston and the Bar Harbor Jackson Laboratories contingents made it to Portland to join the Scarborough Maine Medical Research Center Institute (MMCRI) folks for a weekend of science and camaraderie. Students and faculty gave brief talks on their work, followed by a poster session and a fantastic keynote speech on storytelling was given by Christine Gentry. Read on for details on the weekend, written by Jessica Elman (CMDB, Boston Campus), Jessica Davis-Knowlton (CMDB, MMCRI), and Alexander Fine (Genetics, JAX).  

We kicked off the retreat with a marathon of 16 talks given by students in year four and up from the CMDB and Genetics programs. Given the challenge to present a summary of their work in seven minutes or less, the students delivered with presentations that were brief but pointed. Three winners were selected by Philip HInds, Ira Herman, and Rajendra Kumar-Singh for their exceptional clarity, creativity, and concision.

In third place, Melissa LaBonty, a 5th year CMDB student in Pamela Yelick’s lab, presented on her work studying Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP). In this rare and severely understudied disease, an abnormal wound repair mechanism results in bone ossification in soft tissue after damage or injury. LaBonty is working with zebrafish to create a model of FOP, which will help to better characterize the disease and understand the underlying mechanisms that drive its progression. In her presentation, LaBonty spoke clearly and at an even pace, with assisting powerpoint slides that displayed only the most essential words: together this style helped keep the group focused on her story and contributed to her ranking as one of the best speakers of the day.

 

Siobhan McRee, a 5th year Genetics student in Philip Hinds’ lab, came in second among the student presenters. McRee talked about her work in which she is elucidating the roles of different Akt isoforms in BRAF-mutant melanoma. Though this cancer is initially responsive to the drug Vemurafenib, which specifically targets cells with a BRAF-mutation, cells with other driving mutations manage to survive the drug treatment and clonally expand, resulting in significant and potentially deathly relapse of disease. Ultimately, McRee’s work will help to better understand how the Akt signaling pathway is involved in this disease and may result in more therapeutically targetable molecules. McRee’s story logically built from general facts and understanding of BRAF melanoma to ultimately culminate on more specific data showing her findings thus far as well as their implications. Furthermore, her even pace and well-organized slides made her an especially great presenter that day.

Coming in first place was Kayla Gross, a 4th year CMDB student in Charlotte Kuperwasser’s lab. Gross’s work involves understanding how aging contributes to the breast cancer development, and why certain subtypes of breast cancer are more prevalent in the aging population. Given the prevalence of breast cancer, the impactfulness of Gross’ research is immediately obvious. She worked with an aging mouse model to characterize their mammary tissue as well as performed an RNAseq experiment to uncover molecular mechanisms that might be differentially expressed in young and aging mouse tissue. Gross presented her data in a logical progression, and used illustrative cartoons and animations to her advantage to keep her audience focused and to get her point across. Besides for her brilliant and captivating powerpoint, Gross stood out for her speaking style: she had clearly chosen her words to be concise and to the point, which allowed her to make the most of the seven minutes allotted to her.

All in all, the student presentations were remarkably impressive: in just seven minutes, all the participating students managed to convey the most critical and interesting components of their research. This was a great opportunity for everyone to learn a little bit more about what our colleagues are working on, as well as a chance to practice our “flash talk” skills, which will come in handy whether it’s at a job interview or at Thanksgiving table when your uncle asks you to explain what you’re doing in graduate school for the third time.

The Story Collider’s Christine Gentry, PhD as keynote

It was suggested by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, and Jack Cohen in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe that perhaps Homo sapiens as a name for our species is a bit of a misnomer considering we are not omnipotent beings. They suggest Pan narrans, the storytelling ape, because we gain understanding by fitting facts into a larger narrative rather than collecting and storing millions of pieces of disparate information.

As communicators of new knowledge to the world (i.e. our scientific findings), it is important for us to keep the nature of our listeners in mind. In her keynote presentation to the retreat, Story Collider’s Christine Gentry, PhD encouraged us all to think about how to frame our narratives to be more approachable and demonstrated some methods of drawing in an audience.

She immediately captured our attention and sympathy by describing the challenges she faced in a wending career path that started with her geek excitement to bring a black widow spider to her Texas elementary school show-n’-tell, traversed through public outreach on the topic of zoology, and has landed at teacher/storyteller in Boston.

She required us to engage with her material by highlighting snippets of stories that we examined in small groups to find the element that made them compelling. We saw that admitting to vulnerability helps to humanize us to our audience in the story from a researcher who relies on fresh donor tissue, that self identity makes us more honest in the story from a researcher who decided not to cover her tattoos, and that we can surprise our audience by not sticking to script in the story from David who refused to tell the inspiration arising from conflict story that reporters sought to box him into. The thread tying all these stories together is that at the core they are about relationships with others, ourselves, our work, and with the larger community.

Perhaps the most memorable take-home point from her talk is that anecdotes do not equal stories. The response to most anecdotes is naturally “so what?” In order for an event or experience to be a story, it must have changed you: “I was callus, this event happened, and now I am more thoughtful” rather than “I am amazing, I did this, and I am still amazing!”

Scientific inquiry must be done in an objective manner and it is imperative that we remain unbiased as possible when we review scientific evidence, but there is room for us to inject our personalities into our presentations and relate our findings to the people who care. Now it remains to us to decide when to do so and to what degree.

On Sunday morning, we took a break from data and lectures; it was time to start working together. The purpose of this retreat was cross-program cooperation, and in our final event of the weekend, we put that goal into action. We separated into breakout sessions, not by program or campus, but by what we are interested in. These small group discussions were designed to get people together with various strengths and experiences to think about how to solve some of the challenges that graduate students face.

So what are graduate students at Sackler interested in discussing? The topics of these breakout sessions varied. Some sessions focused on day-to-day problems that a graduate student might face, like using CRISPR/Cas9 or selecting a sequencing platform. In the CRISPR discussion, participants came to the conclusion that there are no specific shared standards for all the applications of CRISPR and identified strategies to address potential off-target effects.

Other discussions centered on how to accomplish broader training goals, including grant writing, mentoring, and communicating in science. The grant writing section reviewed general writing strategies, like setting short-term, realistic goals, and shared a need for a formalized grant-writing course at Sackler. The mentoring/leadership session discussed existing programs at Sackler where a student can find a mentor, like the Tufts Mentoring Circles and the Tufts Biomedical Business Club. Students expressed a need for a more accessible alumni network, including cross-institutional resources. In the scientific communication group, students were urged to get on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and ResearchGate.

In two of the largest breakout sessions, participants concentrated on solving larger scale problems: designing coursework for a modern graduate program in biology and bridging the gap between science and medicine. To help bridge the gap between scientific research and medicine at Tufts, the discussion group recommended that faculty members be identified that can connect labs with clinicians and tissue banks. In addition, access to a course that provides a basic orientation to clinical research would benefit many students at Sackler. In the session on coursework for a modern graduate program, one topic became the clear center of the discussion: computational biology! Whether students had struggled through teaching themselves or were currently stuck with a dataset they didn’t know how to analyze, everyone in the room agreed that coursework in computational biology was crucial for a graduate student’s success in modern biology. In addition to new coursework, students from both programs expressed a need for a revision and update of their first year coursework.

While all of the breakout sessions at the retreat were productive, they are meant to be starting points for continued discussion and collaboration. This retreat should be the springboard that leads to action across programs and institutions. Sackler students are lucky to be in programs that span multiple states, campuses, and research focuses. The cross talk between these groups will make each of our programs stronger and better prepare us for our careers in the future.

Humans of Sackler: Nafis Hasan, “I Refused Determinism”

Humans of Sackler, 30 January 2017

Nafis Hasan, Cell, Molecular & Developmental Biology, Fourth-Year Student: “I Refused Determinism”

This month I present, for your reading pleasure, excerpts from my interview with Nafis Hasan from CMDB. Nafis and I had a remarkably wide-ranging conversation covering existential philosophy, cultural differences between Bangladesh and the US, the exquisite symmetry between ecology and cell biology, and current controversies in carcinogenesis research. I can only hope to capture in the space below a mere whisper of his deeply-considered intellectual convictions and passion for social justice. Fortunately, Nafis has also authored an editorial on Science Activism in this very issue, and I strongly urge you, dear reader, to check that out next!

 

Having a grand time in Dhaka
Having a grand time in Dhaka

AH: Where did you grow up?

NH: I grew up in the house that my father and his brothers built in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and moved to the U.S. when I was 18. Most of my dad’s siblings and their families lived with us in Dhaka. As kids, we didn’t really have the notion of “privacy” for the longest time: the elders would each get a room and the kids would sleep in the living room on a big mattress. My cousins and I would all get into trouble at the same time… it was fun!

 

On the road with college friends
On the road with college friends

AH: Have you had any opportunities to travel around the States?

NH: For F1 visa (student visa) holders, you have a 3-month window where you have to find a job or get into school. After graduating from Lafayette College [in Easton, Pennsylvania], I thought, “If I have to leave the country, I might as well see it.” So when one of my friends said, “Let’s do a road trip,” I said “Let’s do it!” We started from Pennsylvania, went down to Virginia, our first stop was Shenandoah – I had actually never been camping before that, it was all a very new experience. We had two American kids, a Colombian kid, and a kid from South Africa… It was very liberating, and I started to see the country as it really is. At the same time, on the road, I was interviewing for jobs. I remember doing a job interview [by video phone] at a McDonalds in Idaho. I borrowed a shirt from one of my friends who dresses nicer than I do, since the interviewer could only see the top half of me… Over the course of two months, I think I applied to 200 jobs. Finally, I ended up getting a research tech job at Thomas Jefferson University in Philly.

 

Basking in the beauty of nature at Yellowstone
Basking in the beauty of nature at Yellowstone

AH: What was it like adjusting to American culture?

NH: When I came to America, I had no idea what to expect, I had only heard things from my cousins who came here for college and what was on TV. One thing that I had in my mind was that I was going to try and meet as many people of different nationalities as I can. But there was a big cultural divide, how they grew up versus how I grew up. I think the road trip really helped me to understand the diversity of American people and especially during these times when people are so polarized, I reach out to that experience. We grew up seeing this version of America as the land of opportunity, the land of freedom, but America is not the government, is not their foreign policy, is not the consumerism that has taken over the world… America is more about the people that you meet here, and that’s how I see the country. America encapsulates the dichotomy of homogeneity versus heterogeneity, and I think that’s so beautiful.

 

The scholar/activist as a young man
The scholar/activist as a young man

AH: When did you begin to discover your interest in biology research?

NH: In Bangladesh I went to a private school that taught everything in English. The division of sciences starts in 7th grade, and biology was definitely the most interesting to me. At the same time, I was caught up in the process of deconstructing my religious identity, because I was reading biology which has hard facts about how your body works, which calls into question how life was created… I found that more fascinating than having a set answer imposed by some superior being.

 

Positive work environment!
Positive work environment!

AH: How did you choose your field of study for grad school, and why is it so interesting?

NH: I started reading a lot of scientific nonfiction, presenting cancer as a very complex biological phenomenon, which was fascinating to me. I also had a solid foundation in breast cancer by the time I applied for grad school and I wanted to pursue that… I had seen lots of tumors, but no mammary glands. The more I learn about the mammary gland, the more I am fascinated by it. It develops throughout life: initially it’s just a branched structure that looks like sticks; when you get pregnant, it almost flowers, with grape-like clusters that come up through alveologenesis and these alveoli then revert back to the branched structure after weaning. It’s comparable to how trees shed leaves in the Fall, except in reverse: this course of nature – the seasons that you see – the same dynamic is there in animal tissue. And all of this is happening through the lifetime, after the majority of the organs are already fully developed!

 

100 miles?!
First Century – Repping Sackler at 2015 Tufts Century Ride

AH: What is one of the big challenges or controversies in your field at the moment?

NH: Traditionally, cell culture is done in two dimensions, on plates that are usually plastic – and plastic is not a natural substrate for cells to grow on, so you can’t recapitulate the same 3D environment where the cells are growing inside an organism. You can either try to mimic the natural environment as much as possible, or try to make a scaffold that is biocompatible… Cells need to be able to manipulate their environment, just as the environment should be able to provide them with physical or chemical cues to make them grow or organize in certain ways. Our lab has a very organic approach to it: we do 3D cultures in type 1 collagen, the predominant structural protein found in the mammary gland stroma. We believe that “organicism is greater than reductionism.” This is where we’re at odds with a lot of others in the cancer field, where reductionism is still the predominant philosophy. And we’re not saying it’s bad! It’s just insufficient to explain carcinogenesis.

Take Part!

Remember student council elections in high school? Typically the most popular student running would win, but everyone was full of enthusiasm and excitement to attain those coveted positions! Fast-forward a decade or so to filling positions in organizations like the student council during graduate school and the picture looks dramatically different. We each take a turn, but we tend to do so grudgingly. High school was grueling, don’t get me wrong, but as the years progress the demands on our time change, the expectations are different, and the student body is less diverse (no more Poli Sci majors to eagerly take on the class president position).

Organizations that support fellow trainees and coworkers are typically run by volunteers. Each year we need people with a fresh perspective to step up and help with maintaining organizations such as the Graduate Student Council, the Sackler InSight, the Post-Doc Association, and, up here in Maine, the Research Fellows Association. There are so many important career and social events that just would not happen if these organizations were to disappear, not to mention how much smaller our voice within the school would be.

Teamwork

If you find yourself holding back from taking part in one of these community serving groups because you simply don’t have time between experiments, think of participation as a convenient way to get some career development in. Those of us who have been shoehorned into leadership positions can tell you firsthand how much rigorous practice we get in using the “soft skills”. In the business vernacular these include but are not limited to social and emotional intelligence, ability to develop people, delegation, structure and tactile development (how you get stuff done and how you tweak things to make sure it keep s getting done), style flexibility, and focus1.

Experience on a leadership team will create a tangible CV bullet that is particularly important for anyone interested in going into industry, but such experience will also be very helpful for people staying in academia (think committee and ancillary duties). It’s all in how you frame your skills to your audience.

Any of the students currently serving on committees or volunteering in other capacities will be more than happy to share their experiences, what their responsibilities and time commitments have been, contacts they have made, and what they have gotten out of their service in terms of personal and professional development.

  1. For a more in depth explanation on these soft skills, see SciPhD competencies and SCIPHD.com

Elisabeth Adkins graduates as the first Tufts JAX Track Ph.D.

Written by Alex Fine

Not all experiments at The Jackson Laboratory take five years to complete. But one day last month, a group of JAX scientists gathered to see the results of a five-year experiment. The presentation by Tufts University Genetics Program student, Elisabeth (Liz) Adkins, described a newly defined cell in the immune system, a cell that when multiplied excessively could contribute to autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. But the five-year experiment was even bigger than Liz’s newly defined cells. The other experiment was Sackler’s collaborative partnership with The Jackson Laboratory, and it had yielded measurable success: Liz is its first Ph.D. graduate!

A little over five years ago, the Sackler School and JAX created a new graduate program, the “JAX Track,” that would allow students to enroll with the explicit intent of conducting their thesis research at JAX. Located in Bar Harbor, Maine, The Jackson Laboratory is a world-renowned institution where mammalian genetics is at the forefront of research. JAX hosts Ph.D. students from universities in the US and abroad during some portion of their thesis research.

Tufts JAX Track students might be drawn to JAX because of the laboratory’s history and reputation in mouse genetics, or they might have been at JAX as a summer student and fallen in love with the place, or they might have been told about the resources and community from a mentor who had valued their own time at JAX. But the question, five years ago, that faced JAX and the Sackler School was: were there students who wanted a uniquely JAX experience during their Ph.D.? And would it work? Together, Sackler and JAX faculty thought they had the right ingredients: a strong translational research group at Tufts and wide strengths in mammalian genetics at JAX. But it took the students, and especially Liz Adkins as the pioneer student, to put it together and meet the high expectations.

Adkins joined the JAX Track on the strong recommendation of her undergraduate mentor, Tom King, who had worked with Eva Eicher at JAX during his scientific training. As Liz said, “I also knew that if I wanted to do mouse research – and I did – that there was no better place in the world to do it than at JAX.” Liz’s graduate school career began in the two months before her Sackler orientation, during which she attended the Short Course in Medical and Experimental Mammalian Genetics and had a short research rotation, both at JAX in Bar Harbor. She then moved to Boston to complete her first semester of coursework at Tufts with the rest of her Genetics cohort before returning to Maine to resume her laboratory rotations. At the end of her first year, Liz joined the research group of JAX professor Derry Roopenian for her thesis research. Roopenian studies autoimmune disorders, pathologies that arise when our body’s immune system starts fighting our body. Adkins wanted to understand the process by which B cells, the immune cells in our bodies that produce antibodies, become corrupted to produce antibodies against our own cells and tissues instead of exclusively against foreign invaders like bacteria or viruses.

As we all know, a Ph.D. requires a lot of work. There are hours and hours in the lab, at the microscope and the cell sorter, and reading papers and trying to figure out why results are different than you thought they would be. Adkins had the added challenge of helping to shape the JAX Track program. Although the Sackler and JAX faculty had a clear vision of the program’s mission and the overall structure, there were challenges along the way that no one anticipated – and which Adkins, initially as the sole student, helped solve. “I knew there would be hiccups helping pilot a new program, but I love a challenge and this was one I was happy to take,” recalled Adkins. “Communication lines are open over the geographical distance separating the two institutions. Faculty at both institutions are pulling together and there is a mutual sense of pride in what we all have accomplished,” added Mary Ann Handel, the JAX Track director in Bar Harbor. Thus today, thanks to the efforts of Liz, other Genetics students, both in the JAX Track and in Boston, and the Sackler and JAX faculty, we can all call the program a success!

Liz Adkins moves on from her successes and outstanding work at Tufts and JAX to a postdoctoral research position, studying basic questions about how stem cells remain immortal. And she will continue to teach, an interest she developed during her time as a Sackler student at JAX. She leaves with a sense of accomplishment – in her research and her life – and appreciation for the JAX Track’s unique scientific environment. “Five years later, I have absolutely no regrets,” said Adkins. “I know it helped shape me into the person and scientist I am today, and I feel extremely well prepared for the future.” So yes, in a very personal way, Liz has shown the JAX Track works!

Sackler Award Announcements

Dean’s Fellows: Four students are recognized as Dean’s Fellows each year. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in research and scholarship during a student’s first two years at the Sackler School. The award provides one year of stipend support for the student.  At the completion of the fellowship year, each student also receives a $500 prize to be used in support some aspect of his or her education.”

     Chris Bartolome (Neuroscience, Dr. Dong Kong)
     Keith Eidell (Immunology, Dr. Stephen Bunnell)
     Giang Nguyen (Immunology, Dr. Joan Mecsas)
     Suray Sharma (Biochemistry, Dr. Karl Munger)

Rosenberg Fellow

     Lauren Shull (Molecular Microbiology, Dr. Andrew Camilli)

Sackler Family Translational Cancer Awards: The Sackler Families Collaborative Cancer Biology Award was established in 2010 by a generous gift from the Sackler families. The awards are designed to provide support for innovative studies in cancer biology that will advance our knowledge of this disease and have the potential for translation and an eventual impact on patient care.”

     Christina McGuire (Biochemistry, Dr. Mike Forgac) – “Elucidating the role of V-ATPase assembly during autophagy”

     Nil Vanli (Biochemistry, Dr. Guo-fu Hu) – “RNASE4 and AXL constitute a novel pathway that confers drug resistance and offers a therapeutic target for prostate cancer”

Sackler Student Enrichment Fund

Applications for the Sackler Student Enrichment Fund for the fall cycle are due on October 6, 2016. Awards from this fund provide students the opportunity to travel to a conference to present scientific achievements, to enroll in additional courses, to attend career development seminars, and/or to participate in research/technical skill workshops. It is supported by contributions from the Provost’s Office, the Sackler Dean’s office, the Sackler Relays, outside corporations, and private donors.

For more information about the award and the application requirements, please visit the award page on the Sackler website.