Category: Homepage Spotlights

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

December 1st, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

How did you first become interested in science?

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

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

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

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

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

What other roles do you play on the Medical Campus?

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

What is the most interesting part of your job?

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

What is the most challenging?

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

What do you like to do outside of BUSM?

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

Do you have any advice for current GMS students?

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

Spotlight on Faculty: David Levin, Ph.D.

December 1st, 2013 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

What brought you to Boston University?Levin, David

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

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

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

How does a program like PiBS benefit our PhD students?

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

Are you involved in any research at the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spotlight on MS Student: Rebekah Gould

December 1st, 2013 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

WGould, Rebekahhat drove you to pursue a career in science?

Science was always secondary to dentistry. From as far back as I can remember I have wanted to be a dentist, and naturally, I found myself interested in science. Growing up, I had a strong relationship with my own pediatric dentist and orthodontist, and I really admired him. When it came time to attend college, I decided to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with the goal to pursue a career in dentistry.

Why did you choose to come to Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM)?

I was really hoping to go to dental school following my senior year of college, but for various reasons, it did not work out that way. While I had a solid Dental Admissions Test (DAT) score and plenty of experience shadowing in the field, I didn’t have the strongest undergraduate GPA. I knew I might have to get a Master’s degree before applying again, and started looking for programs. When I found the BUSM Oral Health Sciences (OHS) Track, I almost thought it was too good to be true! The program was exactly what I needed, and it seemed like it would prepare me well for dental school.

Can you tell me a little about the program you are in?

UNC is a huge school, so to come into a program with only seventeen other students was what initially attracted me to this program. The OHS program is a track within the MA in Medical Sciences program where students take half of their classes with the first-year dental students at the BU Goldman School of Dental Medicine (BUGSDM). These classes are a unique characteristic of the program because they give the OHS students a real chance to experience the rigor of dental school courses. OHS also provides a lot of support to their students. The program director, Dr. Theresa Davies, is so enthusiastic about helping her students achieve their goals. This support system was not something I had in undergrad, and it has really helped me progress through the program.

What are your plans after completing the program?

I officially graduate in September 2013, but I will be walking in the May Commencement ceremony. This fall, I will attend BUGSDM as a dental student. Because I am in the OHS program, I will have already taken a few of my first semester classes, so my schedule will be a little lighter than the other first-year dental students. I hope this extra time will allow me to really focus on my other courses and to explore all my options. After dental school, I want to pursue a specialty in pediatric dentistry or orthodontics.

What do you enjoy doing outside BUSM?

I came to Boston in June 2012 for the very first time when I started the OHS program. I live in the South End with two roommates, and we love being tourists within the city. We are always finding new restaurants to try. I recently attended my first Celtics game, and I want to go on a Duck tour this summer. The winter seemed very long, and I am happy that it is finally starting to warm up.

What advice can you give other GMS students?

No matter what program you are in, give it all you’ve got. Dr. Davies told me when I entered the program that the work in the upcoming year would be my hardest yet, but that I would be successful as long as I put the effort in. Your work is doable, even when it is most challenging. Seek out a support system, whether it is an advisor, a professor, a classmate, or family and friends. There are resources out there for GMS students to help you throughout your career here – you just have to know how to find them. With the right support system and a strong commitment to your work, you will be able to work hard and succeed.

Student Spotlight: Shahar Castel

December 1st, 2012 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Castel.spotlight jpegShahar Castel
Masters Student, Medical Sciences

Did you like the new design for the GMSSO tee-shirt?  If so, keep reading!  Shahar Castel, the designer, is not only an artist, but a young scientist interested in pursuing a medical career.  Born in Israel and raised in Boston, Shahar loves pursuing her many passions close to home.

What brought you to BU?

I have always known that I wanted to pursue a career in science, particularly medicine.  After graduating from Emory University in 2009, I was at a crossroad when it came to choosing the next step for me.  Ideally, I hope to pursue a career in medicine, and to do so, I knew I needed to further my education with a Master’s degree, preferably from a school in Boston where my family and friends are.  My best friend growing up, Ilona Goukassian (MAMS 11’) attended the MA in Medical Sciences (MAMS) program at BUSM directly after graduation, and she shared with me all of the wonderful opportunities this sort of program could provide me, and I was instantly sold.  Although I explored several other programs in New England as well, the MAMS program seemed to have the most to offer.

What are the advantages of pursuing a MAMS degree at BUSM?

The MAMS program at BUSM offers a curriculum that is equivalent to a first-year medical school curriculum, without the clinical time, and provides accurate insight into the academic demands of medical school.  Most MAMS students elect to complete their coursework in the first year, and then complete a thesis project in the second year, although some chose to complete both their courses and thesis in the first year.  I will be completing my thesis this year, after working very hard in my courses last year. I will be working with a plastic surgeon at the Boston Medical Center, Dr. Spiegel, who specializes in Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). I will be surveying transgender patients on whether FFS helps to improve their psychosocial anxiety as it relates to their appearance.

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

I plan to complete my thesis and apply to various medical and doctoral programs next year.  Although traditionally, students will apply to medical schools during the summer directly after completing their first year courses, I have decided to apply the following year, in order to make me the best applicant possible. Additionally, though I ultimately would like to pursue a medical degree, I am also very interested in all the neuropsychological diseases, and could see myself with a research career as well.  This coming year and next will allow me to explore these other options, and see what sparks my interest most!

Are you involved in any activities on campus?

Last year, I volunteered at the Sharewood Projects, which is an organization that offers a free healthcare clinic for the locally underserved population and is led by medical students and physicians at Tufts University School of Medicine.  It was a great experience, and encouraged me to continue pursuing a career in medicine.

You are the designer of the new GMSSO t-shirt.  What was your inspiration?

I love images of city skylines, and I enjoy creating art.  While I tend to sculpt more than anything else, I heard about the GMSSO contest to design a tee-shirt, and thought it was a great opportunity to create a 2-dimensioanl image of the Boston skyline.  After three months from submitting my design, I heard that I had won and was thrilled.

What do you enjoy doing outside of BU?

I currently live with two out of my three older sisters in the South End area of Boston.  It is great to be able to come home to them and have distance from what I am learning about in class or the research I am doing for my thesis.  I am usually working on a piece of art, which I like to give as gifts for my friends and family.  Additionally, I am teaching myself to play the piano, I am trying to learn Spanish (something I have always wanted to do), and I play for the Boston Ski and Sports Club soccer league on a co-ed team that I have been playing for over the last 3 years. I also played in an indoor soccer league with a team of other GMS graduate students last year.

Do you have any advice for current students?

The MAMS program is a lot of work.  Students in this program cannot expect to “cram” and do well.  You really have to work at managing your time so that you can review lectures and keep up with all the work.  In the first semester, I did nothing but study.  You don’t have a lot of time to relax, so you have to make time for yourself, even if it’s just taking an hour to watch a TV show, or meeting friends outside of school. In the second semester, you learn how to balance all the work and life outside of school.

In general, I would say make sure to use all the resources BUSM has to offer you.  At orientation, the GMS professors tell us that they are here for us, and they really mean it!  Ask your instructors for help; they really want to be there for you and help you succeed.  And don’t be afraid to get tutors for any classes you may be having trouble in!

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. R. Jarrett Rushmore III

July 1st, 2012 in Faculty Spotlight, Homepage Spotlights

R. Jarrett Rushmore III, PhD
Assistant Professor
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.10.12.12 Rushmore, Jarrett

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.

Spotlight on Students: Ridda Hasnain

May 31st, 2012 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Husain, Ridda-for websiteMedicine is not only about healing—it is about prevention.  Ridda Hasnain, a Ph.D. student in the Medical Nutrition Program, understands this concept and hopes to use her BUSM education to establish preventative health measures around the globe.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue science?

From a very young age, I was interested in human health.  Throughout my undergraduate education, I planned to pursue a career as a medical physician.  When I arrived at Columbia University for my Master’s, however, I grew a specific interest in human nutrition.  As I completed my degree, I realized that I wanted to prevent, rather than treat, medical conditions.  When I understood how my research in nutrition could prevent diseases, I decided to pursue a doctoral degree.

What brought you to BU?

When I started searching for the right doctoral program, Boston University School of Medicine stood out.  BUSM was different from a lot of other schools because it offered an integrative and collaborative experience.  Graduate students, regardless of what program they were in, worked with multiple departments and multiple investigators from different labs.  Students interact with faculty and peers outside of their own program.  I thought this interaction would be a valuable part of my graduate education and prepare me for a career where there is much collaboration and interaction.  Also, BUSM has a diverse student body.  My peers and I come from all different backgrounds, and we all have varying research interests.  I believe that this diversity and transfer of ideas will help me in the long run.

Can you tell me a little about the program you are in?

I am in the Medical Nutrition Sciences Program.  Compared to other nutrition programs in the country, this program is relatively new.  Because it is new, the current students really have an opportunity to shape the future of the program.  There are three tracks in the program tailored to meet the needs of each individual in Medical Nutrition Sciences program:  molecular/biochemical nutrition, clinical nutrition, and nutritional epidemiology.

The basic sciences track explores the biochemistry behind nutrition and how nutrients interact with the body while the clinical track is designed to educate students on how nutrition research can be applied to preventative measures in the clinic.  The third track, epidemiology of nutrition, is the track that I am pursuing and examines causes of disease and their association with nutrition.

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

In a general scope, I want to research and find components of the human diet that prevent diseases, but I also want to have clinical exposure to teach patients that there are wholesome and natural approaches to preventing disease.  I hope to be able to impact the community and improve public health policy.  In Pakistan, where I am from, there is little awareness of how diet can affect lifestyle, and I hope to develop a program here and abroad to fill this gap in knowledge.

You recently presented at the 2012 Future of Food and Nutrition Conference and won the award for best presentation.  Can you tell me a little about your research and that experience?

The Future of Food and Nutrition Conference is a student-led conference at Tufts University.  I presented a poster on dietary protein and its impact on body composition and risk of obesity.  Overall, it was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to learn about the research my colleagues from other institutions were performing, and to think of novel questions related to my own research based on my presentation and discussion with other scientists.

Are you involved in other activities on campus?

I am involved in the admissions and recruiting process for the Medical Nutrition Sciences program.  This is an interesting and rewarding role because it really does help to shape the future of the program.  I get to meet with prospective and incoming students to advise them in any areas they may need help.

What do you enjoy doing outside the walls of BU?

I love trying new cuisines! Given my field of study, it’s not secret that I absolutely love food.  I also enjoy traveling whenever I can. And I love to just spend time with my family and friends and take advantage of all that Boston has to offer.

What advice can you give other postdocs, or GMS students?

I think it may be helpful to many students if they start a PhD program with a general interest, rather than a highly specialized goal.  PhD students will go through many rotations in different labs with different principle investigators, and these experiences will help them develop their general interest while finding a lab environment they can work in.  Also, rotations are a time to apply your knowledge to novel questions.

Students should take advantage of all the BU campus has to offer.  For instance, taking a class that is unrelated to your field may help you in some way later on in your career.  Also, talk to your peers.  These discussions will help shape what it is you want to accomplish while here are BUSM.

Spotlight on Students: Whitney Thomas

May 17th, 2012 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Thomas, WhitneyGraduating on Friday, May 18th at the GMS M.A./M.S. Commencement Ceremony, Whitney Thomas reflects on her two years as a MAMS student.

When did you first know you wanted to pursue science?

When I was in grade school, I remember telling my parents that I wanted to be an ambulance driver when I grew up.  Not the EMT in the back helping the patient on the way to the hospital; the actual ambulance driver.  When I entered high school, I started volunteering for the local rescue squad.  I think it was then that I knew I wanted to go to medical school.  At Bates College I majored in neuroscience, which exposed me to the unique interplay between mind and body, and had various shadowing experiences which solidified my decision to study medicine.

What brought you to BU?

After I graduated from Bates, I took two years off from school to work at the NIH in a lab that studied Pediatric Bipolar Disorder.  I heard about the MA in Medical Sciences program here at BUSM and thought it would be a great stepping stone back into academia and help prepare me for medical school.  I looked at some other similar Masters programs, but BU seemed to have the best one, and the best location.  I really enjoy living in Boston.

Can you tell me a little about the MAMS program you are in?

I am currently finishing up my second year and just completed my thesis.  The first year is class-driven and focused on academics, which I really enjoyed.  It gave me a realistic glimpse to what medical school will be like.  I have definitely gained confidence in my capability to succeed in medical school based on my success in this program.  The greatest adjustment for me in the MAMS program was the class size.  I remember on the first day of class in Bakst Auditorium, I suddenly felt very hot.  The room was filled with 200 people!  That was a huge difference from Bates, where the class size was much smaller.  Despite these large classes, however, MAMS and GMS create a small community, and if you put in the effort, you will realize that the professors do want to get to know the students.

What are your plans after completing the MAMS program?

I applied to medical school last year, and will be attending the University of Vermont College of Medicine.  Right now, I am considering primary care, specifically obstetrics and gynecology.  I really enjoyed the research I did for my thesis, but I am mostly interested in clinical medicine.  Eventually, as a practicing physician, I would hope to participate in research as it fits in with my practice.

You have helped to organize a Sarcoma Awareness event for this Friday.  Can you tell me a little about that?

In January 2012, the MAMS community lost a member to sarcoma.  As a member of the GMSSO, I helped organize an awareness talk in her honor to help raise money for sarcoma research.  Sarcoma is a type of cancer that originates in bone or connective tissue.  It is relatively uncommon and is very difficult to treat.  Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is performing innovative and interesting research on this cancer, and the speaker we invited is a member of the sarcoma team there.  Approximately 40 people attended the event.

Are you involved in other activities on campus?

I serve on a small committee as a liaison between the MAMS students and Dr. Gwynneth Offner, the director of the program.  We meet with her every month to discuss issues and ideas that my peers may have.  Additionally, I volunteer with the GMSSO for events such as orientation, commencement, Project Gratitude, and blood drives, and I tutor three first-year MAMS students in Physiology and Endocrinology.  Last summer I volunteered for the Outreach Van Project and enjoyed spending time with community members from East Boston who are in need of food and/or medical support.

What do you enjoy doing outside the walls of BU?

I like to stay active, whether I am hiking, biking, or riding one of my horses when I go home to Vermont.  I also enjoy baking, and I love going out to eat when I can.  Boston is such an exciting city, and I love to explore all the opportunities it provides.  Traveling is another fun hobby, and I visit my friends in different parts of the country whenever I can.  I also work part-time in retail.

What advice can you give other GMS students?

My two years went by so quickly.  It is important to take advantage of all the opportunities BU and the city of Boston have to offer, whether it be playing squash at FitRec or visiting a museum.  Also, the professors are very knowledgeable, not only about the subject they teach, but about medical school, and life in general.  Importantly, they are always willing to help, so don’t hesitate to contact them.  Finally, don’t forget to have fun and meet new people.  GMS provides a great community that you will want to participate in.

Madeline Brisotti and Tanaya Kunnenkeri

April 19th, 2012 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Tanaya and Maddy1Student Spotlight

Balancing a job and a earning a Master’s degree can be a daunting task.  Madeline Brisotti and Tanaya Kunnenkeri, both in the Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine program, make it look easy.  Working in the GMS Division Office a little every week, they find numerous ways to help their graduate and Boston community.

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in Mental Health Counseling?

Tanaya: I started my undergraduate education at the University of Toronto in Biomedical Engineering.  By my third year, I was more interested in a human-oriented field rather than working with machines.  After switching my concentration to Life Sciences, I ended up earning a Psychology degree.  This eventually led me to pursue an internship in a day treatment center for an orphanage in Bolivia.

Maddy: I received my undergraduate education from BU, and after I graduated, I worked for a behavioral neuroscience lab at Boston University.  After a couple of years in this position, I realized that I really wanted to work with people, rather than animal subjects in a laboratory..  As I was working on projects focused on drug research, I could see how my experience could be translated to substance abuse counseling.

What brought you to BU?

Maddy: I chose BU for my undergraduate education, and I loved the community.  When a job became available after I earned my Bachelor’s, I jumped on the opportunity to stay here.  After deciding to go back to school, I did consider other programs, but BU had the exact program that I wanted.  BU has given a lot to me because I have been able to stay in the University community, both on the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus.

Tanaya: After completing my undergraduate studies in Psychology, it soon became very clear to me that I would need to further my degree in order to move forward in my profession.  I applied to the Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine program because this program included the behavioral medicine component, and it provided ample opportunity to get hands-on clinical experience.  Another factor that led me to Boston was that I was dating my now husband who is a Bostonian.

Can you tell me a little about the program?

Maddy: The Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine is a two-year program that incorporates the new direction mental health is going.  What I like most about the program is the small class size.  One of my favorite parts about the program has been getting to know my peers and faculty.  What is particularly unique about BU’s program is that it is situated on a medical campus.

Tanaya: The program is completely different from my undergraduate experience.  University of Toronto has 60,000 students, and I was unable to have valuable interactions with all my professors.  Here at BUSM, all the faculty in my program are very involved in our growth as students and budding clinicians.  BUSM offers an intimate educational environment, where your peers have passions similar to yours.  This passion among my classmates and teachers is contagious, and is really motivating.

What is your second year internship like?

Tanaya: My program provides you with the opportunity to complete a full year internship in your second year along with a first-year practicum in the Spring or Summer semester.  Currently, I am placed at Boston Medical Center at the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department.  I have always been interested in working with children, and working at BMC has given me more of a clinical experience than my time interning at the orphanage in Bolivia.

Maddy: I am doing my internship at South Boston Collaborative Center, which is a substance abuse outpatient center sponsored by the Boston Public Health Commission.  I primarily work with adults at the clinic, but I do have the opportunity to work in a South Boston high school once a week to work with adolescents as well.  Overall, the experience has been incredibly rewarding, though some days are extremely challenging.  In addition to my internship, I am also taking a full course load.

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

Maddy: I like working with adolescents more than I thought I would.  Initially, I had thought about working with adults around substance abuse, but now I think it would be nice to work with adolescents as well, either from a home based or school based setting.  It would be really great if I could find a site that offers both.

Tanaya: Though I love working with children, I am open to gaining more experience with the adult population. After graduation I am looking to pursue a career working with children and families in an outpatient setting.

You both are student workers in the GMS Division office.  What is that like?

Tanaya: The experience has been great.  I have had the opportunity to work on various administrative projects, which has been a nice break from my courses and internship.  Everyone in the office values the student workers, and the work we do.  They try very hard to make us feel like part of the office, and part of the team, even though we only work a few hours a week.  They are always available and open for questions.

Maddy: After I started the program, I was still working in the neuroscience lab.  By the second semester of my first year, I was ready for a change.  My advisor suggested that I work in the Division office.  The GMS office gives me tasks that required organization and structure, and I enjoy that kind of work.  These are qualities that are not always a part of counseling.  I have helped with Admissions, and also helped develop a database for all GMS alumni.

Are you involved in other activities on campus?

Tanaya: Last summer I assisted as a peer mentor for the summer research program offered by GMS.  It was a great experience, because even though all the summer students were researching biomedical sciences, I had the opportunity to learn about their projects and lab experiences.  I also enjoyed the process of watching them grow and mature over the course of eight weeks.

Maddy: Classes, internship, and work take up most of my time.

What do you enjoy doing outside the walls of BU?

Maddy: I enjoy traveling home to Long Island and seeing my family.  It is a great place to recharge my battery and just enjoy being out of the city.  I don’t really have much free time right now, though I enjoy imagining what I can do if I ever do have some!  Right now, I am focused mostly on completing my resume and applying to jobs.

Tanaya: I recently got married, and have had the privilege of experiencing the joys and new responsibilities that come as a newlywed.  My husband has been extremely supportive of all my endeavors.  I also really like yoga and dance, though these are the two things I have sacrificed from my schedule for the time being.  I really hope to incorporate yoga into the future clinical work that I do, and I would love to take up dance again when I have the time.  I am also involved with the youth at my church.

What advice can you give other GMS students?

Tanaya: I would highly recommend using the support system in the GMS Office, and taking an initiative to get to know the faculty members in your program.  If I could do it all over again, I would join a student organization, or participate in dance as an outlet during my time as a student.  Using the CRC campus, including the FitRec is a great idea.

Maddy: I would encourage students to get to know the faculty members in their program beyond their advisor.  Take classes outside of the program.  I took a class at the School of Social Work and gained a whole new perspective.  It is good to see all the other courses that BU has to offer.  Counseling and Social Work are   female dominated careers.  I would encourage men to apply to the program.  They would definitely have an edge when it comes time to find a job.

Spotlight on Postdoctoral Fellows: Mohamed Jarraya

January 12th, 2012 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Mohamed Jarraya--12.8.11After growing up in Tunisia and moving to France to complete a Radiology internship, Mohamed Jarraya is no stranger to adventure.  A Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Radiology at Boston University Medical Center, Mohamed compares his transition to American life to walking in a jungle.  Navigating between cutting edge medical research and various opportunities through the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at GMS, he finds ways to give back to the BUMC community, earning the respect and admiration of his colleagues.

What brought you to BUMC?

Originally I am from Tunisia, but right before coming to the United States, I was living in France completing a medical internship in radiology.  I have a MD degree from the University of Sfax School of Medicine.  When I decided to do a postdoctoral fellowship, I really focused on locations in the United States, a place I had never previously been.  I wanted to complete a research project and really experience America.  I found my current position in the BUMC Radiology Department, and I had to jump on it.  I love Boston.

What kind of research are you involved in?

Right now I am working in clinical research within the Quantitative Imaging Center at the BUMC Radiology Department studying knee osteoarthritis.  A lot of my work requires examining and reading MRIs of the knee. By studying these MRIs, lesions related to osteoarthritis can be scored depending on their severity. This information allows for an objective follow-up of patients with knee osteoarthritis, and helps for comparisons before and after special medical treatments.

Why did you choose radiology?

I have always been interested in architecture and the arts, which I initially planned to study in school. My father, who was physician, always encouraged me to pursue a career in medicine which I ultimately decided to do. When I took the residency exam, I only knew which specialties I didn’t want to practice, surgery being one of them. My sister, at that time was in her first year of radiology residency and I was curious about her specialty; I guess she is the one who pushed me in radiology!

How did you adjust to American life?

The only person I knew before moving to the United States was my PI, who had interviewed me for my current position. I viewed the move from France to the United States as an adventure, and I found Americans to be friendly and open to other people.  My colleagues are spectacular.

When I first arrived in Boston, any time I had outside of the lab, I spent going to the gym and becoming acquainted with the city.  It didn’t take me long to start meeting people, and now I am kept very busy with my research and my social life.  I also spent the recent Thanksgiving holiday with an American family in the area. They were awesome, and the food was delicious!

Besides your research, how else are you involved in the BUMC community?

I am a member of Toastmasters International, a group recently established by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs at GMS.  It is a very interesting organization, and has been beneficial to me in many ways.  Arabic is my first language, though I have been studying English for seven years.  Since joining Toastmasters, I have been obligated to prepare a speech.  Though there have only been six sessions, I feel my English has drastically improved.  I am much more fluent, and my writing skills are enhanced.  Additionally, I have met many great people through the organization.  It is a very positive and friendly group. Besides Toastmasters, I also offer support for events sponsored by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, including the Ice Cream Social we had this past fall, and an the recent Holiday Party.  The Office also sponsors career development luncheons I try to attend regularly.

What are your future goals?

I would like to acquire a clinical experience the United States and work as a Radiologist. Beyond that, I am not really sure what my long-term plans are.  When I came to America, my goal was to dive into research, and I have come to discover that research is something I really enjoy. I think a combined medical and academic environment will provide me with the benefits of working both in the clinic and in research.

What do you enjoy doing outside the walls of BUMC?

I spend most of my time outside of BUSM with my friends.  I have also traveled to New York City in the past six months of living in the country.  There is a Tunisian consulate where I was able to participate in a vote back in Tunisia.  The vote was for the constituent assembly who is drafting our new Tunisian constitution right now. That was the first democratic election in Tunisia for more than two thousand years!

What advice can you give other postdocs or GMS students?

Join Toastmasters, or other group activities, that will help you socialize.  Most importantly, take advantage of working or studying here at BUMC; it is an opportunity and a great experience.

Spotlight on Students: Andrew Ferree

December 15th, 2011 in Homepage Spotlights, Student Spotlight

Andrew Ferree--12.2.11A challenging and rewarding program, the Boston University School of Medicine MD/PhD Combined Degree program produces exceptional physicians and researchers.  Though only halfway through his time here, Andrew Ferree is no exception.  An addict to research, Andrew has traveled internationally to present his scientific findings, and continues to investigate new ways to improve BUMC’s sustainability efforts here in Boston.

What made you decide to pursue both a MD and PhD in BU’s combined degree program?

You could say I have an addiction to research.  I have spent the past ten years researching Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, and I can’t stop.  I initially earned a Master of Arts in Medical Sciences here at BUSM, working with Dr. Benjamin Wolozin in Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics on my thesis and various other projects.  I knew I wanted to continue with research, but also wanted to experience the clinical side of medicine and see my research applied to people.   When I was accepted into the MD/PhD program, it seemed like the most obvious choice for me because it combined the lab and the clinic.

What PhD program are you in here at BU?

I am completing my graduate research through the Department of Pharmacology but I also work extensively with the Departments of Neuroscience and Medicine.

I understand you will be defending your dissertation soon.  What research have you been involved with?

My research has always been related to neurodegeneration.  To date, most of my research at BU has been focused on studying the function of genes that are linked to Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.   I will never lose interest in PD and AD, but I am broadening my horizons and beginning to be lured into the study of how mitochondria play a role in diabetes and peripheral neuropathies.  Ultimately, I want to help cure these diseases.

You recently attended a conference in Sardinia.  What was that experience like?

Blissful would not be an exaggeration.   The conference was absolutely sublime; it was relatively small and packed with very prominent researchers in mitochondrial biology.  I presented some recent data from experiments on a new potential therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease.   I tested how the drugs effect mitochondrial transport and function in hippocampal neurons.   At the mitochondrial dynamics conference, I made some great contacts and got a lot of helpful feedback, encouraging comments, and new ideas.   I would like to extend a very warm and appreciative thank you to all those that helped me with the travel expenses.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of your academic career as a MD/PhD student here at BU?

The MD years and the PhD years are very different from each other.  Medical school is an inch deep and a mile wide; you learn lots of information across many areas.  With research, the focus is narrow, and you try to learn everything there is to know about one topic.  The learning approaches are very different as well.  Medical school requires memorization and the retention of a lot of information to succeed.  In research, the real value is placed on imagination and creativity.

Are you involved in other activities outside of research?

I spend a lot of time with my family, especially my son, Thomas, who will be turning two in February.  They keep me laughing on the rough days and offer a lot of support.  For the past few years, I have been very active in various sustainability projects here at BUMC.   One quick plug, if anyone would like to join us in these efforts check out our website to get involved (www.bu.edu/sustainability/)!  When time permits, I also enjoy playing a good game of basketball and teaching self-defense classes in Michael Galperin’s School of Combat Sambo.

What are your future plans/goals?

The best part about the MD/PhD program is that it allows you to explore your options by giving exposure to both the clinic and the lab.  I am still not sure where my path will take me but I do know I will never escape the brain.   If I practice medicine, I plan to specialize in neurology and focus on treating age related neurodegenerative diseases.   It seems unlikely that I will be able to kick my addiction to research so that will definitely be part of the picture.

Do you have any advice for current GMS students?

Pay attention to what truly interests you and pursue it.  If you find that the passion fades, then do not feel obliged to follow the current course just because you started it.  If you enjoy what you are doing, then it is probably a good fit for you.    Beyond that I would like to say something corny, such as, believe in yourself and in your efforts.  Your hard work will pay off though sometimes not the way you expect.