PhD Spotlight: Matthew Reiss ’23

Matthew Reiss is a PhD candidate in the Biomolecular Pharmacology program at Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. Matt’s research in the lab of Rachel Flynn, PhD, studies the role that a long non-coding RNA, TERRA, plays in the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway for mammalian cancer cells. Matt successfully defended his dissertation in March 2023 and will graduate in the upcoming May 2023 Commencement exercises. Read more about Matt below!


What did you complete your dissertation research on and how did you settle on that topic?

My dissertation research centered on studying the role a long non-coding RNA, TERRA, plays in the alternative lengthening of telomeres (ALT) pathway for mammalian cancer cells. How the ALT pathway is established, and the role TERRA plays in that process, are poorly understood, so my project aimed at helping to better understand the relationship between the two. I chose this project because I’ve always been interested in the finer details of how cancer develops, with the hope that new knowledge could help develop new therapeutics.

Why did you choose to do a PhD?

I pursued a PhD because I’ve been involved in research throughout my academic career, and I enjoyed the challenges that academic research provides. Doing a PhD allowed me to continue to work within that passion by expanding my knowledge and skill set in an area I hoped to one day build a career.

How would you describe a typical day as a PhD student?

My days generally involved coming into lab and reviewing which experiments I aimed to start or continue from previous days. I spent a lot of time working in cell culture and at my benchtop using various molecular biology techniques to address my research question. I would often analyze the data on the days I generated it and prepared figures for discussion with my peers and advisor to help better understand the results as a whole and determine what avenues to explore next. I would also engage in department and university-sponsored events, when possible, to stay involved. I like to think I was generally pretty productive, but I also found time to socialize with my peers as well.

What is one of your best memories from the time in your PhD?

One of the highlights of my PhD was submitting my first author manuscript for peer review. I felt immensely proud of everything that went into the project and the opportunity to have other researchers in my field evaluate it for publication.

Did you face any unexpected challenges during your time in your program? How did you overcome them?

Aside from COVID, I spent the last two years living apart from my wife while I finished my PhD. My wife was initially a medical resident across the street at BMC but eventually pursued a fellowship program at Yale. When I started the PhD, we knew it was possible we would have to do some long distance living eventually, but it was still challenging to be apart from my biggest personal support. We overcame the difficulties of being apart by making time for one another when we could be together and finding fun things to do. I am also grateful that my advisor was incredibly understanding of the situation, gave me leeway when things came up, and helped me stay on track to wrap up the program in a timely manner so we could be together again.

What are your next steps and your plans for your future?

Reunited with my wife in New Haven; she is finishing her fellowship this summer before we move to Albany NY to start the new step of our careers. I’m actively looking for positions in industry that will allow me to use my knowledge and skill set to help create new diagnostic methods and/or therapeutic strategies for cancer patients.

Do you have any advice for future PhD students or anything else you would like to share?

The best piece of advice that I always give aspiring PhD students is to choose the lab that is right for them. A PhD is a challenging and difficult few years, so you want to choose a work environment that is best for what you need. Choose an advisor whose mentoring style best matches what you need to be successful and creates an environment you want to work in. This extends beyond the advisor. Surround yourself in the lab with people you enjoy working with that make coming to work enjoyable.  Lastly, get involved. The more integrated into the program and university you become, the more value you offer and the more meaning you find in your day-to-day activities.

What do you like to do for fun in Boston?

Outside of lab, I often found time for friends and family. I enjoyed several activities over the years, but one of the most fun things I tried in Boston was ‘Combat Archery’, which is kind of like dodgeball with padded bows and arrows – I highly recommend trying! I also am an avid runner, participating in both the Boston and NYC marathons as a charity runner during my time as a PhD student. Boston is a great running city!