Category: Being a Scientist

Career Conversations: Q&A with Immunoengineer Caroline Jones

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A headshot of Dr. Jones.
Dr. Caroline Jones. Credit: Moises Gomez.

“I find it fulfilling to be a scientist because I know that even if at some points it seems like I’m working on an incremental experiment, eventually it’s going to help solve a bigger problem,” says Caroline Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of bioengineering at the University of Texas at Dallas. Check out the highlights of our interview with Dr. Jones to learn about her career path, her passion for sharing science with the public, and her research on sepsis—an overwhelming or impaired whole-body immune response to an insult, such as an infection or injury that’s responsible for the deaths of nearly 270,000 Americans every year.

Q: How did you first become interested in science?

A: My mother was a high school math teacher, so I had that role model growing up. I also had a math and engineering teacher in high school who encouraged me and sparked my interest in the quantitative side of science. I decided to study biomedical engineering in college because I wanted to apply quantitative tools in a way that helped people.

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Three Brothers Are Making Research a Family Affair

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From left to right: Caleb, Paul, and Adam Worsley sitting on stools in a chemistry lab.
Caleb, Paul, and Adam Worsley. Credit: Pittsburg State University.

“You’re doing something really important with people who are important to you,” Paul Worsley remarks when asked about having his younger brothers Caleb and Adam as lab mates. The trio are undergraduate students working in the lab of Santimukul Santra, Ph.D., at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas.

Paul seated at his chemistry fume hood. Credit: Pittsburg State University.

All three brothers are part of the Kansas IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (K-INBRE). Paul is currently a junior majoring in biology and history. He plans to go to medical school when he graduates, but his time in the lab has given him a love for research—and has even led him to toy with the idea of going to graduate school instead. His twin brothers Caleb and Adam are only freshmen, but they both think they want to pursue scientific research when they graduate.

When Paul was a sophomore, he applied for a K-INBRE research spot in Dr. Santra’s lab and was immediately accepted. He quickly realized that organic chemistry in the lab was much different—and more exciting—than anything he’d seen in the classroom. “I like organic synthesis because it really tests your knowledge,” he says. “Answering exam questions is way different than actually doing it in a lab.” Despite the challenges that came with research, Paul was clearly doing great work because one day Dr. Santra joked, “Hey, you got any brothers?” Paul responded, “Actually, yes.”

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How Bacteria-Infecting Viruses Could Save Lives

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A headshot of Dr. Young.
Dr. Ry Young. Credit: Texas A&M University.

“My parents told me that I already wanted to be a scientist when I was 7 or 8 years old. I don’t remember ever considering anything else,” says Ry Young, Ph.D., a professor of biochemistry, biophysics, and biology at Texas A&M University, College Station.

Dr. Young has been a researcher for more than 45 years and is a leading expert on bacteriophages—viruses that infect bacteria. He and other scientists have shown that phages, as bacteriophages are often called, could help us fight bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant infections cause more than 35,000 deaths per year in the U.S., and new, effective treatments for them are urgently needed.

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Pathways: The Vaccine Science Issue

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A magazine cover showing a cross-section of a sphere with spikes on its surface and a coil inside. Text reads: “The spike protein. What does it have to do with the COVID-19 vaccines? (Find out inside.)”
Cover of Pathways student magazine.

NIGMS is pleased to bring you Pathways: The Vaccine Science Issue [PDF], which explains how the messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 work and how they were developed. Building on years of research, scientists were able to create these vaccines, thoroughly test them, and get them to the public as quickly as possible—while still making sure they were safe and effective.

Pathways, designed for students in grades 6 through 12, aims to build awareness of basic biomedical science and its importance to health while inspiring careers in research. All materials in the collection are available online for free.

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Discovering Better Ways to Build Medicinal Molecules

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Dr. Baran standing in front of a chemistry fume hood with molecular structures drawn on it.
Dr. Phil Baran. Credit: Scripps Research.

“I love the mystery of chemistry. It explores the great unknown of the universe,” says Phil Baran, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at Scripps Research, La Jolla, California. His passion for the subject catalyzed a successful career in organic synthesis—building molecules that are the foundation of living things and can be developed as medicines.

Setting His Sights on Science

School didn’t interest Dr. Baran until he found chemistry in 10th grade. “From there, the mission was clear: do whatever was required to do chemistry for the rest of my life,” he says. At the time, that meant achieving certain grades, so he focused on improving his academic performance. He also took courses at a community college and graduated with his high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously.

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Career Conversations: Q&A with Clinician-Scientist Faheem Guirgis

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Dr. Guirgis in a white lab coat.
Dr. Faheem Guirgis. Credit: University of Florida, Jacksonville.

“Patients at urban and inner-city hospitals are in dire need of high-quality care and frequently don’t have access to clinician-scientists doing cutting-edge research. That’s part of what has made me committed to performing research in these settings,” says Faheem Guirgis, M.D., an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Jacksonville. Check out the highlights of our interview with Dr. Guirgis below to learn how he became a doctor and what inspired him to conduct research on sepsis.

Q: How did you become interested in science and medicine?

A: After the phase of wanting to be a firefighter or police officer, the next thing I remember wanting to be was a doctor. My father was and is my ultimate inspiration for pursuing a career in medicine. He was a family-practice physician committed to providing the best care possible for his patients before retiring recently, and they loved him.

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Biomedical Researchers RISE From the University of Texas, San Antonio

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“One thing that we try to develop in students is a sense of belonging and scientific identity,” says Edwin Barea-Rodriguez, Ph.D., the director of the Research Training Initiative for Student Enhancement (RISE) program at the University of Texas, San Antonio (UTSA). The program provides undergraduate and graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds with research experiences, professional development opportunities, and faculty mentorships. The UTSA RISE program has helped hundreds of students build strong foundations for scientific careers over its more than 20-year history. Here, we share the stories of three students who have benefited from RISE.

Support Beyond the Lab

A headshot of Kaira Church.
Kaira Church. Credit: Courtesy of Kaira Church.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, Kaira Church knew she loved research but wasn’t sure if graduate school was right for her. She took a job as a lab technician in the research group of Astrid Cardona, Ph.D., a professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at UTSA, where she learned firsthand what being a graduate student entailed. She was also introduced to RISE and was impressed by the variety of opportunities it offered. She decided to pursue a Ph.D. and applied to the program.

Kaira is now in her fourth year as a RISE trainee. “I really like the professional development and the networking that RISE offers,” she says. “A lot of science majors are stuck in the lab all the time. RISE ensures that we’re meeting people in our field so we have plenty of job opportunities when we graduate.”

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From Potatoes to Pharmaceuticals: Idaho INBRE Alumni’s Diverse Careers

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A headshot of Jenny Durrin in a greenhouse.
Jenny Durrin. Credit: University of Idaho.

Jenny Durrin says she would never have become the director of the Seed Potato Germplasm Program at the University of Idaho, Moscow, without the experience she gained through the Idaho IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program. Another Idaho INBRE alum, Steve Van Horn, credits the program with enabling him to start a career in the pharmaceutical industry.

Providing undergraduate students with research opportunities and preparing them for STEM careers in biomedical sciences are key goals of INBREs across the country, including Idaho’s program. Here, we share Jenny’s and Steve’s stories and the pivotal role that INBRE played for them.

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Career Conversations: Q&A with Neuroimmunology Researcher Jingru Sun

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Dr. Jingru Sun. Credit: Cori Kogan.

“If you want to pursue a career in science, it’s very important to foster a hardworking attitude, a creative mind, and critical thinking,” says Jingru Sun, Ph.D., an associate professor of translational medicine and physiology at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine in Spokane. Our interview with Dr. Sun highlights how her career path led her to research the way the nervous system regulates immune responses.

Q: How did you become interested in science?

A: In high school, I had an amazing teacher who introduced me to the scientific world, guided me to ask the right questions, and encouraged me to find answers by myself. I asked questions like: How do trees produce oxygen? How can we see bacteria through a microscope? Why are humans smarter than other animals?

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Photographing the Physics of Cells

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Dr. Lakadamyali sitting behind a large, complex microscope in a lab.
Dr. Melike Lakadamyali with a microscope. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Lakadamyali.

“It would be a dream come true if I could look at a cell within a tissue and have a Google Maps view to zoom in until I saw individual molecules,” says Melike Lakadamyali, Ph.D., an associate professor of physiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her lab is helping make part of that dream a reality by developing super-resolution microscopy tools that visualize cells at a near-molecular level.

Blending Physics and Biology

Science and math fascinated Dr. Lakadamyali since childhood, and she felt especially drawn to physics because she enjoyed using logic to solve problems. After graduating high school in her native country of Cyprus, she chose to study physics at the University of Texas, Austin. She never gave much thought to applying physics methods to biological
questions—a field known as biophysics—until her third year as an undergraduate, when she gained her first research experience in the lab of Josef Käs, Ph.D.

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