BPS Summer Research Program TA Spotlight: Mike Pablo

mike-pblo-IMG_2706-CR-desk-150-6The 2017 Biophysical Society Summer Research Program in Biophysics is currently underway at UNC Chapel Hill. We caught up with one of the program’s teaching assistants, Mike Pablo, to learn about his current research, how he became interested in biophysics, and what he’s looking forward to this summer. 

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

For a time, I thought I would want to pursue medicine, but a stint volunteering with an ambulance corps in high school showed me otherwise. After that, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. When I eventually applied to colleges for my undergraduate degree, I recklessly submitted a different major for each application. I wound up studying Chemistry at Northeastern University thanks to a wonderful scholarship. While there, I was lucky to get involved with PRISM (“Proactive Recruitment In Science and Mathematics”), a program aimed at freshmen to get them interested in research problems. Both chemistry and research were interesting, so I stuck with it! Over the years, I found myself really enjoying both quantitative, mathematically-grounded work as well as biochemistry. This led me towards bioanalytical and analytical chemistry, and I didn’t break into any biophysical studies until I came to graduate school and got involved with the Training Program in Biophysics and Molecular Cell Biology, which was a fantastic experience.

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

Nope! My mother is a nurse, and my father works in life insurance.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Queens, New York. Between living in New York and attending college in Boston, I’m used to big cities. Moving to Chapel Hill was a little challenging, but the place has grown on me a lot.

What schools have you attended/are you attending? What degrees do you hold?

I went to the Bronx High School of Science, then to Northeastern University, where I got a BS in Chemistry.

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

I’m now a PhD candidate in the Chemistry department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, more specifically within the Biological division. My current research uses computational approaches to understand how biochemical signaling is coordinated during phagocytosis, a process very fundamental to our immune systems. We know that many key molecules in phagocytosis need to be distributed within the cell in precisely shaped and timed ways: disrupting this coordination can lead to impaired or failed phagocytosis. So how do cells consistently manage it? I’m building both simulations of the biochemistry within the cell to get an understanding of how it works, and tools to analyze experimentally-acquired data.

Why did you want to be a TA for the BPS Summer Research Program? 

It sounded like a fun program to be a TA for, and I’m looking forward to helping our students become more proficient as researchers. I think it’s a great opportunity for students to experience research, and I know how valuable that opportunity can be from my PRISM experience and work I did during my undergraduate degree. The course has just barely started, but I look forward to seeing them grow over the next couple of months.

Name someone you admire and explain why.

I’m going to cheat a little and name several: Randall Munroe, Zach Weinersmith, and Kate Beaton. All of them use a fun medium (comics) to communicate information that people might normally find boring, ranging from science and engineering to philosophy and history. I think it’s an amazing way to spark interest, and believe they have a great positive impact on a wide range of people.

What are your future plans for your career/research?

I think I still want to pursue computational approaches to study complex biochemical and biological systems. It’s a little hard for me to nail down something more specific – I feel that there’s still so much more for me to explore in terms of what I could apply my training to.

Biophysical Society Summer Research Program: The Time of Your Life

li_alexMy name is Alex Li. I am a rising third-year undergraduate student at UNC-Chapel Hill, majoring in B.S. Chemistry with a focus in biochemistry. I first found my love of chemistry in high school after taking AP Chemistry and now I wish to specialize my interests in organic chemistry after taking a two-semester sequence of it with Michael Crimmins. I have always loved science since I was a kid – it led me to questioning “why” and “how” to every scientific phenomenon, as if I am the detective trying to fit every piece of a jigsaw puzzle. In my free time, I like to play the piano (classical), listen to new music (rap), and try new outdoor adventures (skydiving). I plan to pursue a dual-DDS/DMD and PhD in dentistry and organic chemistry in the future, as I am interested in career options such as clinics, industry, and academia.

I first heard about the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program from Howard Fried, who strongly suggested that I should apply to this program, because he wanted me to get exposed to the field of biophysics. I chose this program because it lasted for so long and I wanted to get the most out of learning and research this summer.

I worked this summer under Kevin Weeks, under whom I researched about different conformations of the RNA genome within satellite tobacco mosaic virus (STMV). This work is related to biophysics in that the research can be applied to visualize RNA structure and dynamics in vivo with high-throughput analytical methods (i.e. x-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy). By understanding the biomechanics of the STMV viral life cycle (i.e. entry, disassembly, replication), we can obtain the knowledge to develop antiviral drugs that are effective against more complex viruses (i.e. adenovirus, rhinovirus, poliovirus) that have the same structure as STMV’s. It was a rewarding and challenging summer in Kevin’s lab, especially working entirely independently and discovering literature sources to plan out my experiments.

What I liked so much about BPS Summer Course was that it is different from what other REUs [Research Experiences for Undergraduates] provide to motivated science students during the summer. It is a combination of everything: lectures/recitations, career panel workshops, seminars, lab tours, and fun social events! The lectures provided a brief overview, but intensive insight, into different fields of biophysics from UNC faculties; we also had fantastic TAs who helped us understand biophysics since it was confusing a lot of the time. There were workshops that gave helpful advice and learning tools for graduate school or MD/PhD admission process, GRE testing, abstract and personal statement writing, and much more. Different faculties from universities across the United States gave seminars about their biophysics research, which were very engaging and interactive. We also got to tour different lab facilities across UNC’s campus (which I never knew about!) to see some of the coolest science equipment, such as atomic force microscope. Some of the best memories I have made this summer was during the Emerald Isle beach trip – a social event that should be continued for future classes!

Overall, I am beyond elated to say that this summer program was a blast – both educationally and socially. I am glad I applied and I strongly recommend others to do so in the future. I will dearly miss all of the friends I have made this summer and like to thank all of the BPS Summer Course coordinators that helped made this summer possible.

-Alexander Y. Z. Li, 2016 Biophysical Society Summer Research Program Fellow

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.

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.


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

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.


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!

BPS Summer Program Alumni Spotlight: Joshua Mannheimer

Josh_Mannheimer_PhotoWe recently had a chance to interview Joshua Mannheimer, an alumnus of the 2013 Biophysical Society Summer Program in Biophysics, and learn about what he has been up to since his time in the Summer Program. Currently, Joshua is at Colorado State University wrapping up his Master of Engineering Degree in mechanical engineering after which he will be directly matriculating into the Biomedical Engineering PhD program.

What is your research focus?

I consider myself an applied computational biophysicist. My goal is to use computational tools to guide experimental scientists by providing insight into biological processes through modeling. Additionally, I am interested in developing computational tools to assist in clinical medicine. My current project uses advanced statistical techniques, called machine learning, to predict the efficacy of chemotherapeutic agents on certain cancer types based on genetic analysis.

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

I really got interested in biology in high school, but after taking physics my senior year I decided to get my BS in physics. After a couple years of pursuing physics I had decided to take a few chemical and biological engineering courses; it was through these courses I was connected with a faculty member in the Biomedical Engineering department who happened to have a background in physics. It was through him that I realized the potential to use physics-based models to probe questions in biology.

In terms of what I do right now, it was actually quite serendipitous. After my first year in the ME program I was looking for an internship in industry to build experience professionally. After this did not work out, I needed to do something for the summer. I contacted a faculty member in the Biomedical Engineering department who happened to need someone experienced with programming. This is how I learned about big data and machine learning and was immediately aware of how big of an impact this could have on clinical medicine.

Have mentors played a role in your success?

I have been fortunate enough to have many mentors play a role in my life from school teachers who fostered my curiosity, many adults whom I looked up to as a kid who always encouraged me, and of course some of the faculty I have worked for over the years who invested time in my development as a scientist. Most importantly I have always had a supportive family.

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

I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) early in my childhood and that has by far been the biggest obstacle I have faced growing up. It impacts the way I learn and work when it comes directly to academic pursuits; however, managing my mental health while in a demanding program has been the biggest challenge, one I still struggle with but which makes me even more determined to succeed.

What was the most important thing you learned or took away from the summer program that helped you get to where you are at now?

I participated in the summer program right after I had graduated with my BS. At that point I had felt a little dismayed because I had just finished this really demanding degree and I still felt like I knew nothing. During the summer course I realized that what I really learned was how to solve problems and was impressed with how I could implement these skills to work on novel problems. It really put things into perspective.

What was your favorite thing about the summer program?

I really enjoyed the people. It was really beneficial to work with people who came from different academic backgrounds but more importantly to meet new people from different backgrounds and places.

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

I would encourage any student to research the opportunities a graduate degree affords them and how that degree, and more importantly that research area, will lead to employment opportunities in industry and academia. After all, a degree is not useful unless you can use it.

BPS Summer Program Alumni Spotlight: Manuel Castro

Mac_Castro_PhotoWe recently had a chance to catch up with Manuel “Mac” Castro from BPS’s Summer Program in Biophysics Class of 2015. Mac is currently finishing up his BS in Biochemistry, with a focus in Medicinal Chemistry, at Arizona State University (ASU) where he works as a Research Assistant in the Van Horn Lab. Starting in the fall of 2016, Mac has accepted an offer to attend Vanderbilt University through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), a PhD program intended to help students transition from undergraduate to graduate style biomedical research. Additionally, Mac has also recently been awarded a prestigious NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, which recognizes and supports outstanding graduate students in NSF-supported science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines.

What is your research focus?

My current research focus in Dr. Van Horn’s lab can be generalized as structural and functional studies of Transient Receptor of Potential (TRP) ion channels, transmembrane proteins that are involved in a plethora of signaling pathways in larger organisms (metazoans). Namely, I work on TRPM8, 1 of 27 TRP channels expressed in humans, which has great implications in pain and cancer therapy and offers an overall better understanding of neurology and physiology. To study these ion channels, I produce the proteins in bacteria, purify them, and probe them using solution –state nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) and circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy techniques.

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

To be honest, I was thrown into this research as a college sophomore and had no idea what the bigger picture was. However, throughout my time in this lab, I have come to fall in love with both the problems that our research is trying to address and the various techniques we use to address them.  Now that my time in this lab is nearing its end, I can say that I enjoy this research because neurology has always been one of my favorite topics in science. The Van Horn lab twists the traditional approaches that neuroscience generally employs by taking a more biochemical and biophysical approach towards understanding how these proteins work both inside  and outside of cells.

What was the most important thing you learned or took away from the summer program that helped you get where you are at now?

The summer program was a fantastic review of my physical chemistry, biology, and biochemistry classes. It really solidified what topics from my classes were going to be central to my future as a biomedical scientist. However, I think the most immediately beneficial part of the summer program was working with Dr. Matt Redinbo in his crystallography lab. I learned a series of new techniques while I was there and also solidified my last necessary letter of recommendation for graduate school.  Without the experience and connections I attained that summer, I may not have made it where I wanted to be.

What was your favorite thing about the summer program?

My favorite thing about the summer program was how much the people who sponsored the program tried to make the interns feel like they were being taken care of. The hospitality that was offered was unlike anything I had experienced and the excursions that they planned for us made for some of the best memories of my life. I also made some good friends who will likely be so for the rest of my life, and that type of experience is hard to replace.

Have mentors played a role in your success? If so, how?

I have had two impactful mentors during my undergraduate years, and each of them offered different insights in my life. Wade Van Horn helped me turn my education around and would consistently challenge me to do better than I was already doing. He would never accept mediocrity from me and his guidance kept my eyes on the prize (being a successful scientist). David Capco encouraged me to channel my desire to help other students into becoming a legitimate mentor for freshman undergraduates and middle/high-school students alike.  My mentoring experience helped me understand the importance of being a mentor to others in a similar way that Drs. Van Horn and Capco were to me. It is safe to say that the person I was before my interactions with them was a very different person than I am today.

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

The toughest challenge in my career had to be my grades. In my early college career, I was a terrible student and had no motivation to excel in my classes. This left me at a huge disadvantage after my sophomore year because my GPA hit a trough of cumulative 2.8. Since then, I have had to get basically all As in every class in every semester in order to prove to graduate admissions committees that the person I was in the beginning of college was not who I became during the middle and at the end. I ended up applying to graduate schools with a cumulative GPA of 3.25, which was the best I could get to. However, I plan to make up for my poor decisions by hitting the ground running in graduate school and not letting my prior habits from early undergraduate translate into the future of my career.

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

Do it. That is my advice. Don’t think too hard about it and just do it. Although, since I have not started graduate school yet, I would argue that my opinion isn’t the most important. Another piece of advice I could give would be that if you are serious about pursuing a higher degree, look into PhD programs and not masters programs. They offer you more training, a more qualified degree, and they will give you great financial support. Don’t sell yourself short and shoot for the stars!