Masters Students Celebrate their Accomplishments!
Category: Faculty Spotlight
What do you think of when you think of your dream job? 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.
R. Jarrett Rushmore III, PhD
Graduate Director for the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
A faculty member, active researcher, student mentor, husband and recent father, Dr. Jarrett Rushmore, Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, balances all of his responsibilities with enthusiasm and grace.
What brought you to BUSM?
I started at Boston University as a laboratory technician in 1995 after graduating from Trinity College with a background in Neuroscience. I joined the doctoral program in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and performed research about how brain circuits in the visual system respond to damage. After completing my doctoral degree, I was recruited to stay at BUSM as a faculty member.
Are you involved in any research at the moment?
I’m really interested in how the brain responds to damage, and then recovers from damage. Most recovery after brain damage is quite limited, and so we have been using non-invasive brain stimulation to train the brain circuits that mediate recovery and improve function after brain damage.
You have many roles within GMS. Can you tell me about some of them?
Sure. I serve on a variety of committees, but most of my time revolves around teaching or advising students. In the medical school, I teach in the Medical Histology and Medical Neuroscience courses. I also teach to graduate students in the Cellular Organization of Tissues. I serve as the director of the graduate programs in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology. I’m also an advisor for the Master of Arts in Medical Sciences students, and also serve on the Academy of Advisors in the medical school.
Can you tell me about the Anatomy and Neurobiology Masters and PhD programs?
The Master’s degree in Anatomy and Neurobiology is called the Vesalius program after Andreas Vesalius, the father of Anatomy. Vesalius was remarkable not only for his anatomical drawings, but because he was one of the first people to actually teach Anatomy. As part of their first year curriculum, our students take medical gross anatomy, medical neuroscience and medical histology, and come back in their second year and teach medical and graduate students in these very same courses. The students find this experience transformative – both in their understanding of the discipline, and in the development of their confidence to become first-rate academicians.
The doctoral program is also unique. We tailor the curriculum to the individual doctoral student, and have three curricular tracks to reflect the interests of the students (Anatomy, Neurobiology, or Anatomy and Neurobiology). These students are outstanding, particularly in their cutting edge research in the neurosciences or in the anatomical sciences. However, what really distinguishes these students is that they also become expert educators in the discipline. They are closely and intensively trained to teach biomedical sciences to medical, graduate, and dental students. As a result, our students have had great success in a tight job market, and many are offered faculty positions in academic medical centers directly upon receiving their degree.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The most challenging part of my job is balancing the different aspects of the job. There are a lot of different aspects of a faculty member, and thinking about how best to solve a scientific problem is a very different way to think from how to best teach a particular concept, or to produce an effective policy. It’s a challenge, but it also helps me understand how my brain works, which as a neuroscientist is something I like to think about.
What is the best part of your job?
Well, I love science and I really enjoy teaching – these are the hallmarks of this job. One thing I didn’t expect was discovering that one of the best things about my job is the students. The medical and graduate students I advise and teach and work with in the lab are simply outstanding people. They are incredibly accomplished people, they are clever and smart, they have explored the world, they think about their place in the world and actively think how to make the world a better place. They are unique, interesting, passionate, and inspiring.
How do you like to spend your time outside of BUSM?
My time outside BU is mostly spent with my family. My wife and I have a nine-month-old daughter who has just started to crawl. We have also recently experienced the joy of new home ownership, so I’ve recently spent some time killing hornets, chasing groundhogs, and realizing that I’m a really bad carpenter.
Do you have any advice for current students or prospective students?
I think that what really sets BU apart from other research programs is the level of engagement by the faculty. I think the faculty at BU have a culture in which they go to extraordinary lengths to mentor, help, and support graduate students. All the faculty I know have an open-door policy, and they spend a tremendous time mentoring, teaching and just talking to students. They always have time for questions, regardless if they are in the middle of a grant or preparing a lecture, and go out of their way to make sure students are doing well. I’m very proud to be a part of this. This level of engagement and commitment amazes students who have been undergraduates or graduate student in other institutions, and they are quite simply taken aback by how much the faculty really care about how they are doing. My advice is that students should take advantage of this really unique and special environment.
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.
When most people hear “forensic science,” they immediately think of DNA and dead bodies. With the Hollywood TV shows and movies, people often do not realize the science behind investigating a crime scene. Dr. Adam Hall, Instructor in the Biomedical Forensic Sciences program at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), explains how he has transformed his career from examining evidence and teaching jurors to educating students here at BUSM. Recipient of the 2012 Educator of the Year Award in the Graduate Medical Sciences, Dr. Hall continually demonstrates his dedication and service to GMS and his students.
Why did you come to BUSM?
The Biomedical Forensic Sciences program at BUSM is very unique. Dr. Tara Moore started the program six years ago, worked tirelessly to build the program and to hire faculty who had worked in the field of forensic science with MS degrees, as well as faculty with PhDs and MDs. Typically, forensic science programs do not have the term “biomedical,” but because this program is within a medical school, it accurately describes the program. The Biomedical Forensic Sciences program is very interdisciplinary, and the faculty has a wide range of expertise. My specialty is forensic chemistry and instrumental analysis. For instance, I teach students how to understand and utilize a particular instrument to identify probative evidence in arson, explosive, or drug cases.
What do students typically do after they complete this program?
Some students go on to medical school, and some continue their education in doctoral programs. The majority of students, however, are prepared to examine evidence as analysts within a crime laboratory. Some go on to work for the Boston Police Crime Lab, or the Massachusetts State Police. Others move to other states and hold similar positions in public or private forensic laboratories.
Are you currently involved in any research?
I am currently involved in two primary research areas with my thesis students. The first project aims to develop new methods for extracting evidence samples from fire scenes. Today, there are two primary reasons fires are intentionally started: malicious intent, or the current mortgage crisis and arson is believed to be an easy way out during tough financial times. It is common for a fire debris analyst to detect crude oil products such as gasoline, which remains oily and does not wash away during fire suppression efforts. However, water-based accelerants, such as vodka or other alcohols, are easily washed away and are much more difficult to detect when the evidence is extracted during the analysis. The second area of research interest examines drugs of abuse not currently regulated by the federal government. A lot of these drugs are what high school aged students are experimenting with, and are compounds that the DEA is very interested in regulating. These drugs can include synthetic drugs, as well as exotic plants containing drugs of abuse used around the world, but can easily be obtained through the internet.
Can you tell me a little about your experience before coming to Boston University?
I used to work with investigators at the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab as a civilian scientist. I went to many crime scenes, including homicides, sexual assaults, suspicious fires and explosive cases. I would perform chemical tests and collect samples at these scenes, analyze the evidence in the lab, and testified often in criminal cases. After a series of particularly difficult homicides, I left the field to teach and to explore the next phase of my career as a forensic scientist. I had always been interested in teaching. In fact, during testimony, part of a forensic scientists job is to effectively convey information to the members of the jury. When I testified in criminal cases, I would have to explain my analysis to individuals with potentially no experience in science. My work would not be appreciated unless I could accurately convey my findings to the jurors, and to do so, I often used analogies. I also frequently visited local high schools and colleges to educate students about careers in forensic science, and the differences between “Hollywood” forensics, and the actual science. It was also interesting to explain to students that you can learn skills to apply to a forensics career, but that the real foundation was a solid understanding of the science.
I currently consult with attorneys in cases related to fire debris and explosives analysis. Often times, the attorney needs me to explain the forensic evidence, or I am requested to review the conclusions, ensure that procedures were executed properly, and/or provide a second opinion.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
Students enter the Biomedical Forensic Sciences program from an array of backgrounds: some love chemistry, and others do not and want to specialize in different areas. When I teach, I get excited about what I’m talking about, and often model my teaching style after professors I personally learned the most from. If you are passionate about what you are teaching, then your students are more likely to be engaged during the learning process. I often joke with my students that I will convince them to love chemistry, even if they’re scared of the word at the beginning of the program. I think back to when I was in high school, and I no interest the subject of chemistry. It wasn’t until I learned that practical applications existed, and that hard-core science could be used to solve crimes, that I really became passionate about the field. What I have learned through teaching is that you have to do your own homework to determine what teaching styles are most effective in reaching students.
In addition, I have always found Commencement to be particularly rewarding, not only for the students, but also for myself as an educator. In many ways, the graduating students are a product of their hard work as well as my own, and it is clear to see how far they have come throughout the course of the program. The fact that they are at commencement receiving their degree is a reflection of their dedication and hard work, but personally it is a proud moment for me as well and a sense of accomplishment is felt during Commencement.
What do you like to do outside of BUSM?
I enjoy spending time with my three year old son Connor and being outdoors whenever possible. A specific hobby of mine is mountain biking. I lived in Colorado for a short period of time and participated on a racing team. I also enjoy camping and traveling whenever possible. Oftentimes when I go to conferences, I will spend a few extra days in the area to explore. This May, I will be traveling to Vancouver, British Columbia. Like science, cooking is also a passion of mine, and allows me to be creative. Initially, when I first graduated from high school, I had planned on attending culinary school, but soon realized that I was more suited to be a chef as a hobby rather than as a career.
Do you have any advice for current GMS students?
I believe it is important for all students to challenge themselves and to do something outside of their comfort zone. Whether it is taking a course in a subject you are unfamiliar with but interested in, or attending a conference to present your research, new experiences will only help you to grow as a scientist. It is important for students to realize that what they are studying and researching here at BUSM is important, but more so, extending yourself and networking with the scientific community beyond the walls of Boston University is essential.
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!
With 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.
When faced with administrative meetings, teaching, laboratory research, and writing publishable articles and books on a daily basis, coming to work can seem daunting. For Dr. Gene Blatt, Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology, multi-tasking is the key to perform at his exemplary level in all these areas. Making greats strides in autism research while participating in multiple facets of the Boston University community, Dr. Blatt easily earns the respect of his colleagues and students.
You recently attended a meeting in Washington, DC on autism. What was that experience like?
The meeting was over the course of three days, and there were approximately 300 attendees. Overall, the meeting presented a global view of the state of autism research. There was focus on genetics, animal models, cognition, and behavior from many different experts in the field through oral presentations as well as poster presentations.
You actively research autism. Can you tell me a bit about your research?
My research focuses on neuropathology and neurochemistry of autism using post mortem human tissue. Obtaining both frozen and fixed tissue from brain banks, including the one at McLean Hospital, we cut thin 20 to 40 micron sections and mount them on slides. With the formalin fixed sample, we stain the tissue to see the cellular cytoarchitecture of the brain using NISSL to determine if there are any abnormalities present within specific brain areas. With the fresh frozen samples, we dip sections of the tissue in radioactively tagged ligand solutions to label neurotransmitter receptors and transporters. The radioactivity on the slides is shown on film is then quantified. The neurotransmitter profile in brain regions in individuals with autism, are compared to age and gender matched controls of individuals without autism. Thus far, the research has shown that there is a profound defect in the inhibitory GABA system in the brains of people with autism.
How did you get into research on autism?
I earned my Ph.D. degree from Thomas Jefferson University studying the cerebellum, and then went to Salk Institute for two years for a post-doctorate position working in neurophysiology. When I came to BUSM, I worked with Dr. Rosene researching the limbic system. In the late 1990′s, I was completely inspired to change my research focus upon meeting Dr. Margaret Bauman, a pediatric neurologist, who showed me slides from autism cases that had similar abnormalities in the cerebellum and limbic system. Very few people have the opportunity to engage in significant research that combines every aspect of their education. Slowly, I made a transition from mainly animal research to pursue post-mortem human research. The transition was timely as autism research was just becoming a burgeoning field that was receiving much attention.
Do you think the research on autism has made significant progress, or do you think we still have a long way to go before we fully understand autism?
Autism is a heterogeneous disorder, which means that there are many different factors to consider, such as genetics, environment, immunology, and even a mother’s condition during pregnancy. The progress in the field is progressing as new technologies emerge. I am currently collaborating with a lab in London who is performing a three-year study on children with autism using a new imaging technique, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS). This technique allows for the sampling of a particular part of the brain in an MR scan, and MRS shows how the neurochemical levels of specific brain areas are impacted. This in vivo research with the London lab supplements my in vitro studies of the post mortem brains here are BUSM. Collectively, there is more awareness of autism today, and it remains unclear why the prevalence rates are increasing although better diagnosis may be a contributing factor.
As well as being a professor in Anatomy and Neurobiology, you are involved with a number of administrative committees, such as the Academic Policies Committee (APC). What pushed you to become so involved in such activities?
Participation on a department-wide, division-wide, campus-wide, and university-wide level is critical to understand the workings of the institution. All GMS faculty should participate to some degree, and I joined the APC about seven years ago. After a year, I was nominated by Dr. Franzblau and voted for by the committee to be the Chair. Mostly all of the current MA and MS programs were approved since then. It is a very busy committee. I also serve as the liaison to the Ph.D. Steering Committee, as Chair for the Faculty Appointments and Promotions Committee for the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, as a member of the Department Qualifying Examination Committee, as a member of the department Faculty Search Committee, as a member of the GMS By-laws Committee, as a MA in Medical Sciences faculty advisor and conduct mock interviews for MA students, as an Advisor-At-Large for the Crumpler Academy of Advisors, and as an interviewer for potential M.D./Ph.D students.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Along with teaching lectures in some graduate-level courses in GMS, I also teach medical students in Neuroscience and Medical Histology. Teaching is very important to me, but I am also very committed to research. I am constantly working to keep up with current projects and new information on autism. The best part of my job is that there is a balance between teaching, research, and administrative duties. On top of that, I do a great deal of writing. Though it can be hard to find time to write in between everything else, my lab produces between three and five journal articles a year, as well as one or two book chapters a year. And there is always a grant to write. Last year I edited and contributed to a book, The Neurochemical Basis of Autism: From Molecules to Minicolumns with Springer Publishers.
What do you enjoy doing outside of your office, lab, and Boston University?
I am an avid golfer, and I love nature. My Master’s degree had an emphasis in Ornithology and Field Biology. Much of my time outside BU is spent outdoors hiking or bird watching. I spend a lot of time with my wife, and my son and daughter-in-law who recently had our first grandchild. I love being a grandpa!
Do you have any advice for GMS students?
I agree with the philosophy that I quickly learned from Dr. Deborah Vaughan in Medical Histology when I first came to BUSM in the 1980s: It is so important to be an active learner. Understand the material rather than just memorize it; work in study groups; ask your teachers questions because we are here to help you. From one of my mentors here, Dr. Douglas Rosene, I learned that if you plan to go into research, make sure you choose a productive talented lab team that will provide good training and involve yourself in many interesting and creative projects. Learning multiple techniques will allow you to build a repertoire of skills to tackle projects in many different ways. Finally, take the same active attitude to research as you do to teaching and learning: make it a priority to contribute to your field, through talks, collaborations, and publications. Receiving valuable feedback is essential to deepen your understanding of your research endeavors.
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.
Medicine 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.
Science 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.