Category: Homepage Spotlights

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

November 27th, 2014 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.

November 25th, 2014 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: Dr. Caroline Genco

July 13th, 2014 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

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, 2014 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

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 MD/PhD Student: Chad Mayer

March 11th, 2014 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Chad Mayer
MD/PhD Candidate
Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine

Chad Mayer

What brought you to BU?
I decided in college that I wanted to pursue medicine as a career as a way to bring together my love of science and desire to help people in life-altering ways.  While in college I had the chance to get involved in research with one of my professors, and after graduation continued in biomedical research in Seattle.  I have always loved Boston and New England, so I was thrilled when I was accepted to the program here at Boston University, matriculating in 2009.

What program are you in?
I am currently finishing up the PhD portion of the MD/PhD dual-degree program here at Boston University, and am anticipating returning to the 3rd year of medical school this summer.  I have been earning my PhD in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

What kind of research are you involved in?
My research involved better understanding how toxins secreted by certain species of E. coli cause tissue damage, and how both the toxins and that tissue damage compromise endothelial function.  Infection with this bacterium is a leading cause of acute kidney injury in otherwise healthy children, with no current therapies beyond supportive, and I hope that the translational work we are doing will point others in the direction of possible therapies.

What do you hope to do after you earn your degree?
After earning my degree I would like to pursue a residency and fellowship program that combines clinical experience with research training.  I have really enjoyed my experiences tutoring and being on committees here at BU, and would want to work at an academic medical center where there are ample opportunities to mentor students and teach others about all the exciting things medicine and science have to offer.

You were recently awarded the Keystone Award.
The award helps minority students to travel to the national MD/PhD conference in Keystone, CO.  This is a conference run by the MD/PhD students there and is an exciting opportunity to learn about other programs and network on a national level.

Are you involved in many activities on campus?
One great advantage of the MD/PhD program is that during the PhD years students have the opportunity to get involved in a much deeper way on campus.  As such MD/PhD students make up the majority of the tutors for courses such as DRx in BUSM II.  I have been tutoring DRx for 3 years, since taking my USMLE 1.  In addition, I was elected to be one of the MD/PhD student representatives on the admissions committee, and this is my second year helping to decide which of the many excellent candidates will interview and ultimately be accepted to Boston University’s MD/PhD program.  Finally, along with some other MD/PhD students I helped to start a monthly seminar focusing on success stories in scientific careers where we have had the opportunity to hear from some amazing speakers.  I have greatly enjoyed the opportunities that I have had and I hope that wherever I go I can continue to work in whatever program I am in to improve it.

What is your favorite part of your life as a student?
My favorite part of life as a student and an MD/PhD is the way I can make my own opportunities with the support of the faculty here at BU.   Stepping into leadership during my PhD years I have really enjoyed getting involved, and the way so many of the faculty are so approachable and support students’ visions for new interest groups and opportunities really gives students a chance to make their years at the School of Medicine their own personal experience.

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?
Outside of BU I am very involved in my church and spend a lot of time driving around New England, going on day and weekend trips to the several states we border.  Being from the California and Washington, I’m still not over how easy it is to be in a different state in 30 minutes, and love exploring all the historical towns.  I am also a homebrewer and have enjoyed making up personal beer recipes and sampling the beers other students have brewed!

Do you have any advice for current students?
Don’t think of your program as something to get through.  Networking as you go along and joining committees or starting new seminars can get you recognized on campus and bring opportunities your way you didn’t know existed.  Get involved early while you have time, and work to improve things and make the changes you want to see happen!

Spotlight on Postdoc: Juliane Hirnet

March 11th, 2014 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Juliane Hirnet
Postdoctoral Fellow
Viglianti Lab, Department of Microbiology

Juliane Hirnet

What brought you to BU?
I did my PhD work in Germany in a Russian-German collaboration project, during which I spent some time in a Russian lab. After finishing the PhD I wanted to do a postdoc in an English-speaking country. I was very open regarding the geographical location (mostly US and UK) and applied at several universities, including BU. My PhD thesis was about polioviruses and I wanted to stay in the area of virology, so when I heard about a postdoc position in Prof. Viglianti’s lab in the Department of Microbiology at BUMC, I applied. He liked me and here I am.

What kind of research are you involved in?
My current project is investigating HIV escape mutants from rosiglitazone treatment. Rosiglitazone is an approved drug used to treat diabetes, but it also has restrictive effects on HIV replication.  Using the mutants I try to uncover the mechanism with which rosiglitazone effects HIV. We also recently started a new interesting project looking into interactions of gingivitis-causing bacteria and HIV infections.

You recently started the post-doc blog, can you tell me about it?

postdoc blog
As the comic above demonstrates postdocs are often invisible at research institutions, the postdoc blogs gives postdocs an opportunity to read and write about things that are important to them, which are often very different from the topics important to PhD students or faculty. I also hope that PhD students and faculty read it and maybe raise awareness of postdocs, so we don’t stay “ghosts”.

Since the current funding situation isn’t very good, I have been looking into alternative careers and science writing was something I am interested in, the postdoc blog is also a good way for me to practice writing and learning about publishing and editing. Currently it is mostly me doing the writing, but every postdoc at BU is certainly invited to contribute.

Are you involved in many activities on campus?
I am a member of the Postdoc advisory committee, which meets every three months to discuss postdoc issues with administrators and faculty. Currently we are working on a mentoring program for postdocs.

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?
Postdocs work a lot and when we don’t work we think about work…I also enjoy traveling, back to Europe to see my family and around New England on weekend trips.

Do you have any advice for current students?
It is crucially important to start thinking about the future early, just getting the PhD, even a brilliant one, is no longer enough to secure a job or funding. Start applying for postdocs even before you start writing your thesis and go to as many networking events as possible.

 

 

Spotlight on PhD Student: Kathleen Goodmon

March 11th, 2014 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Kathleen Goodmon
PhD Candidate, Molecular & Translational Medicine

KGoodmonWhat brought you to BU?
I applied to BU because of its unique location in the biomedical hub of Boston. My research background as an undergraduate was rooted in the clinic and my goal as a Ph.D. student was to have my lab bench be as close to clinicians, hospitals and patients as possible, yet still have access to great engineers and chemists. The BU medical campus seemed to have these interdisciplinary networks established and I thought it would be a great match and it really has been. Furthermore, BU felt very student focused and I could see that I would be given the creative freedom to shape my thesis and my experiences here as a student.

What program are you in?
Because I wanted to continue to do research that translated to patient health, I chose to apply to the Molecular and Translational Medicine (MTM) Ph.D. program, which is through the Department of Medicine. MTM is also wonderful in its diversity of research fields. Before I came here I was unsure if I wanted to continue work in nutrition and metabolism or jump into infectious diseases and being an MTM student allowed me the flexibility to make that decision during my first year.

What kind of research are you involved in?
My research is within the field of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). I find research within this field to be incredibly important because STIs affect female reproductive health particularly in underprivileged communities. To better understand how the female reproductive tract responds to infections, I study epithelial cell biology in response to Neisseria gonorrhoeae. I am primarily interested in cell to cell communication and how N. gonorrhoeae may influence these communication lines to alter cell death and inflammation in neighboring cells.

What do you hope to do after you earn your degree?
After my degree I plan to find a great postdoctoral fellowship! As for the distant future, I hope to continue to research in infectious diseases and have a greater role in science policy at the NIH or CDC.

You were elected as the new GMSSO President.
I love all the community service we do with the Blood Drives and Rosie’s Place and the VA. I also really enjoy working and planning with students outside my program that I would not normally see. It’s a community for me. As president specifically, I have the unique opportunity to work with GMS faculty and that has been really neat and insightful too. Running GMSSO is hard work and pulls me in several directions but I find it to be an outlet for me. It helps me keep momentum even when lab life is hard and frustrating.

Are you involved in many activities on campus?
I have been a TA for FiBS module IV for two years and a peer mentor for our first year PiBS students. I try to participate in art events here on campus and I am also a liaison for sustainability @ BU.

What is your favorite part of your life as a student?
Community! And wondering where in the world we will be in 10 years.

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?
I love new adventures and new hobbies and I am therefore very mediocre at many things. But I always have running and cooking and music in my life. I have wonderful people too.

Do you have any advice for current students?
Do not take graduate school personally. It is supposed to push you beyond your comfort and make you question yourself and your abilities. It is part of the process to become great.

 

Spotlight on Student: Fadie Coleman

December 31st, 2013 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Fadie Coleman, PhD Candidate
Department of Microbiology

Not all people are lucky enough to find a career they are passionate about, but Fadie Coleman, PhD candidate in the Department of Fadie-150x150Microbiology, has found two. A researcher and a teacher, she pursued a doctorate degree to combine both her career interests into one. Actively involved in the GMS community, she serves as a positive role model for what happens when you reach for your goals.

What brought you to BU?

I started at BU as an undergraduate student. It was in undergrad that I came to realize my penchant for research and teaching, which has provided me with a great and lasting experience. Through a listing at BU, I discovered a college summer internship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. After getting a taste of doing research, I found myself drawn to academic medicine. Taking the information gleaned from a senior-year career-counseling survey, I found myself drawn to teaching, and I became a classroom science teacher straight out of college. I taught middle school chemistry and physical science, and a few years later I taught high school biology, physical science, and an advanced elective in animal behavior that I designed. However, in between my teaching middle and high school, I actually did an extensive stint in biomedical research at the Channing Laboratory of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It was at this point that I started to consider graduate school because I knew that I wanted to continue to pursue my education in the sciences, academia in particular. When I spoke to my mentor and friends in the field about my decision, they all said the same thing: “make sure you go to a school/program that will prepare you to become an independent scientist and where mentoring is a main focus.” I explored my alma mater, Boston University, because I heard great things about their graduate program. On my interview day, it did not take long for me to appreciate and admire the collegiate atmosphere among the researchers and faculty. But, what stood out for me that day was that the graduate program is student-driven and matched my learning style perfectly. I could remember saying to myself, “I can tell that I am going to get an excellent training here.”

What program are you in?

I am a PhD graduate student in the department of Microbiology, fulfilling my thesis work in the Pulmonary Center under the mentorship of Joseph Mizgerd, ScD. I am very interested in infectious disease, immunology, and host-pathogen interactions. My graduate thesis work is on the study of pneumonia, with a specific focus on pneumococcal pneumonia (a bacterial pneumonia), which is a major cause of disease worldwide and causes significant morbidity and mortality in the U.S. I study pulmonary immunity and its critical role during bacterial lung infection and host defense. Currently, my focus is on the macrophage-pneumococcal interaction during pneumonia. We are working on designing a tool that would allow for a way to predict which bacteria in the community are more likely to cause disease as well as come up with therapeutic approaches to help protect against infection.

What do you hope to do after you earn your degree?

After completing my PhD, I plan to continue my research training by doing a postdoctoral fellowship focusing on lung immunity and host-pathogen interactions. I have aspirations of being a contributor to the advancement of science and making a mark as an independent researcher. They say that you can do anything with a PhD degree and I plan to do just that by looking for ways to weave my love for research, teaching/mentoring and writing into a career.

You recently helped with Program in Biomedical Sciences (PiBS) Recruitment Day. How was that experience?

Helping with PiBS Recruitment Day was really a great experience! PiBS is just another reason why I believe BU is truly a unique place to study. I was very happy to serve as a volunteer for Recruitment Day because I felt it would provide me with the perfect opportunity to share with prospective students all of what BU has to offer. There are some things that are not easily communicated through the literature and statistics, and it takes one-on-one conversations to fully convey. An example of this is what I believe is one of the graduate program’s major strengths—mentoring/individual attention. The PiBS Recruitment Day was different from past years, and really embraced the idea of an umbrella program. It was good to be able to talk to candidates, even if they ultimately end up in a department outside of Microbiology. I think this program sets up a greater collegiate environment and encourages collaboration beyond specific disciplines.

Are you involved in any other activities on campus?

This year, I am serving as a Microbiology Department student representative, which is a student-elected position that I consider a true honor. My role is to represent the Microbiology student body as one cohesive voice and to serve as a conduit between the students and faculty/staff. I also serve as a student representative on the Graduate Medical Sciences Student Organization (GMSSO) and as an academic tutor for the Dental Microbiology course. Between these roles and my research, I am kept very busy.

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?

My family means everything to me. My daughter and husband and extended family and friends are my biggest support system and they are the people I surround myself with when I am away from the lab/school. A lot of our family activities revolve around the arts, and Boston readily provides opportunities to enjoy an array of diverse performance and visual events. My husband is a musician, and my nine-year-old daughter is very involved in dance, music, and theatre. Musicals, concerts, museums, and plays are regular events for my household. We’re so excited about the upcoming spring and summer days. Now that the weather is starting to get nice, we’ll be able to spend a lot more time outdoors and playing in the park.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Take the time as a graduate student to learn about what motivates you—your passion. Use these years to develop your work ethic and challenge yourself to always reach for the stars. Look to your classmates, peers, faculty, mentors, and staff for support and remember to return the favor. Remember that it is okay to strive for the big things, but make sure to appreciate the small along the way. It’s the little things/moments in lab and life in general that will carry you through the graduate experience.

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 PhD Student: Sarah Rozelle

December 6th, 2013 in Homepage Spotlights

Sarah Rozelle
PhD Student, Molecular Medicine

Rozelle, Sarah

 

Some people are born to lead and serve others.  Sarah Rozelle, member of the Cell and Molecular Biology program and Molecular Medicine program at Boston University School of Medicine, is no exception.  A California native and addict to Peet’s Coffee, Sarah discusses first hand her stem cell research, volunteer work, and the importance of a fun work environment.

What brought you to BU?

Before coming to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), I was working as a lab technician in a yeast biology laboratory.  After three years, I was ready for something new, though I wasn’t sure what exactly.  I started looking into graduate schools with umbrella programs, and BUSM seemed like an ideal fit.  Scientists collaborate across the university giving the graduate students the opportunity to learn about more than just one lab, or one technique.

What program are you in?

I am in the Cell and Molecular Biology program.  Because it is an umbrella program, Cell and Molecular Biology students at BUSM join a second department or program as well, such as Microbiology, Molecular Medicine, or Biochemistry.  I am a part of the Molecular Medicine program, house in the Department of Medicine.  My second year courses, qualifying exam, and dissertation are all through the Molecular Medicine program, though I still participate in activities with the Cell and Molecular Biology program.

What kind of research are you involved in?

Right now, I am focused on Induced Pluripotent Stem cells (iPSC), which I make from human blood. My lab takes blood samples from patients at Boston Medical Center, and I reprogram the blood cells into iPSCs, and then differentiate them back into blood cells.  The goal of this process is to better understand the disease mechanisms of sickle cell anemia.  I enjoy this work because I can see the potential effects it can have on our local Boston community, since the current treatment for sickle cell anemia does not work for all patients.  I hope to establish a drug screening platform with the cells from the patients at Boston Medical Center, and really have a positive impact on the lives affected by sickle cell anemia.

What do you hope to do after you earn your degree?

I am still undecided at this point.  I know that I really enjoy teaching, though the job market for teaching positions is small.  I enjoy talking about science – sometimes more that I enjoy doing it!  I can vision myself pursuing non-traditional teaching routes.

You were recently elected President of the GMSSO.  Can you tell me what you have planned for the upcoming year?

The Graduate Medical Sciences Student Organization or  GMSSO is very active this year.  We are bringing back “Movie Nights,” and will have a showing of GATTACA in October.  Hopefully we will be able to offer a second movie in the spring semester as well.  The GMSSO is very successful with their blood drives, and will again be hosting them at various points throughout the year.  Volunteering within the organization has hit an all-time high, and we really hope to expand the service opportunities to the rest of the GMS community.  We understand that it is difficult for students to not only find the time to volunteer, but to also find a volunteer position.  By setting up various service projects and sites, we will try to make it easier for our students to volunteer in the community.

Are you involved in any other activities on campus?

I was a teaching assistant last year for the FiBS modules III and IV, and I hope to teach again this year.  I am also very active in Cell and Molecular Biology activities and recruitment.  I am a participant in the Hematology Training Program, and attend lectures hosted by the Center for Regenerative Medicine.

What is your favorite part of your life as a student?

I really enjoy working in my lab.  The atmosphere makes it so easy for me to put in the long and tedious hours.  The leaders of my lab work hard to provide a fun place to work, and I appreciate the comradeship I have with my colleagues.  The rough days aren’t so bad when I have a lab lunch to look forward to later that week!

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?

I am involved in P.E.O. (Philanthropic Educational Organization), which is an organization that helps women pursue their educational goals, whether it be starting college, a trade school, or graduate school.  We raise money to help them fund their education through loans and grants.  It is very rewarding to help women of all ages pursue education.

In the warmer Boston months, I am an active cyclist.  My friends and I find long, scenic routes outside of the city.  We have been on routes to different parts of Massachusetts, as well as in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  In the summer, we ride during the week, but save our longer journeys for the weekend, where we can cycle over 40 miles a day!  It is great to get the exercise and socialize.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Have fun with your career.  It is easy to burnout, so make sure you enjoy your work environment as much as your life outside of work.  Loving your job will make it easier to persevere when times are tough.