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volume 5 • 2010

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Wanted: Explorers, Discoverers, and Roller-Coaster Lovers The Young Scientist is published annually by Spectrum Publishing. Subscription rates: $10 per year. Copyright 2010 Spectrum Publishing. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the consent of the publisher. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of the magazine managers or owners. The appearance of advertisements in the publication does not constitute endorsement of the product or company.

SPECTRUM UNLIMITED 1194-A Buckhead Crossing Woodstock, GA 30189 (770) 852-2671 fax: (770) 924-4327 JMMSmag@aol.com www.minoritymedicalstudents.com

publisher Bill Bowers editor-in-chief Laura L. Scholes laura@spectrumunlimited.com senior account executive Amy Harrison art director Lacey Rainwater copy editor Robert Wilder Blue marketing director Erica Perkins publisher’s advisor Michelle Perkins, MD

YS Spotlight

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The Graduate School Survival Guide

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10 Ways to be a Successful Scientist

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Tips from the Top

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2010 Gilliam Fellows

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Gilliam Fellow Profile—Flavian D. Brown

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Exploring what it takes to be a…Microbiologist

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Gilliam Fellow Profile—Mariam El-Ashmawy

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Exploring what it takes to be an…Epidemiologist

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Gilliam Fellow Profile—Rachel A. Johnston

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Exploring what it takes to be a…Biochemist

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Perspectives: Dr. Avery August

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Science: It’s better with a Mentor

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Gilliam Fellow Profile—Silvia N. Kariuki

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10 Awesome Summer Internships

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for Science Students Gilliam Fellow Profile—Lisandro Maya-Ramos

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ABRCMS: 10 Years & Going Strong

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Resources for Minority Students

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publisher’s assistant Leea Royal spectrum publishing is a 501(c)(3) notfor-profit arm of spectrum unlimited

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Front cover photo courtesy of National Cancer Institute.

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wanted:

Explorers, Discoverers, & Roller-Coaster Lovers 2 I The Young Scientist


what it’s really like to be a scientist To someone outside looking in, science can feel like a private club. It has membership requirements (BSc, MSc, PhD), mysterious methodology, and it even has its own dense incomprehensible language—not very appealing at all. But at its essence, the job of any scientist is to be an explorer, make new discoveries and then report them to the world. It’s the same job description that classical explorers like Christopher Columbus and Captain James Cook had. It’s also a lot like being a kid again. I go to work every day and get to stare in wide-eyed wonder at things I’ve never seen before, then I get to play with them. In many ways it’s like permission to never have to grow up. But let’s be realistic here, you can’t make earth-shattering breakthroughs every week. Being a scientist is like any other job in many ways—deadlines, boring tasks you don’t want to do, meetings that go on forever and go nowhere. But then there’s the payoff, and some days it’s just like magic. I really am kind of spoiled. I get to be the captain of my own ship, steering it through unknown territory hoping for new discoveries. It doesn’t happen very often, but there are moments when you realize that you are the first person who has ever laid eyes on a new phenomenon, the first to witness a new way that things work. And I get paid for it. I think the part of my job that excites me most is the potential of even more new discoveries to come. The hoary old saying, “answering one question raises a hundred more,” sums it up nicely. There’s one caveat though. As exciting as that is to me, it’s not as exciting to 99% of people. And that’s been my fault and the fault of my peers.

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There are moments when you realize that you are the first person who has ever laid eyes on a new phenomenon, the first to witness a new way that things work.


The problem is that most scientists are really rubbish at communicating with non-scientists. Most of the science blogs and popular science magazines out there manage to do a decent job of informing you on the latest discoveries in cancer research and why this or that new brain imaging technology might be a breakthrough, etc. I find studying the life sciences exciting. But what’s even more exciting is when I learn something new, and then I have that “Eureka!” moment when I figure out how to use that information. A self-help book, encylopedia, or a road map can be great tools to help you with everyday life, but all are equally useless if they are never applied. If we can understand how your brain makes the decisions it does, how your emotions flood your body with chemical signals, then we should be able to apply that knowledge to help us control them and use them to our advantage. It’s a journey of discovery where in every situation you’ll only ever need to ask two questions: How does it work and can I apply it?

Simply asking these questions makes you a scientist, too. In essence being a scientist can be boiled down to 4 simple steps:

1. WOW! 2. How does that Work? 3. Hmmm let me see, what I can do with that? 4. Tell everybody. The only real trick is to never stop being curious. It’s this unending voyage of discovery that keeps me in a job, but even more importantly, keeps me in love with my job.

The author is a researcher focused mostly on the molecular aspects of neuroscience. You can see his blog at http://veryevolved.com.

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ys spotlight charisa l. cottonham phd candidate university of massachusetts medical school

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grew up in an area of the east San Francisco Bay Area that is often referred to as the ghetto. As an African-American female in this environment, the odds were in my favor to become a teenage mother. I beat those odds by focusing on my education and my talents as an artist. Throughout high school I envisioned becoming an artist and, accordingly, prepared myself for a career in graphic design. When I completed my high school requirements ahead of schedule, I decided to enroll in chemistry and advanced biology “just for fun.” Surprisingly, I loved it! I am naturally curious, and I truly enjoyed learning how things worked within the human body. Thus began my interest in a career in the sciences, which led me to pursue a BS in molecular biology from UCLA. While at UCLA, I participated in programs such as the Center for Academic Research Excellence (CARE) and the Student Research Program (SRP) that exposed me to hands-on scientific research, introduced me to life in the laboratory, and allowed me to travel to a national research conference in Florida to present my scientific findings. Participation in these programs solidified my desire to become a scientific researcher. After graduating from UCLA, I went on to pursue a PhD from the University of Massachusetts Medical School (UMMS). At UMMS, I focused my research interest on investigating how seemingly “normal” cells “go rogue,” become cancerous, and metastasize to secondary sites within the human body. While performing research on this topic, I learned how to devise logical and meaningful experiments that address questions relevant to my thesis goals and how to critically evaluate and interpret my data. As I progressed through my thesis research, I realized how rewarding it is to analyze my data and have those “aha!” moments of discovery, which often led to new questions and started the process all over again with proposing hypotheses and devising experiments. As a scientist, I love the “aha!” moments and eagerly anticipate them. Now I am looking forward to graduating from UMMS in June 2011 with a PhD in biomedical sciences. The next phase of my career includes conducting postdoctoral research, so I can progressively become an independent researcher. For my postdoctoral studies, I wish to conduct cutting-edge research that uncovers novel treatments for human disease. In addition to becoming a principal investigator, I also wish to implement a research collaborative with inner-city high schools, so I can put biomedical research within the reach of urban youth. I hope to target those youth who may

As I progressed through my thesis research, I realized how rewarding it was to analyze my data and have those “aha!” moments of discovery.

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believe that a career in biomedical research is primarily for “nerds” who have perfect or near-perfect academic records. I hope to dispel such a myth by using myself as an example. I find biology fascinating and strive to gain a better understanding of known biological mechanisms through course work, even though I possess a lessthan-perfect academic record. I hope to illustrate to these youth that through hard work and perseverance, they can still pursue a career in the sciences and make significant contributions to advancing knowledge in a variety of areas of research. To accomplish these goals, I plan to work closely with high school and university faculty to integrate simple lab-based science experiments into the curricula for execution in high schools for larger groups and in university laboratories for smaller groups of students.

through hard work and perseverance, [young people] can make significant contributions in a variety of areas of research

Advice for young scientists: reach for the stars During my junior year of college, I became a single parent. All odds were against me to drop out of college, nullifying my aspirations to become a scientific researcher. Although faced with this new challenge, I never believed that I would drop out of college. I understood that the road ahead may be more difficult, but it was not impossible. If you find yourself staring down a seemingly impossible goal, do not give up; instead develop a new strategy. My pastor once told me, “reach for the stars, if you land on the moon… you are still on higher ground!” I kept reaching for the stars…

build your team I would not be where I am today without a solid support system— my “team” of individuals who truly support my career endeavors. My team includes family, friends, colleagues and administrators from whom I seek advice, counseling and mentoring. For me, my team is very necessary for staying grounded and it has been key to my professional development.

Bookmark for Diversity nigms If you’re looking to explore a career in research, the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) website needs to be bookmarked on your computer. NIGMS oversees NIH’s Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program as well as a whole host of other opportunities targeted to underrepresented minority students. › www.nigms.nih.gov/Minority

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The Graduate School Survival Guide by Alan Marnett

Each fall, a new crop of eager young scientists begin their journey of discovery. Graduate school is a great time of learning and exploration, but it can also be stressful—especially the beginning. Perhaps the hardest part about the transition to grad school is the uncertainty involved. When will I graduate? Whom should I work for? What’s expected of me? Can I drink the lab ethanol? These are all important questions. Some of these questions are easier than others (no, you shouldn’t drink the lab ethanol). Despite the diversity of graduate experiences, there are some milestones that are common to all of us.

Guide to Graduate School: Year 1 You finally enter the building as a student, not a prospective, and this time it feels different. It’s a mixture of anticipation, excitement, hope, insecurity, and sheer terror. You’re walking the same hallways that many great scientists before you walked. The dream of becoming a scientist is now a reality. Take a minute to appreciate what you’ve accomplished just being here! OK, that moment’s over. Now you’re about to start making decisions that will affect your day, your career, your life. The weight on your chest feels heavy. Your breath-

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ing is shallow. You’re lightheaded. Relax, it’s not that bad. Here’s a glimpse of some key milestones you can expect during your first year.

before getting started Take a moment to sit down and write a few sentences about why you decided to go to graduate school, why you love it, and why this was the best decision for you. It won’t take more than a minute. Save the file somewhere on your computer where you can easily find it later. This will become relevant in the years to follow.

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Milestones and Actions taking classes

Classes are intended to provide a solid foundation of knowledge. Maybe they’ll end up being relevant to your project, maybe not. In reality, most of your learning in grad school will be focused on the topic you choose for your dissertation, and it will be your responsibility to learn it. Although grades are generally not that important in graduate school, it’s worth noting that many postdoctoral fellowships will ask for a list of classes and grades.

what you can do about it Most programs include both required and elective classes. This sounds obvious, but when selecting electives choose topics you’re interested in. If you always wondered about computational biology, take the class. You will spend countless hours reading and studying every aspect of your project in the lab, so look at this as an opportunity for forced diversity.

doing rotations

Look beyond just the science to things like the people, funding, excitement, work style of the principal investigator (PI), etc. There are always stories about a student who got a science paper from his or her rotation project. That’s rare. Nobody expects you to get a paper in your rotation. They do expect that you’ll think about the project, show interest in the lab and work hard when you’re there.

what you can do about it Do as many labs as the program allows (usually three) even if you know where you want to go after the first one. There is a myth that as soon as you know what lab you want to join you should stay and never look back. Sure you may get a few extra experiments in by not doing other rotations, but when you compare it to the amount of work you’ll get done in subsequent years (when you don’t have classes), the first year looks pretty stagnant. Rotations are particularly valuable for a few reasons: • Networking with students—you’re going to need friends and collaborators. • Networking with PIs—you’re going to need qualifying exam and thesis committees. • Gaining exposure to new concepts and techniques— they will prove to be useful in your own project even if the connection is not apparent for years.

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choosing a lab

This is probably the biggest decision you’ll make in the first year, if not in all of grad school. It deserves more than a sentence, so we’ll follow-up.

what you can do about it Talk to people. Talk to old grad students in other labs. Talk to grad students in the labs you’re interested in. Specifically, ask to hear pros and cons for each lab. Find out which one seems to be most like your style—do you like to be micromanaged or left alone? You’re walking into a system and it’s not going to change for you. Find one that fits your style from the beginning.

applying for a fellowship

Many programs require students to apply and offer a course to help with the process. Applying is incredibly important. After going through the process, you’ll have an appreciation for what a grant is, how it works, and how to best position your next applications (if necessary) for success. They also provide an opportunity to work with a PI more closely than you would just as a rotation student.

what you can do about it In most programs, you will apply with sponsorship from the PI whose lab you’re currently rotating in. NSF and NIH fellowships are the most common. It will seem like a giant pain in the butt, but it’s worth it. This is one of those hoops that can really benefit you if you jump through it properly, so prioritize it accordingly.

So there you have it—year one in the books! Piece of cake, right?

Alan Marnett, PhD, recently completed his postdoctoral work in the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology where his research focused on characterization of a novel neuronal growth and survival factor. He is the founder of benchfly.com, an awesome resource for scientists at any point in their career.

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10 Ways to be a Successful Scientist 1. do the experiment.

6. don’t stop learning.

It’s fun to sit around and talk about hypothetical data and all of the potential implications, but at some point, we have to test the hypothesis. The sooner the better.

Try a new technique. Consider switching fields. Scary? Absolutely. But it’s more fun to be scared than bored. And most of the time, we find our fear was irrational anyway.

2. realize nobody knows the outcome.

7. no project is safe.

Science is exciting because we work at the edge of knowledge. The flip side of that is that it’s very hard to see where our project will lead. Recognize it’s a journey and we’re just following the data.

3. don’t overthink it. There will always be reasons an experiment could fail. Lab experiments without risk are lab experiments without fun. Roll the dice.

4. experiments don’t fail. They give us information. Maybe that information is telling us that dropping our flask on the ground was not a good idea. Data collected. Lesson learned. Next experiment.

If an experiment is 100% predictable, then it’s either already been done or it’s just not interesting. Learn to gauge risk, but don’t let it stand in the way.

8. analyze the data and be confident. Second-guessing ourselves can be a killer. Make the best decision with the data at hand and move forward. Future lab experiments may disprove our hypotheses, but that’s how science works.

9. what will we really lose if it fails? Time, money? We knew these risks coming in. Double down and take a hit.

5. it might fail.

10. we don’t have to rewrite textbooks.

Get comfortable with this idea. We will face far more failures than successes. Not one person in the history of scientific research ever had a career without a failed experiment. Ever. We all fail. So what?

Don’t get stuck waiting for the Nobel prize-worthy idea. Starting with small, easily addressable questions often opens the door to much bigger ideas than we could have imagined.

Bookmark for Diversity justgarciahill JustGarciaHill (JGH) is committed to increasing the number of minorities entering science careers and to celebrating contributions to science by minority scientists. Through the JGH site, you can find information and inspiration to pursue a career in science, including a comprehensive summer programs listing. › www.justgarciahill.org

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tips from the top How to make science dreams an exciting reality

A

s a graduate student, Carlos Castillo-Chavez dropped-out after his advisor made a derogatory statement suggesting Latinos were unfit to make it through graduate school on their own. When he eventually returned to school to complete his PhD in mathematics, he was surrounded by mathematicians whom he says embraced diversity and drove him to excellence. In order to recreate this atmosphere for underrepresented students throughout the United States, Castillo-Chavez created the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute, a summer program that brings together students ranging from the high school to the postdoctoral level to work on research problems over a two-month period. Out of 300 summer program participants, 169 have gone on to graduate school, 120 of whom were minorities. Castillo-Chavez works on mathematical models to help understand the evolution of pathogens in disease, and estimates he’s trained hundreds of undergraduates, 15 PhD students, 20 postdoctoral fellows and 10 junior faculty over the past 30 years.

you’ve got to network When Castillo-Chavez’s students are at conferences, they had better hope their cell phones are on vibrate, because they invariably get bombarded by text-messaged pointers from Castillo-Chavez on where they need to be to make the most of networking opportunities. When former grad student Miriam Nuno was at a mathematics conference, Castillo-Chavez told Nuno where she had to be to introduce herself to a famous biomathematician she was interested in working for. “[Castillo-Chavez] said, ‘Make sure she knows your name and face.’” After the meeting, Castillo-Chavez e-mailed the professor on Nuno’s behalf, helping her secure an interview.

ask—and be prepared—for tough manuscript reviews

the student has to become personal to you. how do i help him or her to manage other barriers [outside the lab]? this is much more challenging. than writing a good thesis.

When Sara Del Valle worked with CastilloChavez for a year during graduate school, she couldn’t believe the number of marks on her manuscript once Castillo-Chavez was done with it. “I’d give the same manuscript to [CastilloChavez] and another editor,” Del Valle says. While the other reviewers would offer a comment or two, Del Valle says Castillo-Chavez always found many ways to improve the piece. All of his questions trained her to be prepared to respond to reviewers before the paper was even submitted.

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mentoring can make all the difference When Griselle Torres-Garcia, one of Castillo-Chavez’s current PhD students, became pregnant with twins, he helped. Throughout her pregnancy and first year as a mom, Torres Garcia says Castillo-Chavez has kept her research on track. “I meet with Dr. Castillo-Chavez frequently,” she says. She shows him new results every time they meet, which “helps me remain productive.” Torres-Garcia says that recognizing Castillo-Chavez’s commitment to her motivates her to keep focused and work hard. On Fabio Sanchez’s first day of graduate school at Cornell University, Castillo-Chavez offered to buy his books for class so he wouldn’t have to worry about the expense. Through such “simple gesture[s],” Sanchez says, Castillo-Chavez helps ensure his students stay focused on their work. “The student has to become personal to you,” Castillo-Chavez says. “How do I help him or her to manage other barriers [outside the lab]? This is much more challenging than writing a good thesis.”

don’t be afraid to talk about science in plain language When Nuno first heard Castillo-Chavez give a talk about his research, she was blown away by his enthusiasm and the simple language he used to explain complex mathematical concepts. Later, Castillo-Chavez demanded the same of her research presentations. He always urged his students to use presentations to tell an interesting story. “He’d tell us, ‘Don’t give me big words. Don’t get caught up in mathematical detail. Always think big picture,’” Nuno recalls. She believes that this training, which enabled her to communicate the “big picture ideas” of her research in applied mathematics to a group of biostatisticians, helped her secure a postdoc position in the biostatistics department at University of California, Los Angeles.

“he’d tell us, ‘don’t give me big words. don’t get caught up in mathematical detail. always think big picture.’” fly on your own Since graduating from Cornell in 2005, Nuno has done postdocs at Harvard School of Public Health and UCLA. In October, she took a position as a senior biostatistician in neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. She recognizes she may not have the opportunity to collaborate with Castillo-Chavez anymore because of moving into a new area, a shift Castillo-Chavez supports. “Carlos always said to me, ‘Once you graduate and get your PhD, you stay as far away from me in research as you can’,” Nuno says. While she’ll miss collaborating with her mentor, “you have to cut the umbilical cord from your advisor and create your own identity.”

From www.the-scientist.com

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 2010

gilliam fellows

The Gilliam Fellows program, which is now in its sixth year, aims to enrich science research and increase the diversity of college and university faculty members by supporting the education of top student scientists who will themselves become professors or who are committed to creating a more diverse academic community. The program is meant to further the graduate science education of talented students who have worked in the labs of top HHMI scientists and fund these exceptional students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences or from disadvantaged backgrounds. Every Gilliam Fellow receives $44,000 in support annually for up to five years to help move them toward a career in science research and teaching. The Young Scientist is proud to profile these outstanding scholars.

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gilliam fellow profile

flavian d. brown

Carleton College Northfield, MN photo: tom roster

Flavian D. Brown was raised by his grandmother in a low-income neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. But when he was just 14, the woman whom Brown refers to as his “rock” died from liver cancer. Although stunned, Brown vowed to dedicate his life to cancer research in her memory.

a PhD and helping others who come from backgrounds like his own. “I hope someday to have the opportunity to run my own research laboratory while also having access to the classroom,” he says. “I want to make sure that I’m highly visible so that I can serve as a role model for underrepresented and underserved students.” Brown showed early promise, shining in science fairs during junior high. But his first chance to work in the lab came as a high school junior, when he presented a project at a citywide science competition. One of the judges, a biochemist at Chicago’s Rush University Medical Center, was so impressed with Brown’s talk that she asked him to work at Rush that summer. Brown welcomed the opportunity, and soon realized that research was more fulfilling than he imagined. “I liked the idea of discovery,” he says. “I saw that if you could ask questions that were innovative and create experiments that were novel, you might discover something that had never been found before. That’s always been the appeal for me.” Brown spent two summers at Rush studying molecules that enhance the growth of cells and tissues. On the basis of Brown’s stellar academic record, the Posse Foundation offered him a full-tuition scholarship to Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. The Posse Foundation identifies, recruits, and trains public high school students with extraordinary ac-

i want to make sure that i’m highly visible so that i can serve as a role model for underrepresented and underserved students. Brown’s home life was severely shaken after his grandmother’s death, with his mother, three older siblings, and himself wrestling with mourning and rebuilding the center of their family. Experiencing such hardship during his teenage years motivated Brown. “Coming from that background fueled my desire to work as hard as I could to succeed academically,” he says. That drive has paid off. At 22, Brown has already studied with cancer researchers at some of the world’s top medical institutions. He’s setting his sights on obtaining 14 I The Young Scientist

ademic and leadership potential and places those students in small groups, or posses, at top-tier colleges and universities. While at Carleton, he learned how to design experiments, analyze data, and work more effectively—some of the foundations of good science. He also began piling up academic awards, eventually graduating magna cum laude with distinction. As a sophomore, Brown was accepted into HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) and spent the summer doing research on non-small cell lung

cancer under the guidance of HHMI investigator Stuart L. Schreiber at Harvard University. “We were interested in identifying molecules that could serve as a therapeutic for non-small cell lung cancer,” he explains. These treatments, known as genotypespecific therapies, were so intriguing to him that he returned to Schreiber’s lab the summer following his junior year to continue working on the project. But cancer wasn’t Brown’s only interest. He was also cultivating a support network for students of color at Carleton, where he served for two years as president of the Men of Color organization and one year as an intercultural peer leader. “I often facilitated discussions regarding the academic challenges faced by students of color in science classes, and I organized study groups and devised strategies for members to improve their overall academic standing,” he says. “I realized that the collegiate experience for the next generation of diverse students would be better if there were more high-achieving students of color serving as role models and mentors.” After graduating in 2009, Brown joined the Mayo Clinic’s Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program, a year-long fellowship for 10 underrepresented students that provides intensive mentoring and research training to prepare them for top doctoral programs. He’s currently working with Mayo immunology researcher Diane F. Jelinek to understand the genetic and external factors that contribute to the development of multiple myeloma, a blood cancer. With funding from the Gilliam fellowship, Brown thinks he’s got a better shot at receiving an acceptance letter from the top immunology programs where he has applied for graduate school. But he’s also excited to be part of the extended network of bright and motivated Gilliam fellows. “I think it will allow me to collaborate with different investigators and have opportunities that aren’t available to most graduate students. And I think it will allow for collaborations that will be beneficial downstream, as well,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.” Not resting on his achievements, Brown also plans to make time to help students who, like him, just need a few opportunities and role models to thrive. “When students see and interact with someone who has some sort of similarity to their background, they can get the kind of guidance they need to navigate the field,” he says. “I’m interested in science and research, but I also realize that I can fulfill my desire to create opportunities and equality in education.”


Exploring what it takes to be a…

microbiologist Microbiologists study the growth, training & education bachelor’s degree is adequate for some nonresearch mistructure, development, and general Acrobiology-related jobs, such as serving as a technician or characteristics of bacteria and other an inspector in the food industry. However, the majority of microorganisms. They examine physi- microbiology jobs require at least a master’s degree. A master’s degree is sufficient for many jobs in applied research ological, morphological, and cultural or product development, as well as for jobs in management, characteristics using microscopes to inspection, sales, and service. To conduct independent research, in either industry or in academia, or for advancement identify microorganisms. They may to administrative positions, a PhD is usually necessary. isolate and make cultures of bacteria Microbiologists interested in pursuing a career as lead scientist in the research division of a company, or as a proor other microorganisms in prescribed fessor, usually spend several years after earning a PhD in a media, controlling moisture, aeration, postdoctoral position before they apply for permanent jobs. work provides valuable laboratory experience, temperature, and nutrition; conduct Postdoctoral including experience in specific processes and techniques, chemical analyses of substances, such such as gene splicing, which are transferable to other reprojects. In some institutions, the postdoctoral posias acids, alcohols, and enzymes; and search tion can lead to a permanent position. research the use of bacteria and microorganisms to develop vitamins, antibiotics, alcohol, foods, and plastics. Microbiologists may specialize in one of several areas: virology (the study of viruses); immunology (the study of mechanisms that fight infections); or bioinformatics (the use of computers to handle or characterize biological information, usually at the molecular level). Many microbiologists use biotechnology to advance knowledge of cell reproduction and human disease.

work environment Microbiologists usually work regular hours in offices or laboratories and usually are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Microbiologists in academia depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

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other qualifications Microbiologists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to management or administrative positions, should possess strong business and communication skills and be familiar with regulatory issues and marketing and management techniques. Those doing field research in remote areas must have physical stamina.

on the job • Investigate the relationship between organisms and disease, including the control of epidemics and the effects of antibiotics on microorganisms. • Prepare technical reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes. • Supervise biological technologists and technicians, and other scientists. • Provide laboratory services for health departments, for community environmental health programs, and for physicians needing information for diagnosis and treatment. • Use a variety of specialized equipment, such as electron microscopes, gas chromatographs and high-pressure liquid chromatographs, electrophoresis units, thermocyclers, fluorescence-activated cell sorters and phosphoimagers. • Examine physiological, morphological, and cultural characteristics, using microscopes to identify and classify microorganisms in human, water, and food specimens. • Study growth, structure, development, and general char-

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acteristics of bacteria and other microorganisms to understand their relationship to human, plant, and animal health. • Isolate and maintain cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms in prescribed or developed media, controlling moisture, aeration, temperature, and nutrition. • Observe action of microorganisms upon living tissues of plants, higher animals, and other microorganisms, and on dead organic matter. • Study the structure and function of human, animal and plant tissues, cells, pathogens, and toxins. • Conduct chemical analyses of substances such as acids, alcohols, and enzymes. • Monitor and perform tests on water, food, and the environment to detect harmful microorganisms or to obtain information about sources of pollution, contamination, or infection. • Develop new products and procedures for sterilization, food and pharmaceutical supply preservation, or microbial contamination detection. • Research use of bacteria and microorganisms to develop vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, grain alcohol, sugars, and polymers.

companies that hire microbiologists • Bio-Rad • Genencor • OSI Pharmaceuticals


gilliam fellow profile

mariam el-ashmawy

When Mariam El-Ashmawy was in middle school, her father had a heart attack. For most kids, it would have been an altogether terrifying event, but El-Ashmawy admits to being a little intrigued. “I remember being in the hospital and seeing a picture of the vessels in his chest. The doctor showed us where the blockage was, and I wanted to know why and how it happened,” she says. Her father survived, and the experience inspired El-Ashmawy to think about becoming a doctor. “It was a turning point for me to want to understand the human body,” she says. El-Ashmawy’s plan to become a doctor seemed to be a perfect fit given her family’s professional interests. After all, her mother is a college chemistry professor, and two of her grandparents are doctors. But “perfect” isn’t how El-Ashmawy would describe the challenges she faced growing up outside Dallas, Texas. Both of her parents emigrated from Egypt to the United States, and, though El-Ashmawy was born and grew up in the Dallas suburb of Lewisville, she felt—and looked—different than her neighbors. “I didn’t dress like other kids in school, and I followed different traditions,” she says. “I grew up learning Arabic before English.” As she worked hard in school, she tried hard to fit in with her peers, while still embracing her heritage and cultural background. El-Ashmawy focused on becoming a doctor until her freshman year at Arizona State University, when a social psychology professor asked if she would join his lab as a research assistant. Though she planned to be a psychology major, she took the job primarily because it paid. As she became more intrigued by social psychology— the study of the interactions and relationships between people—she gradually began to think more about science. She spent five months interviewing Mexican American and European American families in Phoenix to learn about differences in parenting style and values. It wasn’t basic science, but she learned a lot about how scientists approach different questions. “We had lab meetings, reviewed literature, and talked about how certain things would [influence] other things,” she says. “It was a good introduction to the research world.” El-Ashmawy was inspired by the work, but her desire to answer the same kinds of “why and how” questions she asked as a child drew her to basic science research. The next semester, she joined Cheryl Conrad’s behavioral neuroscience lab at Arizona State. El-Ashmawy spent the rest of her undergraduate years in Conrad’s lab studying the effects of chronic stress on learning

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and memory in rats. She measured how stress affected the levels of different molecules that stimulate cellular growth in the brain. The day-to-day work included running rats through mazes and performing assays to measure the biochemical changes in the rats’ brains. The summer after her junior year El-Ashmawy was accepted into HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), which placed her with HHMI investigator Louis Ptáček at the University of California, San Francisco. In his lab, she studied cellular mechanisms underlying circadian rhythm, a daily pattern of waking and sleeping that governs the behavior of humans and many other species. Ptáček’s goal is to learn how the normal brain functions—during sleep, for example—and find out how disorders such as epilepsy and migraine headaches alter brain activity. The research experience solidified her interest in neuroscience. “There are so many different diseases and problems that can happen in the brain, and we know so little about them,” she says. “It’s overwhelming, but at the same time, it’s exciting.” El-Ashmawy expresses gratitude to the National Institutes of Health-sponsored Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, which showed her the importance of giving back to the community both as a scientist and as a mentor. The program gives students the opportunity to get research experience, but also teaches them about the world of science. “We had weekly classes, and the director was a mentor for us. I know I couldn’t have accomplished half the things I’ve done without that support system,” she says. Inspired by her own mentor, El-Ashmawy organized her fellow undergraduates to visit several nearby high schools to talk about scientific careers. She saw that the high school students faced problems just like her own. “Some voiced concerns that they weren’t smart enough, while others were apprehensive of their friends’ or parents’ reactions to science as a career choice,” she says. “It was beyond rewarding to share with these students not only my scientific successes and trials, but also my own personal concerns and struggles.” After one presentation, El-Ashmawy was approached by a Mexican American high school student. The two struck up a conversation, and El-Ashmawy soon learned that the girl shared many of her interests and felt similar cultural burdens. El-Ashmawy provided emotional support and even

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Dallas, TX photo: amy gutierrez

helped the young woman land a summer job in a neuroscience lab. Through her work with high school students and her experience in the lab, ElAshmawy has come to the conclusion that diversity—both cultural and intellectual— leads to better science. “When you have a lot of different perspectives focused on the same problem, you’re going to get a better solution,” she says. “This process is enhanced if the people involved have a wider perspective because their life experiences may have been different because of their race, culture, gender, or otherwise.” After El-Ashmawy graduated from Arizona State in 2008, she found herself pulled in competing directions. Though she still wanted to get an MD, she was eager to do research. In the end, she enrolled in the MD/PhD program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, where she plans to concentrate on neuroscience. She acknowledges that her medical school peers are often incredulous that she wants to complete two different—but equally rigorous—degrees. But for El-Ashmawy, 22, the desire to connect science and medicine seems obvious. “So often in research, you’re focused on a single protein or animal model,” she says. “For me, it makes more sense to have a human element in your research.”


Exploring what it takes to be an‌

epidemiologist Epidemiologists are medical scientists training & education To become an epidemiologist, you must have at least a maswho investigate and describe factors ter’s degree from a school of public health. In some cases, that influence the development of dis- you might need a PhD or a medical degree, depending on the work you will do. Clinical epidemiologists or research ease, disability, and other health out- epidemiologists who work in hospitals and health care cencomes. They formulate means for pre- ters often must have a medical degree with specific training infectious diseases. You will need to be a licensed physivention and control. Epidemiologists in cian (that is, you must have passed licensing examinations) focus either on research or on clinical if you are going to administer drugs in clinical trials. Epidemiologists who are not licensed physicians frequently work situations. closely with those who are. Research epidemiologists conduct studies to determine how to wipe out or control infectious diseases. They often focus on basic research as well, determining the incidence of a particular disease in a particular part of the world, for example. They may study many different diseases, such as tuberculosis, influenza, or cholera, often focusing on epidemics. Research epidemiologists work at colleges and universities, schools of public health, medical schools, and research and development services firms. Clinical epidemiologists work mainly as consultants in hospitals, informing medical staff of infectious outbreaks and providing ways to control the spread of infection. In addition, clinical epidemiologists are usually the ones who develop a hospital’s standards and guidelines for the treatment and control of infectious diseases.

work environment Epidemiologists generally work in clean, welllit offices and laboratories. In addition to hospitals, epidemiologists work in colleges and universities, schools of public health, medical schools, and research and development services firms. Many work for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, or for other government agencies. A 40-hour, five-day week is the standard; however, a flexible schedule is often required.

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other qualifications Epidemiologists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to consulting and administrative positions, should possess strong communication skills so that they can provide instruction and advice to physicians and other health care professionals.


on the job • Monitor and report incidents of infectious diseases to local and state health agencies. • Plan and direct studies to investigate human or animal disease, preventive methods, and treatments for disease. • Communicate research findings on various types of diseases to health practitioners, policy makers, and the public. • Provide expertise in the design, management, and evaluation of study protocols and health status questionnaires, sample selection and analysis. • Oversee public health programs, including statistical analysis, health care planning, surveillance systems, and public health improvement. • Investigate diseases or parasites to determine cause and risk factors, progress, life cycle, or modes of transmission. • Educate healthcare workers, patients, and the public about infectious and communicable diseases, including disease transmission and prevention. • Conduct research to develop methodologies, instrumentation and procedures for medical application, analyzing data and presenting findings. • Identify and analyze public health issues related to foodborne parasitic diseases and their impact on public policies or scientific studies or surveys.

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• Supervise professional, technical, and clerical personnel. • Plan, administer, and evaluate health safety standards and programs to improve public health, conferring with health department, industry personnel, physicians and others. • Prepare and analyze samples to study effects of drugs, gases, pesticides, or microorganisms on cell structure and tissue. • Consult with and advise physicians, educators, researchers, government health officials, and others regarding medical applications of sciences, such as physics, biology, and chemistry. • Teach principles of medicine and medical and laboratory procedures to physicians, residents, students, and technicians. • Standardize drug dosages, methods of immunization, and procedures for manufacture of drugs and medicinal compounds.

companies that hire epidemiologists • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) • Kaiser Permanente • MedImmune


gilliam fellow profile

rachel a. johnston

New Mexico State University Las Cruces, NM Photo: Ken Stinnett

When Rachel A. Johnston was 10 years old, a friend gave her some guppies. Little did she know that gift would spark an interest in fish breeding that would blossom into a fascination with genetics. Not content simply to watch the fish swim, Johnston bred the guppies. “I just took it to the next level and really got interested,” she says. Johnston read all she could about guppy breeding and started selecting fish with traits she liked, such as a bright green color and big tail fins. Breeding requires that male and female fish be housed in separate tanks, and it wasn’t long before her hobby began to have quite a presence in her home. “My bedroom ended up with 15 fish tanks, which my mom wasn’t too happy about,” she says. “The room smelled kind of fishy, but she still supported me.” Johnston recalls sending a letter to a well-respected guppy breeder who had written a book on the subject. He responded by encouraging her budding interest— and even sent along some of his own prized fish. “He sent me a letter back saying, ‘You’re the youngest enthusiast I’ve ever met,’” Johnston says. Now Johnston, 21, is taking her interest in genetics to the next level by pursuing a doctoral degree in population genetics. She says she’s a curious person by nature—a trait that many scientists seem to share. “What I love about research is the ability to explore the unknown and answer questions that have never been answered before,” she says. 20 I The Young Scientist

Johnston’s father was a mining engineer whose job took the family from Colorado to Michigan, and eventually back west to Silver City, New Mexico. As a child, Johnston loved camping and the outdoors, and her parents encouraged her many biology-related hobbies. In addition to guppy breeding, Johnston enjoyed bird watching. “I would set up a tent in my backyard— so the birds couldn’t see me—and watch them fly around,” she says. “That experience opened my eyes to observing nature.” Her mother took her to the local Audubon Society meetings, where she was often the youngest person in the room. When Johnston was in seventh grade, her parents went through a painful divorce, and her mother struggled to pay the bills. “It was difficult because she didn’t have a higher level education, so she was working multiple jobs,” Johnston says. “My mom didn’t want it to distract me from school, though, so I really put my energy into that.” Johnston took advanced placement biology and volunteered for Amnesty International, the global organization that advocates for human rights. She continued to breed guppies until she left home to study biology at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces.

ing crosses of flies and separating them based on their traits—similar to what she did with her guppies. “Except with flies, you only have eight hours instead of two weeks to separate them because flies mature so quickly,” she says. She learned to use RNA interference techniques to reduce the expression of specific genes and study their effects on heart development. If the gene knockdowns resulted in heart defects, those genes were likely required for heart development. Johnston was so excited that she continued the work when she returned to NMSU, sending Banerjee regular updates. Outside of the lab, Johnston, who will graduate from NMSU in May, devotes much of her time to Rotaract, a service organization affiliated with Rotary International. Through the club, she developed a mentoring program at a domestic abuse shelter, where she and her fellow NMSU students visit and mentor children every other week. She also worked with a women’s cooperative in Juarez, Mexico, that sells handsewn products at NMSU. Johnston and her fellow students travel the 50 miles from NMSU to Juarez to collect the goods, sell them at the school, and then deliver the proceeds from the sales to the women in person. “That way, we can meet the families we’re helping,” she says. “They take us into their

what i love about research is the ability to explore the unknown and answer questions that have never been answered before. The skills she had honed as an amateur fish breeder—selecting for specific traits and understanding how to breed guppies in an organized, methodical way—helped her excel in college. In her sophomore year, Johnston did genetics research on the development of fruit fly eyes with NMSU professor Jennifer Curtiss. “When I began doing research in Dr. Curtiss’s lab, I realized that research was what I wanted to do for a career,” she says. She spent the summer after her junior year working in HHMI professor Utpal Banerjee’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, through HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). She worked on a project examining the genetics of heart development in the fruit fly. The research involved creat-

homes and tell us about their lives, which is a really touching experience.” Johnston is especially proud of the group’s fund-raising events. One event raised $4,000 to install water tanks and basic sanitation facilities in a village in Panama, and a second provided college scholarship money for students in Juarez who didn’t have enough to pay their first semester tuition. In graduate school, Johnston hopes to pursue her interest in science while continuing to help others. “I think as a professor I’d be able to work with students and be a good mentor,” she says. “Challenges always come up, but as long you keep focused on your goals and work toward them, you can overcome any challenges that you might face.”


Exploring what it takes to be a…

biochemist Biochemists study the chemical com- lines and conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when position of living things. They analyze preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding. the complex chemical combinations training & education and reactions involved in metabolism, Most biochemists need at least a master’s degree. To conduct research at an academic institute or to lead a team of reproduction, growth, and heredity. other scientists at a biotechnology company, a PhD is necBiochemists do most of their work in essary. In addition, it is common for biochemists to spend a period of time working as a postdoctoral student (after biotechnology, which involves under- receiving a PhD) in the laboratory of a senior researcher, esstanding the complex chemistry of life. pecially for those who want to conduct research or teach at the university level.

Specifically, they study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, and living energy changes like growth, aging, and death. Biochemists may conduct research and determine the chemical action of substances—such as drugs, hormones, and food—on tissues. Biochemists examine chemical aspects of how antibodies function; research chemistry of cells; and isolate, analyze, and identify hormones, vitamins, allergens, minerals, and enzymes. Biochemists develop and execute tests to detect disease, genetic disorders, and other abnormalities, and develop methods to process, store, and use food, drugs, and chemical compounds. They also develop and test new drugs and medications used for commercial distribution, and prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes. Biochemists clean, purify, refine, and otherwise prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution, and analyze foods to determine nutritional value and the effects of cooking, canning, and processing on this value.

work environment Biochemists work indoors, and they must perform their jobs accurately and with a lot of attention to detail in order to complete every task. Usually, they work regular hours in offices or laboratories and are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Biochemists who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination. Some biochemists depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet dead-

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other qualifications Biochemists should be able to work independently, or as part of a team, and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to management or administrative positions, should possess strong business and communication skills, and be familiar with regulatory issues and marketing and management techniques. Those doing field research in remote areas must have physical stamina.

on the job • Prepare reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes. • Develop new methods to study the mechanisms of biological processes. • Manage laboratory teams, and monitor the quality of a team’s work. • Share research findings by writing scientific articles and by making presentations at scientific conferences. • Develop and execute tests to detect diseases, genetic disorders, and other abnormalities. • Develop and test new drugs and medications intended for commercial distribution. • Study the mutations in organisms that lead to cancer and other diseases. • Study spatial configurations of submicroscopic molecules, such as proteins, using x-rays and electron microscopes. • Study the chemistry of living processes, such as cell development, breathing and digestion, growth, aging, and death. • Determine the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules. • Prepare pharmaceutical compounds for commercial distribution.

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• Research the chemical effects of substances such as drugs, serums, hormones, and food on tissues and vital processes. • Research how characteristics of plants and animals are carried through successive generations. • Develop methods to process, store, and use foods, drugs, and chemical compounds. • Investigate the nature, composition, and expression of genes, and research how genetic engineering can impact these processes. • Study physical principles of living cells and organisms and their electrical and mechanical energy, applying methods and knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology. • Produce pharmaceutically and industrially useful proteins, using recombinant DNA technology. • Isolate, analyze, and synthesize vitamins, hormones, allergens, minerals, and enzymes, and determine their effects on body functions. • Design and perform experiments with equipment such as lasers, accelerators, and mass spectrometers. • Teach and advise undergraduate and graduate students, and supervise their research. • Research transformations of substances in cells, using atomic isotopes. • Examine the molecular and chemical aspects of immune system functioning. • Design and build laboratory equipment needed for special research projects.

companies that hire biochemists • Bio-Rad • MedImmune • OSI Pharmaceuticals


perspectives Dr. Avery August Avery August, PhD, is the Chair of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University. He devotes his research time to studying signal transduction pathways that regulate T cell and mast cell function in vivo, as well as continuing to investigate the molecular mechanism of allergic airway inflammation. what are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position? Dr. August: I have always been willing to give my very best in any activity I am involved in. I also feel very strongly about mentoring students, postdocs, and junior faculty members in their careers. My decision to start my academic career at Penn State University has allowed me to be quite involved in such activities.

how did you become interested in science? Dr. August: I have been interested in science since high school, when I used to perform crude chemistry and biology experiments in my back yard.

were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track? Dr. August: There were times in college when I was not on the right track to be successful in science. I have had caring professors, including Dr. Costello Brown, Dr. Raymond Garcia, Dr. Phoebe Dea, and Dr. Carlos Gutierrez at California State University at Los Angeles. They were all very supportive and pulled me back on track. In particular, Dr. Dea allowed me in her lab to do research for the first time in my life. Without their support, and the support of the RIMI program, I would not have been able to make it. In graduate school, during those nether years when the end seemed far away, Dr. Bo Dupont’s patience allowed me the freedom to pursue my interests in his lab. Finally, my early attempts at getting independent funding were not successful and forced me to reevaluate what I wanted to work on.

what advice would you give to young persons from underrepresented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours? Dr. August: I would strongly recommend getting exposed to as much science (of any form) as early as possible. Get research experience! Be quantitative and always be prepared to do your best work in whatever setting. Second chances at first impressions don’t usually occur. Ignore the minor issues and focus on the ones you can handle.

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what are your hobbies? Dr. August: I enjoy mixing electronic music, playing soccer and watching foreign movies.

what was the last book you read? Dr. August: The last nonscience book I read was “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” by John Le Carre. The last book I read was “Guns Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond.

do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you? Dr. August: My heroine is my mother, who made great sacrifices to make it possible for her children to get a chance at being successful. I have been influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela and my postdoc advisor Hidesaburo Hanafusa.

what is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day? Dr. August: The satisfaction of seeing members of my lab make exciting discoveries, seen for the first time, and sharing that with them keeps me working. The satisfaction of seeing students come in not knowing how to use a pipette and leave brimming with excitement about a future in science makes it all worth it.

This piece was previously published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The society’s minority affairs committee created the “Research Spotlight” to showcase the talent and accomplishments of minority scientists as well as to bring inspiration to a younger generation of minority scientists.

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contents career mentoring Science: It’s better with a mentor Having a hard time finding someone to help guide you in your budding science career? The American Society of Microbiology to the rescue! ASM has developed a really cool program that helps. the minority mentoring program Through the program, you can sign up to be matched with a mentor who can give you career advice, help with review of a paper for publication, or invite you to join in their laboratory as a short-term fellow. For more information, go to: www.asm.org/index.php/ membership/search-for-a-mentor-asms-minority-mentoring-program.html.

Bookmark for Diversity SACNAS SACNAS is a society of scientists dedicated to fostering the success of Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists—from college students to professionals—in attaining advanced degrees, careers, and positions of leadership. SACNAS members are dedicated to giving back through mentorship, peer networks, and professional development, and to engaging in science research and leadership of the highest caliber. › www.sacnas.org

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gilliam fellow profile

silvia n. kariuki

As a child, Silvia N. Kariuki would often accompany her mother to work after school. Her mother was a nurse at the Kenya Medical Research Institute in Nairobi, and Kariuki would watch her mother tending to patients with a variety of diseases, including schistosomiasis, a parasitic disease sometimes called “snail fever,” that is spread through contaminated water. “I vividly remember going in with her and seeing the patients—the kids in the ward,” she says. “They looked like they were in pain, and they were kids just like me.” Even as an elementary schooler, her head was filled with questions about the patients. “‘What’s wrong with them? What can you do to treat them?’” she remembers asking. Those were also the questions that Kariuki’s father, a schistosomiasis researcher, was trying to answer. Repeated schistosomiasis infections—which humans get when they come in contact with snails infected by a type of parasitic flatworm— can cause anemia, malnutrition, and learning difficulties in children. Kariuki’s father was looking for a way to reduce the number of snails in the local ponds and rivers that residents used to bathe and wash their clothes. “It was completely crazy to me at the time that he was so fascinated with snails,” she says. Now that she is planning to become a scientist herself, Kariuki, 27, understands her father’s obsession. She plans to focus on the genetics of systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic autoimmune disease. She traces her early excitement about science to the adults around her—especially her parents. “That started my inquisitiveness about the human body,” she says. Kariuki attended the all-girls’ Kianda High School in Nairobi, which had strong academics and excellent science teachers. “My biology teacher made it fun for us,” she says. “She didn’t tell us, ‘You must go into medicine’ or ‘You must go into research.’ She just made science so interesting to us that we wanted to look at it as a career option.” Her teachers also brought in female physicians and researchers to give career talks to show the girls that they, too, could go into medicine and science. In Kenya, many university-bound students wait more than a year before beginning college classes. Kariuki was wondering how to spend that time when she saw an advertisement for the United World College in a local newspaper. She applied to the institution, which recruits students from around the world to its 13 colleges, and was accepted into a two-year international baccalaureate program at the United World College of South East Asia in Singapore. 26 I The Young Scientist

Kariuki had never been outside of Kenya. “It was just the most amazing experience for me in terms of cultural enlightenment, being exposed to different worlds.” The classes also showed her a different side of science. Her biology class took a weeklong field trip to Pulau Tioman, an island off the east coast of Malaysia, to study marine and rain forest ecology. She volunteered in a hospital for mentally ill children and a hospice in Singapore, as well as a home for elderly people in Malaysia. While in Singapore, Kariuki met with a recruiter who was visiting the school from the University of Chicago. Intrigued by the recruiter’s description of the university’s strong science research program, Kariuki decided to apply. She was accepted and offered a merit scholarship to help defray tuition expenses. At Chicago, Kariuki wanted to get involved in research quickly. Her academic advisor suggested she apply to the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) as a freshman—before she had started her biology coursework or worked in a lab. She was accepted and placed in the lab of HHMI investigator Stephen Goff at Columbia University. Goff studies retroviruses, including the mouse leukemia virus and the human immunodeficiency virus, identifying the factors these retroviruses use to integrate into the host’s cells. “At first, I was a little bit apprehensive about bench research techniques. I was always trying not to screw up,” she says. Despite her vigilance, Kariuki’s yeast cultures became contaminated by fungus. But things quickly improved, as she studied how a particular gene makes mice resistant to a type of leukemia virus. “Working at the Goff lab was a really valuable first research experience for me. It got me excited about bench research,” she says. Now Kariuki uses those experiences to teach other newcomers that everybody makes mistakes. “It happens to all of us,” she says. “One of the most important things I do is to try to make students feel at ease on the bench.” In her sophomore year, Kariuki began research with Donald Steiner, an HHMI investigator who has since retired. She studied enzymes that cleave insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Kariuki also became involved in mentoring African American elementary school students at an after-school science program. She focused on showing kids the fun side of science. “The kids, they’re so enthusiastic,” she says. “I definitely wanted to encourage them because at the college level,

University of Chicago Chicago, IL photo: mark segal

you rarely see people who look like me in the research world.” After graduating in 2007, Kariuki decided she wanted to expand her research experience and found a job working with Timothy Niewold, a rheumatologist at the University of Chicago who studies the genetics of systemic lupus erythematosus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own DNA. The resulting assault by the immune system can cause stiff and painful joints, fevers, fatigue, rashes, and other symptoms. It affects women disproportionately, particularly African American women. Kariuki has been studying the genetics of the disease and hopes to continue the work in graduate school. On a visit to Nairobi last year, she was reminded why her work matters. The mother of a friend has lupus, and the friend asked Kariuki about effective therapies, including alternative treatments. “The lack of answers really affected me,” Kariuki says. “I wish I knew more about the pathogenesis of the disease and how we can treat it better.” One day Kariuki would like to find the answers. She dreams of running an international research program, and doing work that is relevant to people in Kenya and the United States. The first people who influenced her career choice are pleased, too. “My parents love the idea that I’m pursuing a PhD,” she says. “My dad has been encouraging me to do research since day one.”


contents 10 Awesome summer internships for science students

If you’re a college student thinking about becoming a scientist, now is the time to apply for summer internships. Aside from studying hard, the most important thing that you can do for yourself is get some research experience. The National Science Foundation sponsors hundreds of summer programs, which allow sophomores and juniors to get their first taste of real labwork. Most of them last ten weeks and pay more than $3,000 to cover your living expenses. Here are just a few we love:

Amgen Scholars Program at Caltech theme: Biology, Biochemistry, and Biotechnology deadline: February, 2011

Summer Internship at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland theme: Biomedical Research deadline: March, 2011

The Big Muddy Expedition on the Missouri River theme: Geology and Earth Science deadline: March, 2011

Marine Science Internships in Oregon theme: Marine Biology, Environmental Science deadline: February, 2011

Summer Applied Biotechnology Research Experience at UCSB theme: Biotechnology, Bioengineering deadline: March 2011

Astrophysics and Space Science at Baylor University theme: Physics, Astronomy deadline: March 2011

Research Experiences at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida theme: Marine Biology deadline: February 2011

Center for Embedded Networked Sensing at UCLA theme: Engineering and Computer Science deadline: February 2011

Summer Scholarships at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, DC theme: Geology deadline: February 2011

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at UC Santa Cruz theme: Chemistry and Biochemistry deadline: February 2011

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ABRCMS: 10 Years & Going Strong It’s the 10th Anniversary of the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) and this year it’s bigger and better than ever. Over the course of four days, underrepresented minority students from across the country will rub elbows with research experts, scientific leaders, and school officials to get in-depth exposure to the opportunities available for them as they pursue their dreams of a career in science. This year’s big-name speakers include Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Jeremy M. Berg, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), Dr. Juliet V. García, President of The University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB), Dr. Carlos Castillo-Chavez of Arizona State University, astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, and renowned poet Maya Angelou. The conference also provides a great opportunity to meet other students who have similar goals, dreams and challenges—and to have a great time! The Young Scientist offers its congratulations to ABRCMS for a wonderful 10 years of leadership in diversifying the nation’s scientific community.

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10th Anniversary

Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students sponsored by

American Society for Microbiology and NIGMS November 10-13, 2010 | Charlotte, NC

For more information: www.abrcms.org

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gilliam fellow profile

lisandro maya-ramos

University of California San Diego San Diego, CA photo: mark harmel

When Lisandro Maya-Ramos was a child, his family lived in a house on his grandparents’ land in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. A river meandered through the large property, and Maya-Ramos would often play in the water, climb trees to look for mangoes and coconuts, and help his grandmother with the farm. “I was fascinated by the animals,” he says. “I used to harvest corn and plant tomatoes, and I’d milk goats with my grandma.” Maya-Ramos’s rural upbringing fueled early fascination with biology, but the chance to do hands-on research has turned his interests to basic science. “You have a chance to [discover] something that has not been seen before. That’s what really drives me,” says Maya-Ramos, 23. “You can find novel aspects in biology which can potentially have an impact on human diseases.” He graduated with honors from the University of California, San Diego in 2009 and will start an MD/PhD program in the fall of 2010. When Maya-Ramos was 11, his father quit his job as an elementary school teacher to become a farmworker in the United States, and the family moved to Tijuana, near San Diego. Maya-Ramos attended a rigorous international baccalaureate high school, where he took advanced classes in science, history, and other topics. But that was not enough for his parents, who pushed him to take private lessons in English grammar and conversation. “When I was 16, I couldn’t speak a word [of English],” he says. The classes improved his English, but he knew he still had a long way to go. 30 I The Young Scientist

English wasn’t the only area where his parents pushed. No one in Maya-Ramos’s family had been to college, but his parents encouraged him and his younger brother to think big. “My parents said, ‘You should study medicine in the United States,’” he remembers. His father became a U.S. citizen in the 1980s, through a government program that legalized many migrant workers. Several years later, Maya-Ramos was able to become a U.S. citizen as well. Maya-Ramos came to the U.S. in May 2004—immediately after graduating from high school—and a month later started taking classes at San Diego City College, a community college. Despite his private lessons, he was not yet fluent in English. Maya-Ramos could have spent a year or two just studying the language, but he opted to dive into the regular curriculum. “I didn’t really want to spend the time. I said, ‘I’ll learn it along the way,’” he recalls. “It was difficult. I still remember standing in a history class for five minutes trying to articulate an idea just to get points.” Those difficulties quickly faded as Maya-Ramos’s English skills caught up. Maya-Ramos excelled in his coursework at San Diego City College and soon gained entrance to the University of California, San Diego. His transition was eased by a summer experience for community college students called the UniversityLink Medical Science Program, which provides academic and career guidance for science students who live on campus for four weeks. Those mentors led him to the McNair Scholars Program, a federal effort that helps low-income, firstgeneration college students and others traditionally underrepresented in academia learn to do academic research. The McNair Program matched him with psychiatrist Andrés Sciolla, who was developing more effective treatments for Latino patients. During his sophomore and junior years, Maya-Ramos interviewed Latino patients in primary care and mental clinics to find out how many had experienced childhood trauma and what therapies had helped them. While at UCSD, Maya-Ramos started a chapter of Project Nicaragua, a club founded at the University of California, Los Angeles to raise funds to purchase medical equipment for hospitals in Nicaragua. The UCSD group held fundraisers to purchase a pneumatic cranial drill, which is used during brain surgeries, and other equipment. In the summer of 2007, Maya-Ramos and seven other students delivered the supplies in person to doctors and nurses at the Hospital Lenin Fonseca Hospital in Managua. He stayed in Nicaragua for three weeks and visited the hospital nearly every day. It was an eye-opening time, as he

observed emergency room physicians in action and watched from inside the operating room as surgeons removed tumors from patients. In Nicaragua, he also saw children with spina bifida, a congenital defect that causes the spinal cord to develop incorrectly. The disease has become less common in the U.S. thanks to the discovery that pregnant women who take folic acid supplements are less likely to give birth to a child with the disorder. “That got me thinking that sometimes science can have a wider effect on the population than a doctor alone,” he says. This revelation prompted Maya-Ramos to switch his career from clinical medicine to medical research. When Maya-Ramos returned, the National Institutes of Health-funded Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity program at UCSD arranged for him to work with Francisco Villarreal, who was studying diabetic cardiomyopathy. More than 30 percent of diabetic patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with heart disease, and diabetic cardiomyopathy—which causes enlargement of the heart and vessels—can become a dangerous complication of diabetes in some patients. Maya-Ramos, then a senior, teamed with postdoctoral fellow Israel Ramirez-Sanchez to examine the cellular effects of cocoa polyphenol, a compound that might reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. That work sparked his fascination with the heart, which has since led him to think about a career in cardiology. “At first glance, the heart doesn’t look very complex. It’s basically a pump,” he says. “But as you learn more, you see that it is really a complex organ.” In part because of his work in Villarreal’s lab, Maya-Ramos was selected to participate in HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). He spent the summer of 2009 doing research with HHMI investigator Shahin Rafii at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City. Maya-Ramos worked on a project with postdoctoral fellow Jason Butler to find better ways to culture hematopoietic stem cells for use in bone marrow transplants. “It broadened my perspective on research and potential aspects that I can pursue as a researcher,” he says. “I had a wonderful experience working with people in a different field.” After his stint in Rafii’s lab, Maya-Ramos went back to UCSD to continue working with Villarreal. Now he’s been accepted into several MD/PhD programs. He doesn’t know where he’ll go. I change my mind every week,” he says. But his ultimate goal is to run an academic lab in cardiac research and use research to improve people’s lives.


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Amy Harrison, Young Scientist Representative (770) 852-2671 The Young Scientist magazine is a career guide for underrepresented graduate and undergraduate minority science students interested in research and biomedical science. The purpose of the magazine is to provide valuable information on academics, financial assistance, scholarships, fellowships, recruitment and enrollment, research training, and employment. The Young Scientist magazine is distributed to students attending the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS). The magazine is also distributed to the Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI), Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and the members of the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Chaminade University science students in Hawaii, and the offices of minority affairs at major colleges and universities in urban centers


resources American Association for the Advancement of Science, Education and Human Resources Committee http://ehrweb.aaas.org/mge

American Indian Science and Engineering Society www.aises.org

Association of Women in Science www.awis.org

Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology www.cpst.org

Just/Garcia/Hill Science Web Site www.justgarciahill.org

Minority Access, Inc. www.minorityaccess.org

32 I The Young Scientist

for minorities in science

National Institutes of Health Minority Education Programs www.nigms.nih.gov/minority

National Organization of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers www.nobcche.org

NIH Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) www.nigms.nih.gov/minority/marc. html

Society for the Advancement of Chicano and Native Americans in Science www.sacnas.org

Ventures Scholar Program www.venturescholar.org


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Young Scientist 2010  

A guide to help minority science students pursue careers in research.

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