Alumni Spotlight -Jun Seok Lee


IMG_7233Tell us about where you are now in your academic career.

I recently graduated from Rutgers University with a double major in theoretical physics and mathematics. Come September, I will be starting a masters program in biophysics at the Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris VI) in France. I plan to continue towards a PhD at the end of my masters, either staying in Europe or maybe somewhere stateside where it’s always warm, like California.

What is your research focus?

I’ve spent most of my time as an undergrad exploring research options more than focusing on any specific thing. I’ve done research in high-energy experimental particle physics, in neurobiology, in genomics, and extremely briefly in optics. At the moment, I am not obligated to any specific field of research, but I am being drawn more and more towards neurophysics in regards to understanding and treating neurodegenerative diseases, as well as aspects of membrane biophysics.

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

I had some health issues regarding my nervous system a few years back and was really frustrated at the lack of answers and solid methodologies in diagnosis. While that frustration was more owed to my lack of patience, it did spark my curiosity in reading up on biophysics and neurophysics in general and prompted my desire to return to school to pursue my degree.

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 taught me that a PhD program is not some cutthroat outdo-your-peers competition, but rather it is a support group that is trying to help its members succeed academically, socially, and mentally. It showed me that people ranging from administrators, mentors, peers, and even unaffiliated people like professors from different departments are all willing to offer their time and support even if you don’t do anything related to what they are doing.

The program also exposed me to various types of work being done in biophysics. I had a better understanding of what work was being done in the field, and helped me both broaden and narrow my vision in the type of work I hope to pursue in my career in biophysics. The guest lecturers, the alumni, and the one-on-one counseling I received from various people both related directly and indirectly, was formative in creating the idea of what I believe is my future career goals.

What was your favorite thing about the summer program?

If not all the wonderful food (I’m not even joking here), it has to be all the people I met. My fellow students, the TAs, Mike, Barry, Lisa; everyone had a part in creating the awesome time I had during the program. I was exposed to so many types of personalities and lives a scientist could live, and I received so much good advice that has helped me get to where I am now and will probably continue to advance my growth as a scientist. I believe that during that short span of time, I was able to make connections, find new friends and mentors who I could depend on for support throughout my academic and professional career, and well into the rest of my life. Biophysics is such a broad field, and it requires a vast pool of knowledge to answer the questions posed in it. The program made it such that we all came from widely differing academic fields so that we could work together during our time in the program as well as call on each other for support for our individual work.

However, let me repeat once again, the food was great. I have cravings for that vinegar-based North Carolina barbecue sometimes.

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

It’s not about how intelligent you are or how easily you can grasp the topic, but about persistence and consistency. Many people fall into this trap where they think just because they’re not the smartest or the fastest among their cohort, that they aren’t good enough for graduate school or beyond. Absolutely not true. You might have to put in some extra hours with the book or at the lab, but if you can hunker down and get working, consistently and diligently, you most definitely can reach that higher degree.

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

Absolutely, yes. I had multiple mentors during the program. Some were obvious mentors, and some not so much. I think you have to really take advantage of everything the program offers, whether that’s advice from your post-doc lab mentor about the research, or from a TA who was just recently in your shoes, or from a professor you sit down for conversation over lunch who tells you about how he got to where he is today, or even just passing by an office of one of the administrators and having a small chat that leads into something deeper. In whatever situation, summer program or not, there will be people out there who can help you figure out how to orient your compass.

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

Trying to figure out where my true passions lied in regards to the field I wanted to pursue. Luckily, the professors and programs I’ve applied to and been a part of have been more than helpful in guiding me towards my goal rather than trying to make me settle for any one specific thing.

Another tough thing is trying to get over what is commonly known as “imposter syndrome.” You study, you do your problem sets, you do research, but that fear of not being good enough makes you feel like you’re a fraud. That’s another thing the program helped with, is that I got to meet people along the various stages of a career path, whether in academia or industry, and it showed me that this is what everyone goes through, and as I said before, persistence and consistency are the keys to success.

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BPS Summer Program Alumni spotlight


20170617_191504Hi, my name is Lonzie Hedgepeth. I am from Rocky Mount, North Carolina. I recently graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Last year, summer of 2016, I attended the Biophysical Society Summer Research Program in Biophysics. I learned about the Biophysics Program through the help of a guest speaker in my genetics class.

My professor, Dr. Conner Sandefur, invited Patrick McCarter to talk about the biophysical properties of DNA, and how mutations in DNA can lead to diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis. Patrick’s lecture, which not only deepened my insight into the fields of biophysics and genetics, exuded vigor and confidence. After the talk, I approached Patrick. We talked about possible summer research opportunities that are available at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and then exchanged contact information. Later that day, I sent him an email, thanking him for a wonderful and informative seminar.

Soon after, Patrick contacted Dr. Sandefur, informing him about the Summer Research Program in Biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Sandefur and Patrick, who had attended the program himself, thought that this program would be an ideal program for a budding research scientist, such as myself, to gain extensive research experience in an environment that would mirror that of Biochemistry and Biophysics Ph.D. programs. Fortunately, I got accepted! After meeting with my cohort, I realized that we were a very diverse group, coming from different backgrounds. At first I was a little nervous, but over time the cohort and I became very close and connected like a family.

During the summer course, I was able to conduct graduate level research, attend lectures and seminars hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill faculty, participate in several professional developments activities, and also socialize with people at similar stages of their academic careers. I conducted my research in the lab of Dr. Timothy Elston, a professor in the department of Pharmacology. My direct research mentor was Patrick McCarter, who at the time was a graduate student in the Elston lab. I never expected to be working alongside Patrick, someone who I greatly admired. We worked on investigating Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases (MAPKs) in budding yeast. We wanted to define time-dependent interactions between the Sln1 and Sho1 branches of the yeast (S. cerevisiae) High-Osmolar Glycerol (HOG) pathway. Each branch transmits hyper-osmotic stress through a MAPK cascade to Hog1 the terminal Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinase of the HOG pathway. My role in this project was to use mathematical models to investigate the time-dependent contribution of each branch to Hog1 phosphorylation (MAPK are typically active when phosphorylated). I defined a set of 24 mathematical models that each tested a different hypothesis about the time-dependent contributions to Hog1 activity. Mathematical models provide us with a way to investigate aspects of the biology that are currently not feasible with experiments alone. I then used UNC-Chapel Hill’s Killdevil High-Performance Research Cluster to ‘fit’ each model to an experimental Hog1 phosphorylation training data set. The best ‘fitting’ models were then used to predict how Hog1 phosphorylation would change under different experimental conditions including dynamic hyper-osmotic stress and/or with various genetic perturbations in key HOG pathway signaling proteins.

With the help of Dr. Elston, Patrick, and my colleagues, I was able to present my findings at Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). In addition to presenting my project, during ABRCMS I was also able to attend seminars, participate in networking, and learn about a variety of potential PhD programs.

While I mainly focused on computational science in the Elston lab, the interdisciplinary nature of the project and the collaborative research environment also allowed me to directly communicate with the experimental biologists who were gathering data needed to build the models. Thus, I learned a great deal about cellular and molecular biology, live-cell microscopy, and genetics.

Working in the lab allowed me to see how graduate students, post-docs, and senior professors manage their time, maintain organized lab spaces, and communicate their unique perspectives in an interdisciplinary research group. I was able to witness how modern scientists work together to solve some of the most interesting questions in the world. I am now using these experiences, along with the skills I accumulated from the Biophysics program, to further prepare myself to apply for Ph.D. programs in the fields of Pharmacology, Biophysics, and/or Systems Biology.

I am currently in a Post Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) at Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). I have kept in touch with Dr. Elston, Patrick, and also Dr. Sandefur! I have developed an invaluable relationship with them. They have become more than just mentors to me. I hope to emulate their perseverance and dedication to help others. They have inspired me to reach out and share my experiences to other young scientists, and to encourage them to pursue their dreams to conduct high-quality biomedical research. I am also extremely grateful to have attended the Summer Research Program in Biophysics. Through this experience, my aspirations of conducting high-quality research are immensely strengthened, and my relationships with scientists developed and flourished. I look forward to the day when I am able to help a young and budding scientist get started on their own journey in science!

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.

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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

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.

yadi_pic

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!