GPMTM Student Spotlight

Alicia Evangelista

PhD Student
Name: Alicia Evangelista
Undergrad degree/Institution: University of Virginia/ Biomedical Engineering
BU Lab and Mentor: Vascular Biology Unit/ Richard Cohen, MD
Project/Thesis: S-glutathiolation of the SERCA cysteine-674 reactive thiol is required for VEGF-mediated endothelial cell migration.
Graduation Date: July 2011

Why did you choose GPMTM at BU ?
My attention was called to BU GPMTM by my undergraduate research mentor. He initially suggested it based on the wide range of research interests covered, the location, and the personal interactions he had had with some of the faculty at BU. I applied based on this recommendation. What really made me choose BU was the people I met there. When I came for my interview day, a student was assigned to take me out to lunch. It turned out that she and I shared many common interests and really hit it off. After that, I stayed in contact with her and got an inside feel for the program. In truth, I was torn between BU and another university, but I found that I felt much more comfortable at BU because of the people I had met. The student who took me out for my interview lunch is now one of my closest friends, and I feel very fortunate that I was able to experience both personal and professional success during my pre-doctoral training.

What have you learned about yourself by being a PhD candidate in the GPMTM?
When I came to BU, I was fresh out of college and a degree program that was relatively inflexible. At first, I was surprised by the degree of flexibility and freedom given to students in GPMTM, and I was not used to having to take such an active role in deciding my own program path. I quickly learned how to ask questions, how to seek help, and how to take the initiative to achieve what I want. I found that I was happier steering my own course than being held to strict requirements with which I felt no connection and this has served me well in preparing for post-doctoral life.

Awards/Conferences/ Talks
I have had the opportunity to go to several conferences, both at BU and at away. At BU, I have given a talk at the Oxidative Post-Translational Modification Meeting (honorable mention) and presented posters at Evans Research Days (honorable mention). Away from BU I have presented posters at the Society for Free Radical Biology Meeting twice (in Indianapolis and San Francisco). I also had the opportunity to participate in a young investigator award talk at the Mechanisms of Vasodilitation Meeting in Matsushima, Japan, where I won first place and got to meet many amazing scientists from around the world. Finally, I participated in the Graduate Student Symposium at the NIH, which I highly recommend to senior level graduate students, particularly those interested in working at the NIH.

What recommendations do you have for incoming PhDs or MD/PhDs?
What really defines the pre-doctoral experience is the time spent in the laboratory. After two years of classes, you will be in the lab full-time, and it is there that you will define your scientific interests and your work ethic. It is through your lab that you will make valuable contacts and learn to collaborate, so it is critical that you take the time to really get to know the lab environment before you commit to it. Take your time during rotations, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, and make sure that you are joining a lab that suits your wants and needs.

Daniel DworkisMD/PHD Student
Name: Daniel Dworkis
Undergrad degree/Institution: Brown University / ScB in Biophysics
BU Lab and Mentor: Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell / Martin Steinberg, MD
Project/Thesis: The role of ARFGEF2 in endothelial response to tumor necrosis factor-alpha
Graduation Date: PhD: 2011, MD/PhD: 2013

Why did you choose GPMTM at BU ?
The mission of this school is extremely meaningful to me. I am thrilled to work at an institution where the guiding principle is service for the underserved, and I see such a real passion here from the people I meet and work with both in research and in medicine. Just before starting at BU, I had volunteered as a summer-camp counselor for kids with sickle cell anemia, and had seen first-hand the complex physiological and socio-economic havoc this genetic disorder wreaks. I chose GPMTM so that I could join the Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease under the guidance of Dr. Martin Steinberg and research the underlying molecular mechanisms of this serious disease.

What non-research activities are/were you involved in that have/had an impact on your career choice?
In 2010, I became involved with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and spent a month in Haiti working at the displaced persons camp Kam Lespwa / Klinik Lespwa (meaning camp or clinic of hope, respectively). It was an amazing experience that provided me with a unique opportunity to help people–applying some of my lab experience in the field, I conducted some brief research to look at different types of malnutrition present in the camp. I could really see how the PhD and MD parts of my training were working together. It also really solidified my desire to work for at least part of my career internationally, probably in post-disaster or refugee settings.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I’ve graduated from the MD-PhD program and I’m a PGY-3 resident, though I’m not sure exactly what field I’ll be in. I’m combining my interests in research, clinical medicine, and systemic advocacy, and I’m doing a significant amount of my work in low-income or developing settings.

What recommendations do you have for incoming PhDs or MD/PhDs?
I have a quote from Martin Luther King JR up at my desk in lab that says “We must use time creatively in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” For me, being able to connect my research to my deeper goals of service through medicine was the most important thing during the natural ebbs and flows of research. Basically, when you spend all day every day with the microscopic, it’s good to remember that you’re in this program for a bigger reason, something you really believe in. I recommend taking steps to remember that.

Belkina CMB Spotlight photo

CMB (Cell and Molecular Biology)/PhD Student
Name: Anna Belkina
Undergrad degree/Institution: The Rockefeller University (MS)/Russian State Medical University (MD)
BU Lab and Mentor: Cancer Center/Gerald Denis, PhD
Project/Thesis: BET proteins as the immune system regulators
Graduation Date: September 2012

Why did you choose GPMTM at BU?
I entered GPMTM through the CMB (Cell and Molecular Biology) program. CMB students join their departments of choice after their first year of classes and rotations, so I chose Molecular and Translational Medicine. As you can see, I got into one interdisciplinary program from another…  I wanted to keep my opportunities as open as possible, and it was GPMTM diversity that has attracted me. I am in my fifth year now, and by now I am involved in research in three different fields – my thesis project studies some aspects of transcriptional regulation of the immune system. I had an opportunity to work on the role of B cells in mouse obesity in Barbara Nikolajczyk’s lab, I have just started a small side project on diabetes, where we are finishing a project on the regulation of bone density lead by Louis Gerstenfeld and Jennifer Schlezinger. One’s thesis is inevitably focused on a narrow range of questions, so it’s good to have rich environment to keep your vision broad.

 How has your GPMTM experience at BU helped you prepare/achieve your career goals?
Tremendously. GPMTM is fostering both connectedness and independence – you need to network in order to successfully develop projects that spill over the boundaries of one field of research, but you also need to be self-supportive to proceed from being a student to becoming an independent researcher. By the way, Friday GPMTM seminars are great in both aspects – you can connect with your peers’ research interests, and you get an opportunity to practice in presenting your own work.

 Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
It will definitely be Boston – I love this city. I hope I will be able to stay in academic field, although with a current scarcity of funding I am looking for jobs in the industry as well. I wish I could do some teaching as a part of my postdoctoral training, hopefully by that time I will be able to manage both research and teaching.

 What recommendations do you have for incoming PhDs or MD/PhDs?
By the end of the first semester, your class will become your team for many things happening – so cherish this relationship. The GPMTM group is always extremely helpful, and it’s a joy to be able to help your peers as well. They will find you a missing antibody at 1 AM and fix your nervousness before your first committee meeting. Talk to the faculty members who teach your first year classes – they might be taking students for rotations, and they are your portal to other PIs. Also – be happy to do three rotations, even if you think you are happy with your choice after the second one. Use the third one to try something new. Go to the meeting as soon as your advisor allows you to do so. Write the methods section of your thesis while you are doing experiments – saves you lots of time. And enjoy it! Gratify your own curiosity!