BPS Summer Research Program: TA Spotlight

Next week, the 2016 Biophysical Society Summer Research Program in Biophysics comes to a close. We caught up with two of the program’s teaching assistants, Kevin Knight and Sam Stadmiller, to learn about their current research, how they became interested in biophysics, and what they’ve enjoyed about the program. 


Kevin Knight

TA_Kevin KnightHow did you get started in science in general and biophysics in particular?

I got really interested in science after I did a summer REU (undergraduate research) program at the University of Kansas. My home institution did not offer research in the natural sciences, so this was truly my first exposure to research. The De Guzman lab at KU was an NMR lab that studied bacterial proteins involved in pathogenesis. I got to personally run NMR experiments on my protein to discover which regions bound to proteins on the host cell surface. The project consumed all of my time that summer, and ever since then I have been fascinated with biophysics and science as a whole.

Are other members of your family involved in science? If not, what sort of work were your parents involved in while you were growing up?

I had almost no relatives involved in science other than one aunt who works to ensure hospitals are meeting safety requirements. My mother and father both worked for Boeing, an aerospace company. Both were strictly on the business end, but I heard plenty about new planes and technologies that the engineers and developers were creating while I was growing up. I’ve always loved to know how things worked and naturally, that love started with airplanes.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up just outside of St. Louis, Missouri in Ballwin, Missouri. It’s mostly suburban with plenty of rivers, creeks, and parks to explore.

What schools have you attended? What degrees do you hold?

I attended an all male private high school (not uncommon for people from Saint Louis) and then went to a very small liberal arts school called Missouri Baptist University. I played varsity volleyball there all four years and graduated with a bachelor’s in science in three disciplines: chemistry, biochemistry, and biology.

What is your current position? Please describe any current projects or research.

I am currently a graduate student in Dr. Henrik Dohlman’s lab working on G proteins. My research centers around three mutations that work to suppress G protein signaling by distinct mechanisms. I am trying to determine how these mutations function so that eventually, I can develop a small molecule drug that will do the same thing. The research I do is at the interface of biophysics, structural biology, and pharmacology.

Why did you want to be a TA for the BPS Summer Research Program? What has been your favorite aspect of the course? What has been the biggest challenge?

I wanted to TA for the summer course because I had heard great things about it from a previous TA and I thought it would be a great way to give back to a program that has taught me so much in this past year. My favorite aspect of the course I think has been watching an incredibly diverse group of students from different scientific disciplines come together to learn biophysics and become friends.

Who is someone you admire, and why?

I admire my mother for working her way through college and eventually a master’s degree on her own. Then, through hard work, intelligence, and perseverance she worked her way up through the ranks of a largely male dominated company for more than three decades to become a senior director while raising my brother and I for the past twenty years. Her work ethic, determination, poise, and problem solving ability continue to inspire me to this very day.

What are your future plans for your career/research?

Currently, I like the idea of becoming a research professor and running my own lab. However, I think there is definitely a part of me that wants to try my hand at creating a small startup with some of my fellow scientists. I am only in my first year of my PhD so I’m sure those goals are bound to change, but that is where I am currently.


Sam Stadmiller

Stadmiller_S_PhotoHow did you get started in science in general and biophysics in particular?

At the beginning of my undergraduate career I thought that I wanted to be a medical doctor, so chose biochemistry as a major. As I got more involved with my coursework, I realized my passion for science, and that being a medical doctor was not for me. Once I started undergraduate research, I was sold. I wanted a scientific career studying the how and why of biological processes. The interdisciplinary nature of biophysics along with the elegant biological questions that the field works to answer are what attracted me to participate in the graduate biophysics training program at UNC Chapel Hill.

Are other members of your family involved in science? If not, what sort of work were your parents involved in while you were growing up?

Neither my mother nor my father were involved in science. My dad owned a franchise of a closet company and my mom works in accounting doing billing for travel nurses.

Did you have any mentors, role models, or experiences that sparked your interest in science? If so, can you tell us a little about them?

 I have been fortunate to have multiple great mentors. Chemistry was always my favorite subject and I owe that to two great high school chemistry teachers. In undergrad, I had a wonderful research advisor, Dr. Julie Champion, as well as a great graduate student mentor, Tim Chang. They both pushed me to be a better scientist and provided constructive feedback on every aspect of my research. It was this wonderful lab environment that fostered my scientific curiosity and motivated me to apply to graduate school. I also have to thank my parents for always allowing me to pursue my own interests and for supporting me no matter what.

 Where did you grow up?

Suwanee, Georgia which is just north of Atlanta.

 What schools have you attended? What degrees do you hold?

I have a B.S. in Biochemistry with a minor in Materials Science and Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. I am currently attending UNC Chapel Hill for graduate studies in Biological Chemistry.

What is your current position? Please describe any current projects or research.

I am currently conducting graduate research in Dr. Gary Pielak’s lab at UNC. My current project focuses on understanding the role of protective small molecules (osmolytes) on protein stability in response to cellular stresses using in-cell protein NMR.

What are the further implications and/or applications of this research?

This work is important as it focuses on studying proteins in the cell where macromolecular concentrations can exceed 300 g/L. This work can not only provide a physiological explanation   for the accumulation of osmolytes in stressed bacterial cells, but it is also a step forward to understanding biological processes in their native environment rather than in dilute buffer systems.

Why did you want to be a TA for the BPS Summer Research Program? What has been your favorite aspect of the course? What has been the biggest challenge?

I have always enjoyed teaching. From coaching gymnastics to teaching general chemistry labs, I love interacting with students and watching them get excited about science. I particularly wanted to be a TA for the BPS Program because it gives me the opportunity to teach something that I am passionate about. My favorite aspect thus far is watching the students transform and grow into future scientists. The biggest challenge is trying to communicate ideas effectively to students from diverse educational backgrounds simultaneously.

Name someone you admire and explain why.

Dorothy Hodgkin for being one of the first female scientists to work in the field of x-ray crystallography of biomolecules.

What are your future plans for your career/research?

As a first year graduate student, I am still considering and exploring multiple career options.

 What do you like to do when you’re not busy in the lab?

I try to stay active and love doing anything outdoors, especially hiking. I also enjoy           experimenting in the kitchen.

Impostor Syndrome: The Dilemma between Who We Are and Who We Are Perceived to Be, Part Two

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado, Mayo Clinic and a member of the Biophysical Society’s Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women and Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, and Dwight P. Wynne, California State University, Fullerton, explore the problem of imposter syndrome in this three part series. Read part one here.

Right now, if you think you’re suffering from impostor syndrome (or even if you aren’t), we want you to do a little exercise. Write down ten statements of the form “I am a [noun].” Each statement should reflect a part of your identity, something that is essential to who you are as a person or how you view the world around you.

Some of the statements you wrote down may reflect attributes that you cannot change about yourself; for instance, “I am a woman” or “I am an African-American” (and if you’re a straight white male like Dwight, you may not even have these statements among your list, which is a whole other topic to talk about). Other statements may reflect particular values you choose to embrace: “I am a Muslim,” “I am a Republican,” or “I am an animal lover.” Still other statements likely reflect roles that you value playing in your personal and professional lives: “I am a lab manager,” “I am a mother,” “I am a musician,” or “I am a party animal.”

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Now comes the hard part: rank these statements from most central to your identity to least central. Or, if that’s too hard, just try to divide them into rough groups.

Got it? Okay, good. What was at the top of the list? Did it have anything to do with being a scientist? If not, how far down was the first science-related identity? Did you even have any statements that are related to your identity as a scientist? What about identities that conflict with your idea of what a scientist is? Where did they rank on your list?

Impostor syndrome has everything to do with identity. If you don’t see yourself as a scientist, then you’ll always feel like an impostor no matter how much success you have as one. In these instances, we have to be honest with ourselves: we’re pursuing a career as a scientist because of someone else, whether that person is a parent, friend, mentor, or even ourselves from five years ago. In some cases, we’ve lost interest in being part of our scientific community, and we’re trying to rationalize that feeling by finding reasons why we’re not good enough to be in it.

The problem is that in many cases, this lack of interest stems from an unconscious rejection by the scientific community of our personal identity. We bring all of our identities to the community, not just the scientific ones, and for better or worse, the community judges us on those parts of ourselves we show to the world.

There are two very different types of impostor pressures that accompany these judgments. In the more commonly explored case, the community judges us—openly or not—negatively based on our personal identity. Being perceived as a “real” member of the community can often be dependent on how much we prioritize our scientific identity over other aspects of our personal identity, or how well those other aspects align with the non-scientific identities of the people most central to the community. When we don’t have the same priorities or we have identities “inconsistent” with the community, we fear that every mistake we make will be marshalled as evidence confirming the community’s already negative judgment of us. Objective indicators of competence are often far less important to our self-perception as a scientist than subjective, social indicators of whether we are perceived as a “real” community member.

In the less commonly explored case, the community completely disregards our personal identity and substitutes its own idealized facsimile. In this case, we’re not worried that every little mistake will “prove” negative judgments correct; instead, we’re worried about disappointing a community that has replaced our identity with an unrealistically positive caricature. It’s the professional equivalent of being “put on a pedestal” in a relationship: we stress out about living up to someone else’s unrealistically high standards. We feel accepted by the community, but worry that the acceptance is on the community’s terms; we fear that as soon as they find out that we aren’t who they’ve defined us to be, we won’t be perceived as “real” community members anymore.

Now that you’ve explored your identity in more detail, we want you to do another little exercise. We want you to write a paragraph describing a successful scientist. What does this person do in a typical day? What skills does this person have? What experiences has this person had that signal competence or community identification? We don’t want you to focus on physical characteristics or beliefs here, but if those things are central to your conception of a “real” scientist, go ahead and add them too. Be as inclusive or exclusive as you like.

Once you’ve written your paragraph, underline everything that doesn’t match with your current identity. If you didn’t underline at least one thing, either you don’t have impostor syndrome or you have very low thresholds for success. Just about everyone with impostor syndrome will have at least one thing in that paragraph that is ridiculous or nonsensical or both.

With these ridiculous statements, we’re conflating the competence we see from others (the final, successful results) with the experience we have had (both the successes and failures).

For instance, a real cell biologist should be able to publish at least two papers per year in Cell or an equivalently prestigious journal without ever getting a paper rejected. A real electrophysiologist will get that darn electrode exactly where it needs to be on the first attempt at running the experiment. In these cases, we’re taking a baseline definition of competence – publishing papers, recording with electrodes – and ratcheting it up to eleven. Of course we don’t measure up, because no one measures up; we just don’t get to see everyone else’s mistakes. Sometimes, those ridiculous expectations are based on our own confusion about what it means to fill a particular professional role. For example, despite being in a biomedical engineering graduate program, Dwight had difficulty conceiving of himself as a “real” engineer because of his inability to correctly use manufacturing or test equipment. Other times, they come from our internalization of broken community norms. For example, Marina has never pulled an all-nighter studying, but some of her fellow chemistry students thought that only students who have pulled all-nighters before finals were “real” chemistry students. Obviously pulling an all-nighter has nothing to do with chemistry, but once the community defined competence through this experience, it became easy for everyone in the community to adopt it as part of their definition of “real.”

Go back and look at your paragraph again, but this time, try to think about who you had in mind when you wrote about each sentence. Is it a mentor? A colleague? Is the entire paragraph about one particular person? We’ve already illustrated that much of your paragraph likely is based outside of reality, but now imagine that you’re the person that inspired most of your paragraph. If everyone saw you in this light, wouldn’t you feel social pressure to live up to it? Wouldn’t you feel like an impostor if you knew that the real you could never live up to this fantasy definition?

In impostor syndrome, we worry over the ways in which our personal identity, skills, and experiences don’t necessarily match up with how we are seen by the community. Sometimes that worry manifests over confirming unrealistically negative judgments; sometimes that worry manifests over failing to live up to unrealistically positive judgments. As much as we seek out objective indicators of success, and as much as other people might point them out to us as reasons why we should feel successful, they don’t do anything to alleviate these impostor feelings. When others assess us, we are more likely to believe their negative judgments than positive ones.  We discount reasons to feel successful because they are not enough to overcome the social weight of negative judgments, or because we see them as evidence of others’ already-unrealistic positive judgments. Impersonal measures of “success” do not alleviate impostor feelings because they cannot help us calibrate how we personally believe others see us.

In this section we’ve explored in detail how the social pressures accompanying community judgments of our personal identity and experiences can lead to impostor feelings, and why objective measures of success don’t necessarily help those feelings go away. While most online resources for impostor syndrome deal with how individuals can minimize the effect of these community judgments, in the last part of our series we are going to discuss some fixes that could be implemented at the community level. After all, when a significant portion of the community identifies in some way with having impostor syndrome, it’s no longer just an individual problem, but one that must also be addressed at the community level.

Stay tuned for part three next week.

BPS Summer Research Program Alumni Reunion: A Current Student’s Perspective

From June 17-19 the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program in Biophysics hosted its annual Alumni Reunion Weekend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Previous program participants joined the current class for a fun and informative weekend that included a BBQ reception, scientific presentations from program alumni, career talks and panels featuring a diverse group of visiting scientists, as well as poster presentations by students from the current class. Students, alumni, and professors had a chance to catch up, network, and even make a few new friends over the course of the weekend. Current students received feedback on their posters and guidance on navigating their careers, along with the opportunity to ask questions on a variety of topics. In this blog, we will hear from current BPS Summer Program participant, Monica Cortez, on her thoughts about the reunion weekend.

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The Biophysical Society’s 2016 Summer Program Alumni Reunion Weekend was my first experience participating in an event where I had the opportunity to present my research. The weekend’s poster session went well and I was able to discuss my research with alumni, current students, program staff, and visiting scientists. During the session, one scientist approached me with a mini experiment she was conducting on students during the poster session: I was dealt the task of explaining my project to her as if she were a time traveler from the 1800s. At first I was nervous about the approach to explaining my project in an elementary way, but much to my surprise, I quickly uncovered my talent for science communication. As a scientist, it is important to be able to communicate your research to anyone ranging from the general public to the most knowledgeable scientists. There was a lot of fun to be had explaining my project in breaking it down to the bare bones of it, the most fundamental concepts going into the big picture of the research. I realized then that my ability to simplify the explanation of my project meant my mentor had done an excellent job in helping me understand my project.

As the poster session proceeded, groups would rotate, and some people would linger a little longer if something caught their interest or if they needed further clarification about the project. This brought me to my next challenge, the challenge of defending previous work done on the project; work done by other researchers collaborating on the project. This means that I was asked questions about the research that I had not asked myself previously. One particular question involved a technique I had not done previously. My first time doing the technique was less than 24 hours before the question was asked. This was a frustrating moment during the poster session. The conversation about a tiny but very important detail to the project felt like it went on for hours. As my first poster session and first experience presenting my “explanation of research” experience, I felt targeted by the question, but I walked away from it with a new understanding. This understanding is that you will be asked questions you did not think about, and you will have to answer truthfully that you do not know the answer to their question. It is not a matter of being targeted, rather it is a matter of realizing research is about answering questions no one knows the answer to.

On the concluding day of the weekend, Summer Program alumni presented their own research and took part in a career panel. This day, program alum, Dr. Yadilette Rivera-Colón provided feedback about the “time traveler” experiment she conducted and went on to explain her background and her path to get where she is today. Congratulations to her because she announced her next career move: an associate professor position! It was amazing to sit amongst a crowd seeing one of our very own alumni finally serving in academia as a professor. Another alum spoke on getting NSF grants and provided tips on how to apply. There were also alumni who spoke on taking steps towards other career opportunities outside of academia. I felt that this was a good choice of topic and beneficial to expose the current Biophysical Society’s Summer Program students to alternative career choices. The career panel was also beneficial in that it led to interesting discussions. One particular point I feel is important to mention is the commonality among the scientists on the panel: even though their paths were very different, they all overcame potential roadblocks encountered by building an excellent support system. One very emotional topic involved the journey to getting a PhD; many panelists felt a lack of excitement and emotional support from their advisors when passing their candidacy, being given a small “congratulations” and a “so what’s next for experiments?”. I was taken aback by this because I’ve always surrounded myself in a good network of people who get excited over my accomplishments no matter how big or small they are. This emotional experience was important for the summer students to witness, highlighting how a strong support system and communication skills play a huge part in success. Communication of your work as a scientist is important, but more importantly the communication between you and your advisor/boss is even more important. Once the emotional needs of the mentee are efficiently communicated to the mentor, their relationship can strengthen. Your mentor/mentee relationship is an important part to succeeding in graduate school and beyond. Several alumni candidly discussed how not meeting these emotional needs can lead to crippling depression during graduate school, and encouraged current students to utilize the Program’s alumni network as a source of ongoing support throughout their careers.

The weekend concluded differently than I had expected but overall I wouldn’t have changed anything about this experience. The summer students met people from different career paths and learned how to communicate. Being a part of this summer program feels like a privilege. Not only was I blessed with an advisor who helped me accomplish this part of my career journey, but I am blessed to be working on a project with an excellent mentor here at UNC who is extremely supportive as well. This weekend showed me that I also have a network of alumni from the Biophysical Society’s Summer Research program; an important connection between previous students and the current students has been established, and we are so lucky to have met them all.

 – Monica K Cortez, Biophysical Society Summer Research Program Fellow

Impostor Syndrome: The Dilemma between Who We Are and Who We Are Perceived to Be

Marina Ramirez-Alvarado, Mayo Clinic and a member of the Biophysical Society’s Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women and Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, and Dwight P. Wynne, California State University, Fullerton, explore the problem of imposter syndrome in this three part series. 

Impostor syndrome – a chronic inability to properly internalize our own accomplishments, leading to feelings of incompetence not supported by external evidence – is a problem facing many of us in science and academia today. While there are plenty of resources available discussing how you, as an individual, can deal with or overcome your own personal impostor syndrome, we have yet to see actions addressing impostor syndrome on a broader level, especially within the scientific community.

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Impostor syndrome is comprised of two different types of perception biases. First, people with impostor syndrome devalue their own set of skills. But equally insidiously, they also tend to define unrealistic goals as the benchmark for “success.” In other words, impostor syndrome is a nasty feedback loop of insecurity and perfectionism, and dealing with one of these issues may cause the other to rear its ugly head.

In our view, however, both of these features of impostor syndrome have the same root cause:  a disconnect between who we are to ourselves and who our communities perceive us to be. When we frame it like this, impostor syndrome is not just an internal, personal struggle but one that can also affect a community.

To borrow a term from cognitive anthropologists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger, the scientific community is a “community of practice.” What is meant by this is that the scientific community is a network of people who practice science, linked by both formal and informal connections, and sharing an unwritten set of rules and resources that facilitates communication and learning among its members. Within this scientific community, competence  is often determined formally by receiving favorable reviews of papers, research accomplishments, teaching and mentoring awards, or any number of other ways in which we recognize the contributions of our members. At a local level, competence can be defined informally through interactions with one’s peers in the lab – in most scientific settings, such as a research laboratory, newer members quickly learn who to go to for help with specific problems.

However, engagement with science is often a very personal experience, and the community can only define competence through those parts of our experience we choose to share. The community typically doesn’t know how long we worked on something or how many of our experiments failed or how many things about the field we don’t know or are too embarrassed to admit we forgot. But we do. Therefore, we may be perceived by the community as more competent than we evaluate ourselves to be. This disconnect becomes personal in impostor syndrome: every accomplishment is seen as validation that we’ve managed to fool the community once again into believing we are competent, rather than evidence that we truly are competent and deserve positive feedback from the community.

However, competence is not just about our ability to do the work, but also about our ability to convince others in the community that we can do the work well. This second part requires us to adopt aspects of the community identity as our own. To be a scientist is to be perceived as a scientist. This sometimes means changing the way we dress (dressing down when we are in an informal setting, dressing up when we are in a more formal one) or the hours we work (the “everyone in this lab works 80 hour weeks” mentality), adapting our plans to the way a laboratory does experiments, or revising our presentations to connect with different audiences, to name a few. But it goes further: the way we look or the way we approach the world can also be associated with aspects of the community identity.  For example, scientists who are white, male, and physically able are generally perceived to be more competent solely because they tend to look more like a “typical” member of the scientific community. If we do not fit with these visual expectations, we already begin our participation in the community at a disadvantage, and may continually have to fight uphill against a perceived lack of competence. With impostor syndrome, we magnify this tension between our personal and community identities as evidence that we’re not “real” community members. Instead of celebrating the ways in which we identify with the community, we struggle to reconcile the ways in which we don’t.

In the next part of this series, we will explore in further detail how these two dichotomies – personal experience vs. community competence and personal vs. community identities– can lead to impostor feelings that never quite go away and do us disservice.

An Interview with Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy

BJ: How did you compose the image on the July 12 issue of Biophysical Journal?

AR: We used Visual Molecular Dynamics software (http://www.ks.uiuc.edu/Research/vmd/) and the program Persistence of Vision Raytracer (http://www.povray.org/) to create the image.BPJ_111_1.c1.indd

BJ: How does this image reflect your scientific research?

AR: This image represents our molecular vision of the role of cholesterol in amylin-mediated membrane damage.

BJ: Can you please provide a real-world example of how your research might be applied?

AR: Is hypercholesterolemia related to an increased risk to develop type 2 diabetes? The main goal of our research is to provide a molecular framework for the relationship between diet and lifestyle and proteinopathies.

BJ: How does your research apply to those who are not working in your specific field?

AR: Clinicians will find this study to be useful to gain insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying type 2 diabetes development. In particular, this may help them to better correlate symptoms with lifestyle.

BJ: Do you have a website where our readers can view your recent research?

AR: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Carmelo_La_Rosa and http://rams.biop.lsa.umich.edu/, https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Danilo_Milardi.

– Michele Sciacca, Fabio Lolicato, Giacomo Di Mauro, Danilo Milardi, Luisa D’Urso, Cristina Satriano, Carmelo La Rosa, Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy

BPS Summer Program Alumni Spotlight: Yadilette Rivera-Colón

The Society recently caught up with 2008 Biophysical Society Summer Program in Biophysics alumna and active member of the BPS Education Committee, Yadilette Rivera-Colón. Since participating in the program as an undergraduate, Yadilette has gone on to receive her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and complete a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Read more about her life and career in her 2014 profile in the BPS newsletter. This August, Yadilette will begin a new, exciting chapter in her career.

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Tell us about where you are now in your career.

I just attained my first faculty position at Bay Path University. Starting this fall, I will begin my roles as an undergraduate research coordinator and assistant professor in biology.

What excites you most about starting this new position?

The most exciting aspect of this new position is the fact that I will get to educate not just within the school but also the community as a whole.  There are many underserved students in that area and I want to be able to create educational opportunities for them so that they know how many options are available for them. I am looking forward to try innovative teaching methods and one of the reasons I joined Bay Path University is because it is an environment where professors are encouraged to do so.

What is your research focus?

I plan to study novel acetyltransferases and gain insight into their structure and function using exciting directed evolution approaches.

When and how did you first become interested in this type of research?

I first developed an interest in protein structural biology as an undergraduate summer student while studying T7 Polymerase in Dr. Craig T. Martin’s lab at UMass Amherst.

How have mentors played a role in shaping your success?

Yes! In addition to working closely with your thesis advisor, it is important to surround yourself with mentors that have supplementary skills, strengths, and areas of expertise. Dr. Craig T. Martin, Dr. Jeanne Hardy, Dr. Sandra Petersen, Dr. Barbara Osborne, Dr. Scott C. Garman (my thesis advisor), and Dr. Ronen Marmorstein (my post-doc advisor) were all critical to my success as a scientist. My amazing teaching mentors, Dr. Sandra Devenny and Dr. Georgia Arbuckle, were similarly important to my development as a teacher. These professors helped me with everything from improving my grammar to developing confidence to designing efficient and informative experiments. I have also found mentors in my undergraduate students: Emily Schutsky, Sarah Tarullo, Shaul Kushinsky, Andrew Maguire, and Nada Bader. They always kept me grounded and helped me remember what it is like at the beginning of your scientific career.

What have been some of your toughest challenges so far in advancing your career?

So many challenges! In addition to the new language, moving to the main land from Puerto Rico presented a variety of weather and cultural differences. From the necessity of buying a winter coat, to shaking hands firmly rather than hugging and kissing to say “hi,” I found grad school life to be a bit colder than what I was used to. I felt a certain amount of pressure to conform to the quieter, less colorful personal and professional styles shown by my some of my classmates. Over time, however, I have learned a lot about other cultures and how amazing it is to have perspectives of people from very different backgrounds. There were times when I struggled with the fact that some people achieve their goals more quickly than others, but I have learned that there is nothing wrong with being a bit slower, as you can still accomplish the goals you have set for yourself.

What was the most important thing you learned or took away from the Biophysical Society’s Summer Program that helped you get where you are at now?

Dr. Martin told me about the Summer Course in Biophysics, and it has been one of the most instrumental aspects of my development as a scientist. My current success would be unimaginable without the amazing support network of professors and colleagues that I cultivated there.

What was your favorite thing about participating in the summer program?

I really enjoyed the opportunity to study with students from different academic and ethnic backgrounds, especially when working together on our homework. Everyone I collaborated with had a different area of expertise, and we helped each other learn challenging new concepts in a really fun, diverse environment.

What advice would you give for current undergraduates interested in pursuing a higher degree?

Keep your career options open and learn about everything. You never know what skills or connections will help you in the future, so keep learning and keep growing your professional network!

Thoughts after the Vancouver Thematic Meeting

vancouverIt was incredibly challenging to not write about Every. Single. Talk. at the 2016 Thematic Meeting on Engineering Approaches to Bimolecular Motors. For anyone who is considering attending a smaller-scale BPS meeting: pull the trigger! Yes, it scared me at first that pretty much every session seemed unskippable, but coffee breaks were interspersed at the exact times I felt myself beginning to slump. (Also, the lunch breaks were timed so that I could watch whatever Euro 2016 match was on that day too, so really, not much I can complain about here.)

Now, for my (greatly edited) list of scientific highlights:

Andrew Turberfield’s work on DNA walkers was a fascinating start to a broad session that left me incredibly excited to watch the speed and processivity of synthetic DNA-based transporters improve in the coming years (and the clever ways in which these improvements will be achieved).

Perhaps predictably, the talks on rotary motors were right in my wheelhouse (sorry, sorry!). Hiroyuki Noji demonstrated the many ways in which his group has tried (and failed) to break the F1-ATPase. Lawrence Lee, on the other hand, discussed his attempts at the opposite feat: artificially constructing ATP synthase’s sibling, the bacterial flagellar motor (BFM). A little personal highlight was the chance to talk to so many rotary motor enthusiasts at my station during the poster session (which was, overall, exceptionally lively).

The afternoon session on the second day focusing on nanodevices left everyone buzzing (and rightfully so). Though my work was only peripherally related to the topic, several talks in this session made my jaw drop (sometimes literally, making me glad for the auditorium’s “no food or drink” policy). Jens Gundlach’s work on using nanopore technology for accurate single-molecule measurements in particular stood out. The side-by-side comparison of nanopore sensor to optical tweezer traces had me incredulously wondering if they were real or drawn by (an exceptionally steady) hand. (They were real, of course. I asked Jens himself at dinner on the final night.)

As a (most-of-the-time) theorist, I was glad to see quite a few great non-experimental abstracts interspersed throughout the program. We had talked a lot about how good molecular motors (synthetic and natural) are, but in David Sivak’s talk, we heard about the theoretical limits on how good they possibly can be. I’m always happy when there are both theorists and experimentalists in a room, as the combo generally leads to the best of discussions: ones that are both excited and realistic.

Outside of the science, the Pacific Northwest weather behaved extremely well for us, showing me just the right amount of clouds to carry me through the rest of my time in California. A sunny Vancouver in June can’t really be beat…except by, maybe, a cruise in sunny Vancouver in June (well played, conference organisers).

All in all, an awesome week of awesome science and awesome conversation in an awesome city.