Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Caroline Genco
The recipient of a new T32 training grant and an advocate for underrepresented minorities, Dr. Caroline Attardo Genco, Research Director for the Section of Infectious Diseases and Professor of Medicine (Section of Infectious Diseases) and Microbiology, is an influential member of the BUSM faculty. Encouraged by her interdisciplinary research with graduate students and colleagues, Dr. Genco continually dares students to challenge themselves, and inspires them to make a difference in the field of science.
You were recently awarded a T32 training grant. What can you tell me about this?
I was recently awarded an interdisciplinary training grant to study inflammatory disorders. This grant will address the current need for research that encompasses basic science and clinical work through different departments here at Boston University. I work in the Department of Medicine in which a number of investigators are studying inflammatory disorders, including atherosclerosis, autoimmunity, and obesity. Specifically, I am interested in inflammatory pathology induced by pathogens, inflammatory pathology associated with sterile conditions, and therapeutics used for inflammatory disorders. For many years, I have worked with faculty in the BU College of Engineering and observed how they create diagnostics that can be applied to Medicine. Ultimately, we were both studying the same topic, just from different perspectives. Engineering and basic science graduate students were already interacting with each other, and I thought to apply for a grant that would combine the two disciplines, as well as train graduate students and post-doctoral students together.
How many pre- and/or post-docs does the grant support?
The training grant will support four pre-doctoral students and two post-doctoral students. It is a great opportunity for the students to really work with each other along with other members of the laboratory.
How did you get involved with scientific research here at BUSM?
Before coming to Boston University, I served as a faculty member at Emory University and Morehouse School of Medicine, both in Atlanta. Much of my research focused on sexually transmitted diseases. BUSM had a center for such research, and I was recruited in 1997 into the Department of Medicine.
Along with my research, I am also very interested in developing a unique training program for BUSM’s graduate students. Such a program would require students to participate in an internship outside the norm of their academic work. An internship might be to work for a non-profit organization, such as the Gates Foundation, volunteer in a clinic in a third-world country, or work in an intercity school district teaching English as a second language. No matter what the internship is, the experience would force students to utilize the skills they gained as a Ph.D. student while exploring all the possibilities their degree has to offer.
Over the past couple of months, you mentored a student in the GMS Summer Undergraduate Research Program. What was that experience like?
During my time at Morehouse, I trained underrepresented minorities and solicited NIH support for their research. GMS approached me two years ago to serve as a mentor to an undergraduate and underrepresented minority student in the Summer Research Program. I was thrilled at the opportunity. This past summer was my second year participating in the program, and my student was mature and enthusiastic about her work. Because the program is for such a short period of time, it was important for her to become immersed in the laboratory immediately, and she interacted with everyone including graduate students and post-doctoral students. Sometimes the social aspects of being a minority student are difficult, and I was impressed at how well GMS Division Office was able to support my student and her peers in the program academically as well as socially. It was important that my mentee felt comfortable in and out of the laboratory. Though the summer went by too quickly, I could see a substantial level of growth in my student. We have been in contact through email since the end of summer to discuss research.
What advice do you have for current GMS students?
No matter what field you are in, self-confidence is a necessity. When you have confidence in yourself, you can do anything.
Graduate school is the time to explore all your options and truly define your passion. You will be better at what you do and you will enjoy your career more if you feel like you are making a difference in your field. Explore all of your options, and though it is not a requirement, participate in an internship that challenges you to utilize your degree in a new way, or think about the world differently. Such experiences open you up to all the opportunities that are out there for you.