Category: Faculty Spotlight

Spotlight on Faculty: Elizabeth Whitney, Ph.D., M.S.P.T.

December 27th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

What brought you to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM)?

I came to BUSM in 1998 as a doctoral student in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. Prior to this, I spent ten years at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) working as a physical therapist and five years teaching in the Physical Therapy Program at Simmons College where I received my Bachelor’s degree. Additionally, I Whitney, Elizabethparticipated in clinical research in the Physical Therapy Department at MGH as part of my Master of Science degree program. As high school student I took a course call “Medical Biology;” it sparked my interest in human anatomy and physiology. I also wanted a career path that allowed me to work with others. Pursing a degree in physical therapy allowed me to study subject areas that interested me and was a career that allowed me to work with people.

Although I enjoyed my work and the clinical research I participated in, I craved being involved in basic science research and wanted to expand my role in an academic setting. As I researched Ph.D. programs, the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology at BUSM stood out; it strongly matched my interests. I was particularly interested in the research on neuronal response to axonal injury and the effects of advancing age on this process. I was also excited by the course offering and felt right at home with the Department’s teaching mission.

After completing my Ph.D. in 2005, I was offered a faculty position. It was an easy decision to stay. A major component of this new role included assuming responsibility for teaching the DMD-I students at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine. Teaching professional students was something I had previously enjoyed at Simmons College; taking on this role was a great fit. The students are motivated and engaged in their education; they are a great group to work with.

What is your role within your department?

Most of my time is spent in formal teaching activities and working with students. I am fortunate to work with the DMD-I students at Goldman School of Dental Medicine during their entire first academic year. During the fall semester, I serve as the Course Director for Anatomical Sciences-I, a course that covers the topics of Histology and Neuroanatomy. During the spring semester, I work with these same students in Anatomical Sciences-II, a course that covers the topics of Embryology and Gross Anatomy.

At the Medical School, I teach in the Medical Gross Anatomy course. I give several lectures and assist students in the laboratory during the Back & Limb and Head & Neck sections of the course. This year I also stepped-in and served as the Graduate Director of the M.A. Vesalius Program. In this role, I assumed a number of responsibilities including advising and mentoring students, curriculum review, student issues, and admissions. In the Department, I also serve as a member of the Graduate Education Committee.

Are you involved in any research at the moment?

I was initially interested in axonal injury and regeneration and the effect age has on the neuronal response, but I ended-up taking a very different research path. My research efforts have predominantly focused on the study of the neuropathology in autism and its relationship to the developmental timing of this disorder. Along with prior research documenting the timing and sequence of key developmental events such as neuronal proliferation, migration and synapse formation, our data has been useful in gaining insight into the timing of the pathology in the autistic brain. In recent years, however, teaching and advising responsibilities have filled my days. I have, however, begun work on two anatomically based research projects. Both of these projects integrate nicely with my interests and content that I am currently teaching.

What is your favorite part of your job?

My favorite part of this job is spending time with and getting to know students. I teach about 300 students per year and, although I do not get to know each one, I really enjoy working one-on-one with students in the laboratory and during office hours. It is a bit cliché, but it is exciting to see a student finally “get it.” It doesn’t get old seeing students achieve and understand something that was once confusing and difficult to comprehend. I also love that every year brings a new group of students excited to be here and eager to learn. The students at BU are extremely hard working and dedicated to their studies; I think that is what any instructor hopes for.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Time! To balance teaching, advising, research and committee work is a challenge. It is great that there are so many opportunities to use different skill sets, but like many of my colleagues, I sometime have too much on my plate. On the positive side, however, I appreciate the flexibility of my work. I have the ability to prioritize and manage my time to meet the demands of my career and family life.

How do you like to spend your time outside of BUSM?

I love spending time with my family. My husband and I have nine- and eleven-year-old boys who both love sports. Thus, much of each weekend is spent on various sport fields: soccer, lacrosse and baseball. As a family we enjoy skiing, hiking and camping. When I have time to myself, I like to sneak out for a run.

Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?

Enjoy the experience! I came back to school after several years of being in the work force and I brought with me new appreciation for learning. After spending years focusing on patient care and teaching, I was grateful for my “student status.” It afforded me time – lots of time – to read, study, explore new material, and challenge myself to think in a new way. There are many opportunities at BU, both academic and community involvement. Use your time as a student to explore, and then dive-in! Take advantage of opportunities for collaborative relationships with faculty on research efforts, teaching experiences and community efforts. Students will get out of their experience what they put into it.

Spotlight on Faculty: MaryAnn Campion, M.S., C.G.C.

December 25th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

Director of the Genetic Counseling Program in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences (GMS)

What do you think of when you think of your dream job?MaryAnn Campion For MaryAnn Campion, Director of the Genetic Counseling Program in the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences (GMS), it is leadership, healthcare, and teaching. An active member of the GMS community, she continually influences her students to pursue successful careers in an evolving field while setting an example for her colleagues on various administrative committees with her dedication and warm personality.

What kind of career did you have before coming to BUSM?

Before starting at Boston University, I worked as a prenatal genetic counselor at the Greenwood Genetic Center in South Carolina. My work involved prenatal testing and patients with high-risk pregnancies. I enjoyed my job, but ultimately, I wanted to be the director of a graduate program, where I could continue seeing patients in the clinic, but also begin teaching. A few years ago, GMS wanted to start a genetic counseling program, and a position opened that would allow me to expand into a teaching/director role.

Can you tell me about the genetic counseling program?

The GMS Genetic Counseling program is one of thirty-two programs in the country, and the only program in New England offered on a medical campus. We receive around 150 applications a year and are fortunate to have access to exceptional and dynamic students. Throughout the two year program, students take courses, complete research projects, and train through fieldwork experience so that they have a smooth transition into the workforce. Through surveys and interviews, we are continuously asking current students what is and is not working and asking alumni about their post-grad experience. This open-door policy really allows students to shape the program and influence the curriculum.

Besides director of the Genetic Counseling program, what other roles do you have at BUSM?

Approximately twenty percent of my time is spent at Boston Medical Center working in the OB/GYN department. The other eighty percent is divided between the students, teaching, and my administrative roles. I work primarily with the students in my program, but I have also served as a thesis reader for students in other programs and give lectures for the Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine program. There are numerous committees that I serve on both within GMS and nationally. Recently, I collaborated on a grant with the School of Public Health that developed a tool for tracking patients’ family histories.

What are the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of your job?

The most challenging job is trying to stay up-to-date with all the advancements in my field. Genetic and genomic medicine is constantly changing. I often feel like I am teaching a “moving target” because a method or concept I explain today may be obsolete by the time my student graduates. When teaching, I focus on telling the students where and how they can find an answer, which will help them more in their careers than simply memorizing facts.

The most rewarding part of my job is definitely the students. They are my extended family. Every morning, I find that I am excited to go to work because I feel that I am making a difference in the lives of my students.

How do you like to spend your time outside of BUSM?

I am so grateful for my family. We have a “live in the moment” perspective, and appreciate the little things that balance out our lives. We enjoy being outdoors, and we do a lot of cycling, running, and camping together. I have two young children, so there is never a dull moment!

Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?

I am currently working on my doctorate, and I wish I had the following advice when I was working on my Masters: Be present and engaged, and try to not lose sight of what matters most in life. Whether in your studies or personal life, it is important to remember not to sweat the small stuff. This time around, I can truly appreciate my graduate program for what it is, and not just the degree I will receive. Putting aspects of your life into perspective can really help you see the bigger picture.

Spotlight on Faculty: Barbara Schreiber, Ph.D.

December 19th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

 

Schreiber, Barbara--1

Setting a goal and achieving it takes determination, flexibility, and an open mind—a process Dr. Barbara Schreiber knows all about.  Associate Professor of Biochemistry, she always knew she wanted a fulfilling career in science, as well as a family.  She discusses how to balance it all, and that your dream job may not always be just as you imagined.

How did you first become interested in science?

In high school, science was easily my favorite subject.  When it came time for me to go to college and choose a major, it was a no-brainer.  I majored in biology at the State University of New York at Buffalo.  I had a neighbor where I grew up in Bayside, NY, Dr. Albert Hirschmann, who was a faculty member in the Department of Anatomy at Downstate Medical Center and he offered me a summer position in his lab; it was there that I became hooked on research.  After earning my Bachelors degree, I worked as a technologist for the blood bank at the American Red Cross in addition to taking courses in immunology.  The combination of my work and classes motivated me to apply to Boston University for graduate school.

What made you choose biochemistry?

I did not initially choose biochemistry.  I earned my PhD degree in the Department of Microbiology working with a brilliant researcher, Dr. Frederick Moolten.  My thesis work was on generating hybrid molecules of an antibody conjugated to a potent bacterial toxin in order to target tumor cells.  Though I was passionate about my research, I realized that I also wanted a family and I didn’t think I would be competitive as a principal investigator if I couldn’t spend day and night in the lab.  Realizing that there were other paths to take and remain in science, I decided to try to pursue my new found love of microbes and I applied for a post doctoral position with Dr. Cynthia Needham in the clinical microbiology lab at University Hospital.  I really enjoyed learning from Dr. Needham about the workings of a clinical hospital lab but I missed research!

At that point, I had one child and I decided to meet with Dr. Carl Franzblau, who was the chairperson of the Department of Biochemistry at BUSM, as I thought he might know of someone in his department who would be open to considering a postdoc who wasn’t willing to work 24×7.  Instead of suggesting faculty in his department, he offered me a position in his lab.  I must admit, I was hesitant because he studied what I thought was a rather “boring” molecule….elastin, but Dr. Franzblau did make it sound exciting and he allowed me to tailor projects to my interests.  Moreover, he enabled me to do some work from home; as long as the work got done, he didn’t care where (Dr. Franzblau, a gifted scientist and mentor, was ahead of his time; he invented “flextime”)!  During the time in his lab, I had two more children and I was promoted to faculty.  Eventually, Dr. Franzblau passed his lab onto me as he moved away from research and took on more administrative responsibilities.  By the way, to this day, I’m studying that “boring” molecule!

Did you always know that you wanted to teach?

I can’t say that I gave teaching much thought in the very early years of my career.  Now, I can say however, that I love teaching!  I serve as course manager to our first year dental students at the Goldman School of Dental Medicine and the Oral Health Science track students in the MA in Medical Sciences program.  I enjoy trying to make a difficult subject “palatable” to students whose primary interest is not necessarily biochemistry and for the MA students, I love seeing them do well and achieve their goal of gaining admission to dental school.  I also direct the Biochemistry Graduate Program for PhD and MA students.  I love watching the graduate students develop as scientists as they progress through our program.

You are participating in the development of the second-year PhD curriculum, Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FiBS) II.  Can you tell me a little about this new curriculum?

I was first a member of the FiBS I curriculum planning committee, which strove to develop coursework that would challenge the students with intensive science content in biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics and physiology.  The faculty and students on the committee worked collaboratively across disciplines to devise the new curriculum.  The faculty who implemented the new curriculum this year (not me) have done a great job; it’s been an exciting new adventure!

The goals for the second year curriculum, FiBS II, are very different, a bit more vague.  The focus is on professional development skills, and will consider scientific writing, oral presentation, biostatistics, bioethics, research compliance, public policy, management, leadership and career paths.  The FiBS II committee charged with this task is representative of nearly all the PhD programs, and is currently deciding if these lessons are best taught as credit-bearing courses or in workshop formats.

How do you think PhD students will benefit from a renovated curriculum?

This curriculum is beneficial to students because, like my own career demonstrates, there need not be one straight path determined upon entering graduate school with no room for change.  This curriculum will help students consider options to participate in the greater scientific community, not just in academic science; data suggest that only a small percentage of today’s scientists-in-training will pursue careers in academia and there’s a wide world of options out there.  It is our obligation to introduce our students to these opportunities, and to help them find the career that will be fulfilling and allow them to contribute to the scientific community and to the greater good.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

That’s a tough question!  I love teaching and directing the graduate programs in the Department of Biochemistry as well as my committee work within GMS and the University, but if I must choose one, I still have to say that my absolute favorite part of the job is my research.  I love directing graduate students and research technicians in my own lab, watching them grow and mature as young scientists.  It is a rewarding experience for me as well as, I hope, for them.  My lab focuses on studying the role of aortic smooth muscle cells in atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis results from a chronic inflammation of the vasculature and we study how inflammatory processes impact on smooth muscle cell function.  In particular, we study serum amyloid A, an acute phase protein that accumulates in the vascular lesions that are the hallmark of atherosclerosis.  We showed that serum amyloid A alters smooth muscle cell function.  In seeking a receptor for the serum amyloid A-mediated effects, our work has led to consideration of a role for activation of a family of receptors known as the Toll like receptors in atherosclerosis as well as in the development of the vasculature in utero.   Interestingly, the Toll like receptor-2 is also activated by the periodontal pathogen P. gingivalis so we are considering if periodontal disease can impact on poor vascular development and hence, poor pregnancy outcomes as well as vascular sequelae later in life. This work is a collaboration between my lab and the labs of Drs. Caroline Genco, Ellen Weinberg and Matthew Layne.   These studies are yet another example of how your experiences can be brought to bear in ways you might not have considered before; this research was shaped from a variety of interests/experiences that I’ve had throughout my career including my early training as a microbiologist, my current teaching in the dental school which has enabled me to understand the impact of periodontal disease on systemic disease and my laboratory’s focus on smooth muscle cell biology.

What is the most challenging?

It can be a challenge to balance everything: research, teaching and administrative/committee work.  You have to prioritize.  The internet has made it easier in some ways because a lot of work can be done at home, but of course, you’re never truly away from work.  Sometimes not sleeping helps to get things done too!

What do you like to do outside of BUSM?

I love to spend my free time outside of BUSM with my family, my husband and three children.  I do a lot of cooking for them;  I believe that many scientists enjoy cooking, each dish an experiment that allows you to change multiple variables at once (something you can’t do in the lab)!  Even if it comes out tasting awful, it’s okay, because it’s for family and you can always modify the next time!  I also enjoy reading and I’m a member of a book group.  We read fiction and non-fiction; this month’s book is “Changing Planet, Changing Health: How the Climate Crisis Threatens Our Health and What We Can Do About It” by Paul R. Epstein and Dan Ferber.  Though I enjoy knitting and crochet, my projects are often experiments as well!

Do you have any advice for current GMS students?

Students should always follow their passions.  It is important to set goals, but life sometimes gets in the way, and that’s okay.  Careers take unexpected turns and you can always set new goals.  Keep in mind that as a scientist, you’re likely to find your passion in many scientific pursuits, so keep your mind open (after all look at elastin and me)!  It’s important to stay true to yourself, and to be able to think beyond what you originally planned but just as long as you contribute to science and humankind (and of course, can pay the bills), you’re doing great.  When I realized in the early years of my career that I could not work 80 hours a week as an academic scientist, I first thought it was an admission of defeat.  But not at all; on the contrary, it all worked out and frankly, now I do have it all!  I spend a lot of time with my family and now that my children are older, I have a lot more time to dedicate to work.  As options unfold, think long and hard about them and choose a goal and career that works best for you.

Importantly, seek good mentors who will help you to shape your career.  Feel free to reach out to potential mentors within your department, in other programs within GMS and Boston University as well as outside of the University.  I have been so lucky to have been mentored “by the best” over the years (some of whom are highlighted above); extra special thanks go to Dr. Moolten and Dr. Franzblau!

Spotlight on Faculty: Theresa A. Davies, Ph.D.

December 1st, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

How did you first become interested in science?

I have loved science since I was a child. My parents worked in teaching and business, so I had no direct connection to the field, but I ended up majoring in chemistry at the University of Virginia and developed a passion for biochemistry. When I first started my undergraduate career, I planned on attending medical school, but instead I chose to take a research position at Boston University after graduating. While working in the lab, I took a fetheresa-retouch-3 - websitew courses and ultimately enrolled in a program at the medical school and earned my Ph.D. in Biochemistry. I studied the thrombin receptor on human platelets.

Have you been at BUSM ever since earning you Ph.D. degree?

Yes, and after earning my Ph.D., I became a postdoctoral fellow in the Biochemistry department, continuing the research I completed for my dissertation. I actually started my family (twins) when I was finishing my dissertation, and I had a wonderful mentor in this lab who really taught me how to be both a scientist and a mom. After my postdoctoral position, I became an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and started research in the area of Alzheimer’s disease. I looked at the role of platelets in amyloid deposition using a blood brain barrier. Around this time, I again had two more sons, and saw how women can really have a fruitful career as a scientific researcher and a family. My job evolved as I took on administrative roles and began advising students in the M.A. in Medical Sciences (MAMS) program. It is very fulfilling to help students apply to medical / dental schools and watch as they accomplish their goals.

You recently created a M.S. in Oral Health Sciences (OHS) program, previously a track in MAMS. Can you tell me about the program?

This graduate program allows students interested in dentistry the opportunity to improve their credentials for dental school admission. Originally a track within the MA Medical Sciences (MAMS) program, OHS students were able to take first-year dental courses at the BU Goldman School of Dentistry and prove their aptitude. Now that the Oral Health Sciences program is separate from the MAMS program, we will begin to offer new courses specific to pre-dental students, such as the Evidence-Based Dentistry course I recently developed.

What other roles do you play on the Medical Campus?

As with all faculty I wear many hats. I serve on several administrative and admissions committees for both the Medical School and for GMS. I host webinars as a recruitment tool for the Oral Health Sciences program and am involved with improving and maintaining the GMS website, a job which has been quite the learning experience. I found that I really like building and designing the web pages, and though it can be challenging, website development has been very rewarding for me. Additionally, I co-teach Biomedical Information course, which helps students with thesis writing skills as well as the newly approved Evidence Based Dentistry course which will start this Fall.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I love helping students realize their dreams and accomplish their goals. Ultimately, their success is my success. I push my students to work hard while they are here at GMS, but also offer them support, encouragement (and compassion) when the coursework is challenging. I have also had to learn how to balance my professional and personal life, which has not always been easy! But I am very happy that I have not had to sacrifice one for the other, and I can say that I truly love my job.

What is the most challenging?

Balancing all of my responsibilities. My year is very cyclic, so I am never doing the same task for very long before a new one takes its place. Whether it’s teaching, reviewing theses, admissions or website work, or medical/dental school application assistance I am always doing something different, depending on the time of year. Every year varies as well because I have a new cohort of students who I love to get to know. My job is not as repetitive as it may seem, even though I continually have the same responsibilities due to my colleagues and students.

What do you like to do outside of BUSM?

I have four children, ages fourteen through twenty-eight, and we are all very active. My younger children, my husband, and I love spending time outside, especially camping. I also love reading and going to the beach. I am actively involved in my church community teaching, boy scouts and even help with the website for the high school crew team, which one of my sons participates on.

Do you have any advice for current GMS students?

It is important to follow your dreams and passions, and not to give up or let anyone discourage you. Students should find what fits into their life and is interesting to them, and pursue it. When you commit to a program, be prepared to work hard and give the time it takes to be successful. With perseverance and support, and at times a little luck, you will be successful.

Spotlight on Faculty: David Levin, Ph.D.

December 1st, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

What brought you to Boston University?Levin, David

Several aspects of Boston University prompted me to move from Johns Hopkins University. Certainly, its location in Boston is a tremendously positive factor. There is an enormous pool of  bright and talented scientists in Boston. But perhaps the most important element was the high level of collaborative interaction that is part of the culture of Boston University. We have a very interactive community here, which is important for professional growth at all levels, from students to faculty.

You serve as chair of the PiBS Admissions Committee. Can you describe that experience?

The admissions process for PiBS is a great deal of work for everyone involved, but it’s very satisfying. I was amazed by the number of high quality applicants we received in the first year, which allowed us to be very selective. It was great to get to know the applicants, first on paper, then in person through the interview process. The aspect that was new to me, as the director of Admissions, was the importance of getting to know all of the applicants we chose to interview, rather than just the few with whom I had formal meetings. This was a significant challenge, but rewarding at the same time.

How does a program like PiBS benefit our PhD students?

There are several benefits to an interdisciplinary umbrella program such as PiBS, particularly for students who have not yet settled on a specific sub-discipline of biomedical science for their doctoral studies. For example, students enter the program without commitment to a specific department, or discipline. This allows them to explore a wide variety of research areas through laboratory rotations in labs spread across eight separate, but related Ph.D. programs, as well as through seminars and other events in various participating departments. Additionally, because the first year curriculum is broad-based, it puts students on a very strong footing to move in whatever direction they chose, not only for their Ph.D. research, but at later stages, as well.

Are you involved in any research at the moment?

My lab studies molecular mechanisms underlying stress signaling. We use yeast as a model system for understanding signal transduction events that are typically initiated at the cell surface and are translated into physiological responses, often through changes in gene expression. We have discovered recently a novel mechanism for control of stress-induced genes, called transcriptional attenuation. We think of this process as a mechanism to keep the control regions of these genes functioning under conditions in which gene expression is turned off, so that gene expression can be activated rapidly and efficiently under emergent conditions. There may be applications of this work to therapeutic gene silencing.

What are the most challenging and the most rewarding parts of your job?

The most rewarding aspects of my job are the research successes. Those discoveries that change the fundamental way in which we think about a process happen only rarely. But when they do, there is nothing quite like it.

How do you like to spend your time outside of BUSM?

My wife and I enjoy travel abroad and are gradually working our way through a long “bucket list”.

Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?

The primary job of a Ph.D. student is to turn themselves into rigorous, self-critical scientists. It’s not about completing a project, or even about the number of papers you publish during your time here, although these are important aspects of becoming a scientist. If you focus on developing your ability to generate good data and to analyze those data in a critical way, this will serve you very well.

Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Caroline Genco

July 13th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Genco--9.28.11The 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.

Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Gregory Viglianti

July 12th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Greg Viglianti--11.30.11With a passion for gardening and cooking, Dr. Gregory Viglianti stirs up more than a delicious Italian meal.  Making great strides in HIV research here at Boston University School of Medicine, Dr. Viglianti shows the same commitment to mentoring students and participating in GMS administrative committees that he does to his research.  A model faculty member, Dr. Viglianti describes his path into the Microbiology department and offers some advice for all GMS students.

What brought you into the field of Microbiology?

I entered the field of Microbiology through the back door.  When I started my research as a PhD student, I focused on gene regulation in fruit flies.  For my postdoc, I studied transposable elements in fruit flies, which eventually led me to study bona fide viruses.  I ultimately began to research HIV.  Now, working at BUSM, I can devote my time in the Microbiology department to laboratory research as well as teaching.

HIV research is especially important today.  Can you tell me a little more about your current research?

My laboratory group is currently working to understand how certain factors affect HIV transmission.  For instance, we have found that other diseases, such as gonorrhea, particularly in women, tend to increase transmission by activating innate immune receptors. By fully understanding how and why HIV is transmitted from person to person, we can develop a way to prevent the spread of the virus, possibly through the use of a topical microbicide. Along those lines, we are also studying drugs that target certain nuclear receptors to see whether their activities can block transmission.

What is the best part about mentoring students?

I have had the pleasure of mentoring a number of outstanding students and have found it to be very rewarding. My favorite part about mentoring students is helping them become independent thinkers.  You can almost see the light bulb go off in their heads when they transition from novice researchers to full-fledged scientists.  It is at that point that you realize that they “get it”.

I understand that you also have some administrative responsibilities with GMS?

Yes, I am a member of many GMS committees including the Academic Policy Committee, the Ph.D. Steering Committee, and the Faculty Senate.  Participating at this level in the GMS and BU community is very important to me, though it can be a challenge.  It is hard to juggle these administrative responsibilities with things I enjoy more, like research and teaching.

I am also involved with the recently designed Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FiBS) curriculum for PhD students.  About a year and a half ago, I was asked to join the FiBS discussion because I had shown interest in revamping the old curriculum for our PhD students and bringing their education up-to-speed with the twenty-first century.  After a long discussion, and when the new curriculum began to take form, it made sense for me to serve as a course co-manager for a FiBS module.

What is the most interesting part of your work?

Definitely my research.  Beyond the details of my lab, research in general is fascinating.  Science is one of a few fields that allows you to discover something new about the universe on a regular basis.  It is forever changing, and I am constantly learning new things.

What do you enjoy doing outside of the office/lab/BU?

My wife Sue and I love to garden and cook.  At home, we have a 1,200 ft2 vegetable garden.  The garden produces enough to eat from early spring all the way through late autumn.  I would also consider us pretty good cooks.  I am Italian, so cooking and food has always been a part of my life.  It is something I really enjoy.  We also enjoy our border terriers, Wilma and Bruno.  They are incredibly energetic, some would say over–the–top. But they are endlessly entertaining.

Do you have any advice for GMS students?

Science is hard, but more importantly it is a lot of fun. You should enjoy it.  Also, I think it is easy to get bogged down in the details of one’s own research.  Every once in a while it is important to step back and think about how what you are doing fits into the big picture. If science is your calling you will know it.

 


Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Barnes and Dr. Laird

July 12th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Barnes and Dr. LairdMedicine is not always about hospitals and biomedical research.  For this reason, Dr. Linda Barnes and Dr. Lance Laird worked to create the Medical Anthropology and Cross Cultural Practices (MACCP) program here at BUSM.  A “program by design,” students in this program experience a new way of examining medicine and the process of health and healing in cultures from around the world, particularly as these cultures have entered the United States.

Can you tell me a little about the MACCP program?

Dr. Barnes: Medical Anthropology is a branch of cultural anthropology.  The field focuses on how cultures view and respond to sickness, suffering, healing, and medicine.  The MACCP program highlights four areas:  1) We take students through the practical skills required to practice medical anthropology after graduation.  They design a fully detailed study, participate in field work, and learn how to write for various audiences, in addition to receiving training in specific professional skills. 2) The students also gain solid training in theoretical analysis and its application to their data.  3) Our program teaches students how to develop a study within a local community or group.  While medical anthropology often focuses on global health overseas, our program teaches students to relate global health to Boston.  4) Finally, this program offers students the chance to customize their program.  In addition to core required courses, students choose their electives from offerings throughout the university, to fulfill their long-term goals.  Because the program is so customized, it is a small program, ensuring a lot of one-on-one interaction with the faculty.

Dr. Laird:  MACCP is not only about how cultures view health issues, but also how they define health.  It is important to remember that a culture does not have to be foreign or ethnic.  Our program examines the cultural views of mainstream biomedical science to understand the people who work in healthcare within the local community.  After studying world-view assumptions of medical sciences, we can better understand how a culture influences professions and professionals.  For instance, what beliefs, values, or norms is a physician considering when he or she prescribes the HPV vaccination or an anti-depressant to a patient?  We study the cultures of the clinic.

What kind of career do students in the MACCP program pursue after earning their degree?

Dr. Barnes: Our students have a variety of backgrounds and experiences.  The element that ties them together is their willingness and ability to “see outside the box.”  Some students have completed pre-medical tracks during their undergraduate education and want to continue on to medical school with a different perspective.  Others have an anthropology background, but want to focus in on medical anthropology.  Some students have heard about the field of medical anthropology but don’t yet have the necessary knowledge and experience to pursue a Ph.D. program.  Others are drawn to public health kinds of careers, but want to focus on a more localized population using anthropological methods.

Dr. Laird: It is important to recognize that the program focuses on cross-cultural practices as well as medical anthropology.  Students will learn how medicine is practiced in many different cultures.  We often have public health students enrolled in our classes.

How did you become an educator?  Is there any research in your field you are working on?

Dr. Barnes: I was trained at Harvard in an interdisciplinary program that combined medical anthropology and world religions.  My research focuses on Chinese medicine and healing traditions, how these came to Boston, and how they have spread throughout the United States.  I have worked extensively with the Boston Healing Landscape Project, which was the basis for our Masters program.

Dr. Laird: As a graduate student at Harvard, I studied Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and I also received training in anthropology to better understand religious boundaries.  I taught out West after completing graduate school, and it was the interdisciplinary class “Body, Mind, and Soul,” taught by a ballet instructor, psychologist, and myself, a comparative religion instructor, that I became interested in how religion is expressed through the body.  It was a profound experience to watch as students danced to express a serious illness.  After five years, I moved to Boston with my family, and Dr. Barnes invited me into the BU community.  Currently, I am researching the Muslim community, focusing on the healing practices and spiritual needs of Muslim patients and providers and reaching out to improve the overall health of this community.

What advice would you give to GMS students regarding courses, or in general?

Dr. Barnes: You can pretty much do anything you really want to do, as long as you find someone to sign off on it.  If you have a good idea, there should be a way to do it.  Take the extra steps and jump through the hoops if that is what it takes.  Such a philosophy provides an approach for an interesting life and career.  Similarly, be passionate about the field in which you are working.  There is a difficult job market right now, and life does not always go in straight lines.  Nothing happens immediately, and you will need the passion to carry you through the difficult times.  Work closely with your advisor, your peers, and the faculty to take full advantage of your education.  Be sure to think long-term, particularly when choosing your electives.

Dr. Laird: Be prepared to work hard, and challenge yourself to see the world through others’ eyes.  Examine your blind spots and think outside the box of traditional medical sciences.  Find support in the BU community, the program, and among your faculty and peers.

Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. William Cruikshank

July 6th, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Cruikshank 9.7.12Dr. William Cruikshank

Director, Molecular Medicine

Not many people can say they have two careers, but Dr. William Cruikshank can.  Director of the Molecular Medicine program and Assistant Dean for the Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs at Boston University School of Medicine, he is a successful scientist and administrator in higher education.  Balancing these two responsibilities with his natural enthusiasm, grace, and dedication, Dr. Cruikshank sets the mold for GMS faculty.

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I first realized I had a passion for science when I was in high school.  The labs were interesting, and something I looked forward to.  In my sciences classes, the material made sense, and I enjoyed learning about how cells worked and marveled at how complicated the process was for regulating cellular activity.  I continued to study science in college and had some really excellent professors at Washington and Jefferson College who further peaked my curiosity and enthusiasm.  I think those professors solidified in me an excitement for science that continues to drive me even now.

What brought you to BUSM?

I started at Boston University in 1978 as a technician in the lab of Dr. David Center.  I continued to work in his lab while matriculating on the Charles River Campus as a full-time student studying zoology.  David’s research involved investigating the presence of T lymphocyte chemoattractant factors.  At that time there were no known factors that could attract T cells to sites of inflammation and our work lead to the discovery of interleukin-16.  That discovery along with the advice from my Zoology advisor that there were no jobs available for zoologists prompted me to apply to the Biochemistry Program at BUSM.  My thesis work involved characterizing IL-16, something which I am still working on to this day.  So, to answer your question, I initially started at BUSM as a technician for David Center, and I have remained at BUSM all these years also because of David Center.  I cannot emphasize enough how important a strong mentor is during those early years in the lab and David provided the optimal environment that allowed me to grow as a scientist.  I am forever grateful to two people, Dr. Fred Wasserman, my zoology advisor, but mostly to the mentorship, understanding and friendship that I constantly received from David.

Can you describe you research?

For the past 34 years my research has been focused on IL-16.  IL-16 is a highly conserved protein with a similar structure and function in all species tested thus far ranging from leach to mouse to man.  IL-16 binds to CD4 and is intimately involved in the regulation of inflammation.  My research has predominately addressed the role of IL-16 in regulating inflammation associated with asthma and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.  More recently we have identified a role of IL-16 in the regulation of T lymphocyte recruitment and proliferation in T cell cancers such as Sezary Syndrome and Mycosis Fungoides, two cutaneous T cell lymphomas.  Our goal is to further develop and commercialize several IL-16 based reagents for therapeutics in asthma and autoimmunity.

You were recently appointed Director of the Molecular Medicine program in the Department of Medicine.  Could you tell me a little about the program, and what are your plans for the future?

When I accepted the position as Director, I did so with the intent of developing the program into one that really emphasized a translational approach to the research.  The Department of Medicine has a wealth of resources related to clinical expertise and access to a variety of patient populations.  I strongly believe that the students research should not only focus on the basic science aspects, but to broaden their understanding into how the basic science relates to disease and disease progression.  To help facilitate this I want to encourage both basic science and clinical faculty members to get involved, and I am encouraging a co-mentor program for the students such that each student will have a  secondary mentor who’s expertise compliments those of their primary mentor to provide for a solid foundation in both basic science and clinical approaches.  I think that the NIH is now looking for grant proposals that are more translational in scope and pharmaceutical companies have always looked for scientist with a strong understanding of clinical applications.  My goal is to provide a program that utilizes the resources at BUSM for the development of scientists who are best equipped to compete for the biomedical jobs of the future.

Are you involved in any other activities?

I have recently been appointed as an Assistant Dean of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs for the medical school.  Under the guidance of Dr. Rafael Ortega, the Medical School has been very successful at developing and promoting diversity, and in this new position I hope to bring similar programs to the GMS.  I have participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program (SURP) for the past three years and have thoroughly enjoyed it.  Linda Zimmerman has done a fantastic job running the program and my involvement has opened my eyes to how important diversity is.  Through a couple of grant applications that I have been involved with I hope that we get the resources to significantly increase diversity and inclusion within the student population at BUSM.  I believe that it is very important to not only increase diversity but to increase the overall cultural awareness of how important diversity and inclusion are for an optimal research environment.  I hope that in this new position I have the opportunity to help promote some of these changes at BUSM.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

The most interesting part of my job at BUSM is looking for the opportunity to collaborate with other investigators.  The breadth of scientific expertise at BUSM is outstanding and provides an environment that fosters a collegial approach to research.  With funding as difficult as it is these days attacking a problem from a variety of different angles I believe gives one an advantage.  This collaborative approach at BUSM is a real plus and is something that distinguishes this university from many others.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Similar to many investigators I think that a very challenging part of our jobs is to secure sufficient funding to conduct the type of research that interests us the most.  I see too many investigators spending a majority of their time writing grants rather than having time to do what it is that attracted all of us to research in the first place, asking great questions and having time to creatively explore those questions in the lab.  I understand that funding typically comes in cycles but that is very little consolation during the difficult times.  Staying positive can at times be the most challenging part of our jobs.

What do you like to do outside of BUSM?

I love spending time with my family.  I have two children; my son is a high school teacher, and my daughter is currently attending Stonehill College.  Living in northern Massachusetts, I have plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, and I particularly enjoy playing tennis and biking with my wife Sue.  The biggest challenge at home is being able to keep up with her.  I also really enjoy hiking in the woods with my black lab, Nikki.  I find her love of just running around chasing the birds and squirrels to be very infectious and quite therapeutic.

Do you have any advice for current GMS students?

I think that I have two pieces of advice, for what it’s worth.  The first is to tap into your inner curiosity.  Science is driven by always asking that next question.  The second piece of advice would be to think globally in terms of how your questions and your project relates to other biological systems.  All systems inter-relate at some level and having an open mind and broad-based understanding of different systems I think gives you the best opportunity to appreciate the wonderful complexity that is biomedical research.

Spotlight on Faculty: Dr. Symes & Dr. Dasgupta

July 1st, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight

Drs. K. Symes & S. Dasgupta--8.18.11Science is constantly evolving, and with that comes the need for graduate education to adapt.  Dr. Shoumita Dasgupta of the Genetics and Genomics program and Dr. Karen Symes of the Biochemistry Department agree.  With a group of other dedicated GMS faculty, they have transformed doctoral education at BUSM through the development of a new and engaging curriculum.

Can you tell me a little about the Foundations in Biomedical Sciences (FIBS) curriculum?

Dr. Dasgupta: The evolution of the new FIBS curriculum is based on redefining what scientific literacy means for doctoral students in the biomedical sciences. It is a series of courses designed for first-year doctoral candidates that will serve as a foundation for the rest of their doctoral education.  The curriculum integrates many fields of science to teach Ph.D. students interdisciplinary thinking.

Dr. Symes:  The courses incorporate topics from a wide range of disciplines including biochemistry, biophysics, cell and molecular biology, genetics and physiology.  Touching on all of these fields, the courses are designed to reflect the way interdisciplinary science is conducted, as well as to coordinate content across courses and programs.

Dr. Dasgupta: The FIBS curriculum has been designed so that the students take four core modules.  The fifth module consists of electives whose purpose is to allow the student to take an integrated course in an additional discipline.

Why is an integrated curriculum so important?

Dr. Symes: Science has evolved so much over the past decade.  It is not only important to have the knowledge of other scientific fields, but also to have the ability to use that knowledge critically. Science is increasingly an interdisciplinary endeavor and it is important to be able to incorporate elements from other fields into your own research.

Dr. Dasgupta: This new curriculum will really focus on the process of intellectual development.  The courses will encourage students to take what they already know and expand on it as they ask and answer questions across scientific disciplines.  A curriculum like FIBS allows the students to put together a scientific story from multiple perspectives at once.

Is BU the first university to use this kind of curriculum?

Dr. Symes: No, integrated science curriculums can be found at a lot of other colleges and universities.  When the movement to form such a curriculum for Boston University was initiated, the committee looked at other graduate school models, however, FIBS is truly a BUSM derived curriculum.  No other school has done it quite the way that we have.

How did you get involved in graduate education?

Dr. Symes: I took a very typical route into graduate education.  I established myself as a researcher first. However, as I began to teach, I found that I loved it.  I soon became interested in the development of higher education, which led to my involvement in designing the FIBS curriculum.

Dr. Dasgupta: I began in higher education as an educator when I was hired to develop graduate and medical curricula in genetics and genomics. I have always been interested in working with students both in the classroom and as a mentor, so I greatly enjoy my roles as course director and program director.

Do you find you still have time to research and participate in the sciences?

Dr. Symes: My lab worked on understanding the molecular basis of cell movements in early embryonic development.

Dr. Dasgupta: My current research is in education, focusing on different teaching strategies and methods in the context of graduate and medical education.

What advice would you give to GMS students regarding courses, or in general?

Dr. Symes: Invest in your own education, because the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.  I know it sounds clichéd, but it is true.

Dr. Dasgupta: Work collaboratively with your peers, faculty, and mentors.  Try to find people with expertise relevant to your area of study to enrich your own education.