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Volume 4 路 2009

Spectrum Joins the Fight to End Health Disparities Spectrum Healthcare Diversity & Informatics, publisher of The Young Scientist, was recently awarded a contract through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to develop a centralized computer database. This database will enhance our efforts to encourage students to enter and serve in the challenging fields of science, bioscience, and other research areas that allow them to fight and eliminate health disparities. We encourage all those involved in research through NIH to share their experiences with us. For more information, please visit

The Young Scientist is published annually by Spectrum Healthcare Diversity & Informatics. Subscription rates: $10 per year. Copyright 2009 Spectrum Healthcare Diversity & Informatics. 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

contents getting your own lab coat!.....................2 study hard—study science......................4 discover something cool about yourself—with science!...........................5

publisher Bill Bowers editor-in-chief Laura L. Scholes senior account executives Vanessa Bowers Fabiana Allegro art director Lacey Rainwater copy editor Robert Blue marketing director Erica Perkins publisher’s advisor Michelle Perkins, MD publisher’s assistant Hope Alvarez spectrum publishing is a 501(c)(3) notfor-profit arm of spectrum unlimited

the young scientist profile— laty cahoon............................................10 2009 gilliam fellows introduction......12 thinking of becoming a scientist? consider community college.................13 what’s it like to be an...ecologist.........17 what’s it like to be a...biophysicist......20 what’s it like to be a...virologist.........22 marc program helps students achieve their dreams.............................27 alternative careers...............................29 abrcms 2009!...........................................30 resources for the young scientist.......32 ad index...................................................32

getting your own lab coat! by dick sloane, national institute of environmental health sciences

Are you curious? Do you like numbers? Do you like adventures? If so, maybe you should become a scientist. A good scientist is curious and asks lots of questions, such as… How does something work? What is inside? Why does that happen?


cientists seek answers to these and other questions. The answers help solve problems in our world. If you like numbers, science can be for you too, since scientists make many measurements. Things such as length, weight, time, and volume are measured frequently. Numbers are recorded in a book called a “log book” or “record book,” and usually are stored and analyzed with the help of a computer. So it’s good to like working with a computer too! Movie heroes like Indiana Jones live lives of high adventure. Scientists experience adventure too, especially when new information is discovered which might explain how something works, or even help cure people of a killing disease. Consider some of the discoveries of science: X-rays; vaccines for dangerous diseases; antibiotics; rocket engines; the transistor; and more recently, a gene which is responsible for breast cancer in humans, discovered by scientists at National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The scientists and their teams who made these discoveries sense excitement, adventure, and satisfaction because they are understanding how something works for the first time, and maybe solving a serious problem too. These discoveries can also be fun!


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Some scientists specialize in studying living things. We call them biologists. Some try to learn more about the ground and the earth. They’re called geologists. Physicists are scientists who study physical phenomena such as light or electricity. At the (NIEHS) in the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, dozens of dedicated toxicologists study the effects of different chemicals on living things. A toxicologist is a specialized type of biologist who investigates chemicals to see if they act as toxins (poisons). These are just a few examples of the many kinds of scientists that make discoveries every day which make life better for all of us. We become healthier, with a better understanding of our world and the other animals and plants that live here with us. Finally, a good scientist needs to communicate with other scientists through speech and in writing. That means solid skills in English are necessary. Though not easy for many of us, these skills come with time and practice. They’ll come to you too, and you’ll find lots of help from your teachers, advisors, and even other scientists. Our world needs dedicated science professionals. Maybe you will become one of them!

photo courtesy of nhlbi

study hard— study science by president barack obama


oday we face more complex challenges than we have ever faced before: a medical system that holds the promise of unlocking new cures and treatments—attached to a health care system that holds the potential for bankruptcy to families and businesses; a system of energy that powers our economy, but simultaneously endangers our planet. At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury at moments defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before. We know that the progress and prosperity of future generations will depend on what we do now to educate the next generation, and that’s why I’ve announced that states making strong commitments and progress in math and science education will be eligible to compete later this fall for additional funds under the Secretary of Education’s $5 billion Race to the Top program. My administration has set a goal that will greatly enhance our ability to compete for the high-wage, high-tech jobs of the future—and to foster the next generation of scientists and engineers.

In the next decade—by 2020—America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. That is a goal that we are going to set. And we’ve provided tax credits and grants to make a college education more affordable. That’s because you’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical-thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy. We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills, and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It’s the story of students 250 years ago who sat where you sit, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation; students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. And, it’s the story of students 20 years ago who sat where you sit and who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. Don’t let us down. Don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it. Editor’s Note: Comments from President Obama culled from recent speeches and statements about science and education.


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discover something cool about yourself— with science! W

hen someone mentions the word scientist, it might make you think of a nerdy white guy who looks like he’s been holed up in a dark lab for too long. But really, there are LOTS of different kinds of people doing LOTS of different kinds of science. Some people do work in labs, but there are lots of other places to do science: in a rainforest, in a classroom, on a mountaintop. What’s more, almost everything you see or use during the course of your day was influenced by a scientist. Physicists did the research that eventually resulted in cellphone and other wireless technologies. Chemists did the research that eventually resulted in the creation of your prescription medications. Geologists use computer models and field research to find the oil that heats your home each winter. Meteorologists make the weather predictions that help leaders decide whether to take actions like evacuating citizens from areas about to be hit by storms.

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types of scientists

With few exceptions, scientists who work in the private sector are involved with applied research and development. While their work deals with the same concepts as scientists employed at universities, private-sector scientists generally cope with a tighter time frame, and are more attuned to the bottom line. Scientists are in business to turn their ideas and hypotheses into products their companies can sell. Engineers also apply scientific principles to create products. But unlike engineers, applied scientists usually work on more fundamental research and are removed from the production lines. If you want to think of it in terms of a continuum, research scientists at universities deal with abstract principles of science. Applied scientists use the same principles, but shape them into more specific ideas, materials, and equipment. Engineers then use such equipment to make products within a budget, on a timetable.

Top 38 reasons to be a scientist A group of graduate students in the University of Washington School of Oceanography were recently asked why they like being a scientist. You might be surprised by some of their answers.

photo courtesy of the nhlbi

1) To be one of the few people in the world to know a lot about a particular thing. 2) To be able to put all the things I see around me into one picture. 3) Because I just cannot stop asking questions. (My mom says I started doing this at age 2)

10) To serve as a custodian of understanding [knowledge] of the world, and especially to help society preserve it. 11) We study a lot of the major problems in the world today— global warming, ozone hole— and try to help work out solutions.

5) EVERYTHING is more interesting because you know more about it.

12) For the opportunity to study important phenomena that may influence life on earth, and make important contributions to society.

6) I get to spend a lot of time on boats.

13) To add to the human knowledge base.

7) I get to go on field trips where you collect information from nature.

14) You learn something new every day.

4) There is no better way to play as an adult.

8) To build an understanding of the world I live in.

15) I like to live near the water and work with animals in the water, and the scenery is great.

9) Being able to find out exciting new things throughout one’s life.

16) To expand our understanding of how nature “works.”

what you’ll do

Scientists who aren’t working in academic research typically apply their skills to develop and/or understand materials, products, equipment, and production methods in a variety of ways. Physicists, for instance, might be hired by biotechnology firms to design the equipment needed to work on materials at the molecular level; by semiconductor manufacturers to apply their knowledge of solid-state quantum mechanics (the study of crystalline solids such as silicon) to create computer chips that will run faster at lower temperatures; or by computer software firms to write and develop computer programs used to model complex processes, such as the blood flowing through a heart or money through a stock exchange. Chemists work at companies like petroleum refining plants, pharmaceutical companies, paint manufacturers, and food-processing plants. Many biological scientists work in the biomedical field and are known as medical scientists. They research infectious diseases (such as the common cold

17) I get paid to think about fun puzzles every day. 18) I get to go out on a lot of boats. 19) Doing science is like doing a puzzle. 20) I like to try to figure out ways to solve some of the problems in the world (like problems related to ocean pollution). 21) I like to use to my mind. 22) It is like being an explorer. 23) You get to learn from the mistakes you make.

24) I learn something new every day and do fun things in the lab. 25) You get to study the way things work in nature. 26) Being allowed to be curious about whatever you want.

and AIDS) and develop vaccines, new drugs, and treatments. They may be employed by government agencies, such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or work for large drug companies such as Merck or Pfizer.

who does well

Scientists need to be analytical thinkers and comfortable with math. There’s a reason why scientists are often portrayed as people who speak in technical jargon impenetrable to the common ear: all fields of science require mastery of a host of precise terminology and complicated theories that have been piling up since the dawn of the Enlightenment. Of course, that’s not to downplay the role of solid communication skills. In today’s business climate, scientists typically work in teams and need to be able to communicate efficiently what they’ve been doing and why it’s important, especially if they’re looking for a bigger budget.

27) You never know where your research (explorations) will lead you. 28) I love to explore the underwater world! 29) You never get bored. 30) You get to learn the answer to questions about things that happen in nature; even questions that your teachers or parents sometimes can’t answer. 31) I like trying to find out something new all the time rather than doing a routine job. 32) Even Bill Gates will still have to call me doctor. 33) Wanting to find connections and patterns between separate natural events. 34) Wanting to learn the details that make the world work.

35) I believe it is ultimately one of the most purely creative endeavors that one can undertake, and I have the hope that my work might make a contribution toward a body of knowledge. 36) Getting to do interesting and challenging work in order to answer questions others don’t know the answer to. 37) It always [satisfies] me to build a career out of imagination.

38) It can lead to a career that focuses on discovery, excitement, and working outside, with the added bonus of continuous intellectual challenges.

beyond science

Getting a well-rounded education is important because, whether right after school or after getting experience in a hardcore science setting, you may want to change careers to something outside the laboratory. For instance, if you study biochemistry, you may eventually decide to go to work for a financial services institution as a biotech stock analyst. Increasingly, employers are realizing that the analytical skills and computer experience picked up learning science can be put to use in

Someone who has mastered quantum physics usually treats something like analyzing the stock market or a complex business problem as an enjoyable break. a host of other professions, such as sales, marketing, and business consulting. If you have good social skills and interests outside of science, you may find that you have a better chance making such a career change. In addition, scientists can always teach high school or go back to academia to research or try to land a job as a professor. As one industry insider puts it, “People are beginning to realize that someone who has mastered quantum physics usually treats something like analyzing the stock market or a complex business problem as an enjoyable break. Your options are really wide open.”

If you’re looking for a science-related career, at a minimum you’ll need a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university, which shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re interested in a career in science, you should naturally be drawn to its study. In fact, for most research positions, the industry requires a master’s degree, and many employers—particularly large labs run by corporations or the government—require a PhD before they’ll consider hiring you into a research division. Without an advanced degree, you might find yourself pushed into a new line of work such as sales, marketing, or an engineering role. If you want to stay near the test tubes, the jobs can resemble those done by lab technicians, where you’ll find yourself doing things like labeling hundreds of petri dishes and cleaning the centrifuge. Along with a degree from an accredited school, lab experience can help you find work. Internships are a great place to start, as much because they allow you to network in your field as because they give you practical experience. “I think one of the biggest differences between the hard-science programs and engineering programs is that the engineering programs usually have the channels set up to give their students real-life experience,” says one industry insider. “So students [in the sciences] who want to work in industry after school need to make sure to establish contacts in the business world while still in school.”

job outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the jobs outlook in various fields of science as follows: • Opportunities for hydrologists will grow much faster than jobs overall between 2004 and 2014. • Opportunities for environmental scientists, agricultural and food scientists, biologists, atmospheric scientists, will grow at about the same rate as jobs overall between 2004 and 2014. • Opportunities for chemists, physicists, astronomers, and geoscientists will grow more slowly than jobs overall between 2004 and 2014. However, there will be plenty of opportunities for chemists within the growing pharmaceutical and biotech arenas.


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career tracks

While some people who study biology in school may end up doing the work of a chemist, for the most part, where you work will depend to a large extent on what you studied in school.

physicists Historically, physicists who didn’t teach at universities worked at large government-funded laboratories, unlocking the physical secrets of nature, or at defense corporations, developing stronger explosives or faster aircraft. But as a result of the fall of communism and the advent of federal belt tightening, only about 20 percent of all physicists in the United States now work in government labs, though that may change with the ongoing war on terrorism. Physicists usually pick a specific subfield while in school, such as astronomy, elementary particle physics, optics, acoustics, plasma physics, or solid-state physics. That doesn’t mean physicists get pigeonholed: Each subfield is related to understanding the elementary nature of matter and energy, so career crossovers are common. Someone with in-depth knowledge of atomic and molecular physics, for example, might work alongside a solid-state physicist at a semiconductor manufacturer. Most physics-related research positions require a PhD; those who get only their bachelor’s degrees usually work in more traditional engineering positions. The analytical-thinking skills and mathematical expertise gained studying the intricacies of matter, outer space, and Einstein’s theories of relativity are readily put to use in the aerospace and defense, computer hardware, and heavy manufacturing industries.

chemists Chemists working in applied research laboratories use their knowledge of the basic building blocks of all materials (i.e., chemicals) to keep America filled to the brim with low-priced, high-quality consumer goods. Chemists take credit for creating such products as nylon, plastic, and Viagra. As with physics, the field of chemistry is split into subfields. Organic chemists, for instance, study carbonbased chemicals found in living things, while physical chemists study the fundamentals of chemical reactions. Chemists have been finding fewer university and basic-research openings, but more opportunities in corporate applied-research departments, although there’s an increasing trend for large companies to outsource research and development to smaller consulting firms.

Some of the strongest job growth will continue to take place at pharmaceutical companies and biotechnology firms eager to create new drugs to treat America’s aging population. The consumer products and semiconductor industries also have abundant opportunities for chemists, and many chemists move from appliedresearch labs to quality-assurance roles traditionally filled by chemical engineers.

biological scientists If you’re not sure whether you’d rather work in a hightech lab somewhere in New York or camp out in the middle of an Amazon rain forest, take the safe bet and study biology or related fields such as biochemistry. Many biological scientists—such as zoologists, botanists, and ecologists—work in the field, conducting research on animals and plants to see how they interrelate, and measuring the effects of human civilization on the environment. Within city limits, biologists generally work in research and development labs, and use their knowledge of living organisms to create solutions and products related to the health fields, including vaccines and new drugs. Throughout the past couple of decades, rapid advances in understanding the structure of DNA led biotechnology firms to employ an increasing number of biological scientists. Their work includes research into how altering genetic material of plants and animals can lead to new and better consumer products and pharmaceuticals, such as the discovery of human growth hormone and human insulin.

the young scientist


The Young Scientist Profile

Laty Cahoon, PhD student, Northwestern University Laty Cahoon grew up in the San Fernando Valley, California and is now a graduate student in microbiology at Northwestern University in Chicago. Cahoon, whose career goal is to become a professor, hopes her work will inspire other minority students to become involved with the sciences. She currently is a member of SACNAS, a society of scientists dedicated to fostering the success of Hispanic/Chicano and Native American scientists, as well as Northwestern University’s AGEP program to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in science. What made you decide you wanted to be a scientist? Laty Cahoon: Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved nature and I’ve always wondered how things worked. When I was in high school, I had a biology class, and discovered I really liked the molecular part of that class, the molecular biology. So in college at UCLA, I pursued a degree in microbiology where I was exposed to research in the lab setting, and I realized I could pursue a career as a scientist. Before that, I didn’t even know there was a thing called graduate school. After finishing my degree, I applied to grad school and really

agricultural scientists The federal government employs a third of agricultural scientists; many of them are involved in researching new ways to increase the nation’s agricultural output. Those employed by private companies work in pure or applied research, though some work in more traditional engineering roles and oversee production of farm-related equipment and supplies, such as pesticides. Agricultural scientists must have a strong background in biology. While many universities have specific programs for agricultural science, many biology graduates end up working in agricultural science. For example, one of the faster-growing areas of research is the study of how to alter a crop’s genetic composition (DNA) to improve net yields. For the most part, agriculture scientists stay close to the farm and work with crops, the soil, or animals. But large food-processing corporations such as Kraft, or government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, employ agricultural


the young scientist

liked Northwestern and came here knowing I wanted to study either bacteria or viruses. What do you love about science? LC: I like problem-solving. I like asking some sort of biological question, and then just systematically figuring out ways to answer that question. It’s kind of like putting a puzzle together. That’s one of the main reasons I love coming to the lab. Well, that, and I also get to play. For me, research is like playing, but it’s actually doing the experiments and the work [laughs]. When you’re doing research, things often don’t work out like you hope or expect they will. How do you handle that? LC: I think that’s really the most frustrating thing about it. You invest a lot of time and energy on an experiment and then it either doesn’t work, or gives you an answer you didn’t expect, or you can’t understand the answer it’s giving you. But I think even though that’s frustrating, it’s even more satisfying when you do figure it out, because you worked so hard to get the answer.

scientists to develop and test methods of consumerfood production.


The following figures show typical salary ranges for scientists: • Physicist: $50,000 to $130,000 • Astronomer: $40,000 to $140,000 • Geoscientist: $35,000 to $130,000 • Chemist: $30,000 to $100,000 • Conservation scientist: $30,000 to $55,000 • Environmental scientist: $30,000 to $90,000 • Hydrologist: $35,000 to $95,000 • Atmospheric scientist: $30,000 to $110,000 • Biochemist or biophysicist: $40,000 to $110,000 • Microbiologist: $30,000 to $105,000 • Zoologist or wildlife biologist: $30,000 to $85,000 • Food scientist: $25,000 to $95,000 • Soil or plant scientist: $30,000 to $90,000

What does a typical day or week look like for you in the program that you’re in right now? LC: I really like graduate school because it gives you a lot of freedom to set your own schedule. I typically wake up, go to the labs, set up a few experiments. I get to eat lunch with friends and then I keep doing experiments the rest of the day. The people I work with in my lab make this a great work environment. I have a really good relationship with everyone, and I think that’s the reason why we all succeed, because we respect each other and we care about each other. What did you do to prepare yourself to apply to grad school? LC: Since I didn’t know anything at all, I was lucky to be in the UCLA LEADS Program (Leadership in Excellence through Advanced Degrees). This program helped me learn exactly what I would need to be in a graduate program, presenting papers, reading journals, presenting my own undergraduate research through posters and conferences. That really helped me understand what it meant to be a graduate student. You mentioned that you took a year off to do the applications and so forth. Were you doing any fellowships or working anywhere during that year? LC: I worked at Pomona College with Dr. Laura Hoopes. That was a great experience because she

2009 gilliam fellows


purred by the impressive quality of this year’s applicants, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is expanding a program to further the graduate science education of talented students who have worked in the labs of top HHMI scientists and awarding nine Gilliam fellowships this year—up from five in previous years—to fund these exceptional students from groups traditionally underrepresented in the sciences or from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Gilliam fellows program, which is now in its fifth year, aims to enrich science research and increase the diversity of college and university faculty members by

gave me a lot of freedom to do experiments independently. I think it also helped me in graduate school, because I was already able to think independently and figure things out by myself. Is being in gradate school hard? LC: In the beginning when I wasn’t used to it, I thought it was hard. It’s like you’re bombarded with classes and labs, and you’re like, “Oh, my god, this is going to be my future.” But once I got into it and found a lab I liked and what I wanted to research, it got a lot easier. It’s great when you love what you’re doing. What would your ideal career look like? LC: I definitely would like to become a professor and have a lab at some top research institution. I know times are tough now, but that’s really what I’d like to do. What advice would you give a college student who’s reading this? LC: First get involved in undergraduate research or volunteer in a lab, because I think the most important thing is to figure out if you like being in a lab and if you like doing experiments. You have to want to work with your hands and problem-solve.

supporting the education of top student scientists who will themselves either become professors or are committed to creating a more diverse academic community. Each 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 several of these outstanding scholars in the coming pages of the magazine. For more information on the program, go to

2009 Gilliam Fellow

Kelly M. Cadenas photo: mark harmel


elly M. Cadenas decided to make the most of her educational opportunities when she moved with her mother and her siblings to the United States from Nicaragua. Cadenas was just beginning high school, yet she had already seen students fall through the cracks or discover that they could do very little with their college degree in Nicaragua. Indeed, those experiences made her even more determined to become an academic scientist and mentor, especially to students from minority backgrounds. “It is much more unfortunate to see students not actualize their full potential in a country full of resources and opportunities” like the United States, says Cadenas, now 22 and a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles. Growing up, Cadenas was more interested in the arts than in science, and briefly considered becoming a graphic designer. Very few members of her family went to college, and those who did pursued careers in law, business, or medicine, which, for her, didn’t seem quite right. “Medicine didn’t seem to fit my personality and the way I thought about things,” says Cadenas, who was valedictorian of her Naples, Florida, high school class. “But I had no idea what type of career would suit me better.” In the summer before her senior year in high school, Cadenas participated in the Young Scholars Program at Florida State University and joined a microbiology lab, where she did experiments with Escherichia coli bacteria. “I really enjoyed my experience there,” Cadenas says. “After that, research was a possibility—something I might want to do.” As an undergraduate at Harvard University, she had the good fortune to join a program run by HHMI Professor Richard M. Losick that allows six to 10 students a year to work on long-term research projects. When Losick learned that Cadenas was interested in microbiology, he offered her a job in his own lab, and she began studying bacterial biofilms, thin layers of bacteria that aggregate on the surface of water or solids.

Despite her success in the lab, Cadenas felt that her high school education had not prepared her as well as some of her peers for the rigorous coursework at Harvard. “It was often a challenge to take classes where a solid educational background was automatically assumed,” she says. But Cadenas, who took outside classes to improve specific skills, such as writing, said Losick’s advice and support over three years in his lab helped her overcome that self-doubt. “I encountered countless obstacles along the way, but my three-year commitment to my research project allowed me to grow both as a researcher and a student of science,” she says. At Losick’s suggestion, Cadenas spent the summer of 2006 working in the lab of HHMI President-elect Robert Tjian at the University of California, Berkeley, as part of HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). Under Tjian’s guidance, she studied a protein that helps maintain the self-renewal capacity of embryonic stem cells. Buoyed by her successes in Losick’s and Tjian’s labs, she decided to apply to graduate school. “When I made the decision to go to graduate school, I had three years’ worth of hands-on experience and valuable lessons, both personal and scientific, to support my decision,” she says. After earning her doctorate in neuroscience, Cadenas intends to become a professor and participate in the type of educational programs that helped her become a scientist. “I have often found it inspiring to talk to professors with a similar background. Such talks gave me the sense that I could succeed too, despite my disadvantages,” she says. “I hope that when I join academia I, too, will be a mentor for these students.”

I encountered countless obstacles along the way, but my three-year commitment to my research project allowed me to grow both as a researcher and a student of science.

thinking of becoming a scientist? consider community college by grace chen


lthough they were once known primarily for their vocational programs and associate degrees, community colleges have expanded their programs to serve a wider audience. And while community colleges still do an outstanding job of fulfilling their original roles, community colleges have now become a center for scientific learning. In fact, in recent years, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), more students have turned to community colleges to prepare them for a career in science. Research from the NSF study reveals interesting reasons students begin their careers at community college.

Community colleges offer many different types of programs for a wide range of academic interests. Community colleges are, without a doubt, great schools. They offer many different types of programs for a wide range of academic interests. Truthfully, it is no longer fair or even accurate (if it ever was) to think of them as an “easy” two-year school for those looking to earn an associate’s degree. Today, according to the NSF, less than 30% of community college students are looking to simply earn an associate’s degree. This means that over 70% of the students attending community colleges are looking for more than just a two-year program. These statistics reveal that many people view community colleges as a viable option when beginning their educational careers. In fact, according to the NSF, 44% of students who earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the physical sciences, computer and mathematical sciences, and engineering started their education at a community college.

equalizing the science field for all students

Race is, without a doubt, a topic of much discussion in colleges and universities across our nation. America is, after all, the land of the free, and we pride ourselves as a country that offers opportunity to all. However, as a nation, we haven’t always lived up to the standards we set for ourselves. At community colleges, though, “color barriers” are being shattered, especially when it comes to students looking for a career in a scientific field. On average, community colleges do an excellent job recruiting and preparing minority science students for success in the post-collegiate world. In fact, 50% of surveyed Hispanic science and engineering graduates attended community college before receiving their bachelor’s or master’s degree. While that number is impressive (and one in which community colleges should take pride), it does not stop with Hispanic students. When asked, 45% of American Indian/Alaskan Native graduates reported attending a community college first, and for African Americans, it is 44%. Whites comprised 43%, and Asian/Pacific Islander students made up 40%. There are other reasons community colleges are an excellent choice for science students. Many have low tuition costs, are closer to home, and offer open enrollment. Clearly, these are all attractive qualities, and community colleges appeal to many students — not just scientists.

the young scientist


2009 Gilliam Fellow

Scott S. Chilton photo: kathleen dooher


hen he was applying to college, Scott S. Chilton was interested in so many subjects that he had a difficult time deciding which one to declare as his possible major. When his favorite high school teacher advised him to “choose the subject that is the most fun,” Chilton immediately thought of biology. Now, Chilton, 22, is choosing biology again as he begins pursing a PhD in molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University. But he says his broad interests in communication, outreach, athletics, and the arts have combined to make him a better scientist. “My interests have all melded together,” Chilton says. For example, sports and science are very similar. “You end up working a long time on something and it takes years to see the fruits of your labor. You are always looking for new solutions and making new goals.” Growing up in Northern California, Chilton enjoyed the challenge of taking things apart and putting them back together, like the baseball gloves he would repair with his dad. His middle school and high school teachers recognized his curiosity and channeled Chilton’s energy into studying science—in the classroom, at science fairs, and in a university laboratory. Indeed, after spending a summer doing experiments in plant genetics at the University of California, Davis, Chilton tried to continue his research as a high school senior in Tracy, California. “I was able to grow the plants I needed for the research, but for the most part I wasn’t really able to complete the project,” says Chilton, remembering his struggle to modify his experiments to fit within restrictions on using certain chemicals at his school. Chilton decided to major in biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He joined the varsity crew and the mock trial teams, mentored other students, and sought out a research experience right away. He worked in the lab of Sallie Chisholm, whose research team studies Prochlorococcus, one of the most abundant photosynthetic marine bacteria in the Earth’s oceans.

During his junior year, Chilton was seriously injured during crew team practice, and needed nine months to recover. He was disappointed to give up crew, but he capitalized on the situation. “It opened up time for other things,” says Chilton, who had been training 12 to 18 hours a week for almost three years. After the accident, Chilton took on more responsibility in the lab. He worked on a project that involved developing a method to exchange snippets of DNA inside Prochlorococcus to help identify the function of each stretch of DNA. The research ran into some bumps that caused it to take much longer than planned. Looking back, Chilton says, “If it was easy, someone else would have done it already.” Chilton’s commitment impressed Chisholm and his other MIT professors, and they recommended him for the HHMI Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), which connected him with HHMI investigator Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California. There, Chilton helped to develop new tools that would help scientists determine the varying concentrations of important enzymes within a plant cell. Apart from learning more about how science is done, he learned about lab life as a member of Chory’s group. The EXROP experience made him feel part of a scientific community. “Now I have people I can talk to who may be my colleagues in the future,” he says.

My goal as a scientist is to always be a pioneer, pushing the frontiers of knowledge and possibility. Today Chilton, who is in his first year of graduate studies at Harvard, is interested in biochemistry and structural biology. No matter which field he ultimately chooses to specialize in, he expects to become a biology professor who will have an impact on science education. “My goal as a scientist is to always be a pioneer, pushing the frontiers of knowledge and possibility,” says Chilton. “There are not many people like me in the field of biology. I want to lead by example—like any good scientist or pioneer.”

2009 Gilliam Fellow

Marty A. Fernandez photo: daron dean


rowing up, Marty A. Fernandez was fascinated by watching her father, a pediatric neurologist, as he went on rounds and visited patients in their homes. “His work had a profound impact on me,” she says. “Many of the diseases he treats are rare, and when we talked about his cases, I could see how diagnosing them was like putting together a puzzle.” But Fernandez decided early on she wanted to be a biomedical scientist rather than a doctor. That decision was solidified in college when she started working on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Ben M. Dunn’s lab at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Fernandez studied HIV-1 subtype C, a virus strain commonly found in Africa and Asia. “I started to see that research could help me understand not just the diseases my dad was treating, but many others as well,” she says. Dunn trains his students to work independently, and Fernandez soon found herself working with graduate students to study an HIV protein involved in drug resistance. Dunn was so impressed that he asked Fernandez to take over the responsibilities of a departing graduate student. “Marty did what was needed to carry that project forward in a very advanced way,” Dunn says. “Her work was spectacular. She was operating on at least the level of a third-year graduate student.” Fernandez helped identify the structure of an HIV protein using the tools of x-ray crystallography, which allows researchers to deduce a protein’s structure from the diffraction patterns created when a crystal is bombarded by x-rays. Fernandez was one of the co-authors when the research article was published last year in the journal Biochemistry. Fernandez says she became fascinated by the ways science could be applied to improve the lives of peo-

ple who are infected with HIV. When she was nominated to participate in HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), she sought out HHMI investigator Stephen C. Harrison at Harvard Medical School because she wanted to learn about designing vaccines to attack the virus from a different angle. Fernandez put her x-ray crystallography skills to work in Harrison’s lab to examine a protein that helps HIV enter cells. Fernandez would like to earn a PhD by studying structural biology, but she says she is keeping an open mind about what specific problems she will tackle. “I’m still drawn to infectious diseases like HIV, malaria, and hepatitis B, but I’m also getting more interested in Alzheimer’s disease, which brings me back to my dad’s work in neurology,” she says. “There’s also a personal component to this, because my grandmother developed dementia just before she passed away.” Although she’s aware that she’ll be putting in long hours in the lab, Fernandez knows she also wants to make time to teach and mentor younger students. She wants them to understand that stereotypes don’t have to dictate their goals in life. “I hope that as a minority researcher I can help advance minority students’ careers in science, not just passively by serving as an example, but also actively through teaching, advising, and interaction,” she says. “I don’t want to simply be a statistic, a check in the Hispanic box, for the scientific fields in this country. I want to take an active role in advancing minority students’ careers in science.”

I hope that as a minority researcher I can help advance minority students’ careers in science, not just passively by serving as an example but also actively through teaching, advising, and interaction.

What’s it like to be an...


cology is a branch of biology that deals with living organisms and their relationships with their environments. It is a discipline science which requires knowledge of various focuses of biology, in addition to chemistry, physics, geology, hydrology, geography, and genetics, among others.

where do ecologists work?

Ecologists work for universities, federal, state and local governments, environmental consulting firms, non-governmental conservation organizations (like the Nature Conservancy), and numerous other entities. Ecologists, especially those working for universities, conduct research outdoors in populated and remote areas all over the world. In addition to field work, ecologists also work in the lab, analyzing samples collected on site. However, not all ecologists are in the research field. Many are involved in biological monitoring, environmental consulting, habitat restoration, and a myriad of other types of work. Others are focused more with the policy aspects of ecology, working with government agencies to protect and improve habitat, as well as managing natural resources.

what does an ecologist do?

Though there are many ecology-based jobs open to those with a bachelor’s degree, having a PhD drastically increases the number and variety of positions open to an ecologist. Having a PhD will also increase the salary of an ecologist in many positions. Internships and experience in the field and lab are also invaluable when finding a job as an ecologist.

job security

The demand for ecologists today is ever-growing. With increasing public awareness of environmental issues, funding for ecological research programs is increasing at an encouraging rate. Considering this increasing demand for ecologists, job security for ecologists is quite high.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for ecologists working for the federal government is $66,000. Those working in management, scientific, and technical consulting services, local and state governments, and architectural, engineering, and related services earn on average about $45,000. Generally, positions for those with higher level degrees are more lucrative. Entrepreneurs, such as those who found their own environmental consulting firm can earn significantly more.


Lifestyles for ecologists vary a great deal. Since there are so many different directions a background in ecology can take a person, ecologists are able to create their careers around their desired lifestyles. It is common for ecologists to travel a great deal, especially those who conduct field research, but professors, lecturers and government officials may not need to travel as much. In some positions, namely on the research side, hours can be long and work may be physically and mentally demanding. However, it is quite possible to work normal eight-hour days or less.

the young scientist


2009 Gilliam Fellow

Ryan T. Dosumu-Johnson photo: mark harmel


yan T. Dosumu-Johnson liked learning—but not school or homework—and chose a job at RadioShack instead of college when he graduated from high school. Yet, it was the manager of that store in San Diego who set him on the path to becoming a scientist and Gilliam fellow. The manager thought Dosumu-Johnson was so talented that he should apply to manage a new store in South America—confidence that prompted the young man to think deeply about his future. “I thought, ‘Is this really something I want to do for the rest of my life? It’s easy and it’s safe, but it’s not intellectually challenging,’” recalled Dosumu-Johnson, now 23. So Dosumu-Johnson changed direction. He began taking classes at a community college in Orange County, California. He had always been interested in science—Dosumu-Johnson was one of those kids who disassembled the family’s TVs and toasters—but he also was a good communicator, so he planned to major in marketing and sales. That plan was derailed by a course in molecular biology that opened his eyes to science and human biology. “I fell in love with science. My younger sisters are more into the arts, but I don’t understand how they could want to study anything [but biology],” he said of his four sisters. “How could you not want to understand how humans and the world around us work?” Dosumu-Johnson took several more biology courses at Orange Coast College, which honed his interest in genetics. But his first real step into research came when he was accepted into the Bridges to Baccalaureate Program at the University of California, Irvine. Through the Bridges program, which is designed to help community college students interested in pursuing a biomedical research career, Dosumu-Johnson discovered his interest in neuroscience. He spent a summer doing research to identify the differences in the spinal cord structures of domesticated chickens

and pheasants, and when those changes occur during development. In 2006, Dosumu-Johnson transferred with honors to the University of California, Los Angeles, to complete his undergraduate work. Despite his comfort in the lab, Dosumu-Johnson initially felt isolated in his biology classes at UCLA. “I would often be one of a few minorities and often the only black student in my classes,” he said, and he became disheartened and considered another career. Luckily, he could turn to his older sister, Tara, who is in a PhD program in medical anthropology at the University of Michigan and had a similar experience as the only minority student in her department. “I have since been inspired and committed to become a role model for other minority students in the sciences,” he said. In the summer of 2008, Dosumu-Johnson got to expand his research experiences as well, through HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). Working with HHMI investigator Cornelia Bargmann at the Rockefeller University, he used engineering techniques to study the smell response in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans.

I really want to do research, but at the end of the day I’d like my research to be directed at alleviating human suffering. That work showed Dosumu-Johnson, now in his final year at UCLA, that he was ready to pursue an MD/ PhD “I really want to do research, but at the end of the day I’d like my research to be directed at alleviating human suffering,” he said. Dosumu-Johnson said that the variety of fields he has studied, from ecology to neuroscience to engineering, will be an asset when he tackles problems as a physician-scientist. “The more you know about other subjects in science, the better able you are to approach any problem you want,” he said.

the young scientist


What’s it like to be a...


f you are curious about biological processes, and enjoy puzzle-solving, designing experiments, or working with numbers and computers, there are many exciting opportunities for you in biophysics. Biophysicists use the methods of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology to study how living organisms work. They investigate how the brain processes and stores information, the heart pumps blood, muscles contract, plants use light in photosynthesis, genes are switched on and off, and many other questions. Other kinds of scientists, including physiologists, cell and molecular biologists, geneticists and biochemists, also work on these problems; however, biophysicists are especially interested in the physics and physical chemistry of biological processes and make far greater use of quantitative measurements and analysis. Biophysicists work in universities, industry, medical centers, research institutes, and government. Women and minorities are actively being recruited. Biophysicists ask questions at many levels. At the highest level of organization, they study how organisms develop, see, hear, taste, feel, and think. They also study how we breathe, how materials travel through our bodies, how our immune systems work, how muscles contract, and how our bones support us. Other biophysicists look at biological processes on the scale of the single cell. They investigate how cells move, divide, and detect and respond to signals from the environment, and how materials travel into and through cells. Biophysicists study the structure and behavior of the biomolecules that make up cells. Very large molecules such as DNA and proteins are of particular interest. The ability of these molecules to perform complex biological tasks depends on their three-dimensional shapes and also their dynamic properties; therefore the relationship of structure to function is a central question.


the young scientist

where do biophysicists work?

A wide range of careers are open to biophysicists because of the breadth of their training. Depending on your interests and abilities, you might work primarily in the laboratory, with computers, teach, or become a science writer. Many biophysicists become faculty or staff members at colleges, universities, medical, or dental schools. There will be many openings for young faculty members in the next two decades. Faculty members at liberal arts colleges work primarily with undergraduate students and direct research programs that both generate new knowledge and provide experience for undergraduates. Faculty members at universities and medical and dental schools train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to do research; they also teach undergraduates or medical or dental students. Their laboratories are generally supported by grants from federal agencies and private foundations. Biophysicists whose primary interest is research often work in government, private research institutes or industry. For example, biophysicists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, study the molecular and cellular basis of disease. Others work at national laboratories in Brookhaven, New York; Argonne, Illinois; Los Alamos, New Mexico; or Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Naval Research Laboratories; U.S. Departments of Agriculture

or Defense; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; or in private research institutes. Many new positions have been created in industry as a result of recent developments in molecular biophysics and molecular biology. Regardless of the setting, biophysicists generally work in groups with people with different backgrounds, interests, and abilities who collaborate to solve common problems. Everyone shares the adventure of embarking on a journey into unexplored territory and the thrill of discovery.

how to prepare for your career

Very few colleges or universities offer an undergraduate major in biophysics. Most students prepare by completing a major in physics, chemistry, or mathematics with supplementary courses in biology. It is also possible to major in biology, biochemistry or molecular biology and take supplementary courses in chemistry, physics and mathematics; however, most students find that majoring in a physical science or mathematics is the best preparation for advanced work. The ideal program would include: biology—introductory biology, cell biology, molecular biology, genetics; physics—mechanics, electricity and magnetism, optics, atomic and molecular physics; chemistry—general chemistry, organic chemistry, physical chemistry; mathematics—calculus, differential equations, linear algebra, numerical analysis and statistics, computer programming. For a well-rounded education, it is important to take courses in the humanities and social sciences, and to participate in extracurricular activities. Because science transcends national boundaries, courses in foreign languages often prove useful and are sometimes required by graduate schools. Hands-on research experience is essential to begin to learn how scientists tackle real problems.

Science courses often have accompanying laboratory sessions; however, many students get their first real taste of research from a summer job in a laboratory. You can find out about these opportunities by contacting the chairperson or faculty members at your college, the National Science Foundation, or the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. By your junior year, you will want to consider whether to proceed immediately to advanced training. If you want to become involved in research, but do not want to continue on to graduate or medical school, you will probably want to explore openings for technicians. Other possibilities include teaching at the elementary or secondary school level, or working for the government or media.


Salaries vary according to education, location, and job. The median annual income of biophysicists was $87,450 in 2004. The average annual salary for biophysicists employed by the federal government was $104,917 in 2005. Biophysicists at colleges and universities can usually supplement their salaries by doing research and consulting work. Benefits generally include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.


Most biophysicists work in well-lit laboratories and classrooms, and generally work at least forty hours per week, though overtime is often necessary for special projects. Most biophysicists employed as college teachers spend six to eight hours a week in the classroom and the remainder of the workweek preparing lesson materials, advising students, conducting research, and writing. Biophysicists engaged in research frequently work irregular hours while conducting experiments. Biophysicists must be patient and hardworking and able to work both independently and as part of a team.

the young scientist


What’s it like to be a...


iruses have been plaguing humans since the beginning of history. Some, more lethal than others, such as chickenpox, Ebola, HIV, hepatitis, and influenza (the flu) are viruses with which both humans and virologists have been struggling. Virologists study viral microscopic organisms that cause these diseases. They attempt to create new vaccines that will provide immunity to humans and medicines that will help cure these diseases. Virologists study how viruses have the capacity for replication in animal, plant, and bacterial cells. To replicate, viruses appropriate functions of the host cells on which they are parasites. The viral parasite causes changes in the cell, directing the host cell’s metabolism to the production of new virus particles. Viruses come in two basic types, those that have a genome of DNA or RNA. Accordingly, viruses infect all major groups of organisms including vertebrates, invertebrates, plants, fungi, and bacteria. Many people misunderstand the nature of viruses and mistakenly believe that drugs such as antibiotics help combat them. For instance, if you contract the flu, the best medicine is rest and drinking lots of fluids. Nevertheless, there are many preventative vaccinations available to humans, such as the hepatitis B vaccine or typhus shots. These vaccines are designed to immunize people against contracting viral infections instead of dealing with them after the fact, which for many viruses is impossible to do. For those traveling to for-


the young scientist

eign regions at risk for various viral epidemics, they are advised to get inoculated with region-specific vaccines to prevent catching a lethal virus. The most common types of viruses are the “cold” viruses, of which there are about 130 different types. Usually these infections are not very serious and may just cause a runny nose and malaise for a couple of days. Viruses are spread by contact with infected individuals. The usual method of transmission is person-to-person contact through mucus or blood secretions. Some types of viruses can be transmitted through the air. Also, drug users who share needles can easily become infected if the needle is contaminated with HIV or hepatitis. Virologists who work on researching dangerous organisms, such as Ebola or HIV must take special safety precautions, such as wearing protective suits and working in biohazard areas, restricted only to these scientists. They usually work in teams with other microbiologists, such as parasitologists, immunologists, and bacteriologists, performing interdisciplinary research studies. Some may also work as medical doctors, treating patients with viral infections. A virologist’s work seems to be never-ending, as new viruses continually emerge. The career can be very rewarding as virologists make discoveries to help cure our deadliest scourges. There is a great deal of research being conducted on new treatments, improved diagnostics, and vaccines.

interests and skills

Virologists must possess an innate interest in natural phenomena and the causes and effects of viruses. They enjoy performing scientific research, and usually have an inquiring mind. They should have good manual dexterity for transferring microorganisms from one culture medium to another without contaminating samples, and the ability to pay close attention to details. Most have a strong aptitude and background in microbiology, biochemistry, and genetics. Virologists are usually well organized, enjoy working in the laboratory with equipment, and performing tasks that require precision.

what a virologist typically does

• Conduct research into the structure, function, ecology, biotechnology, and genetics of viruses and related microorganisms. • Conduct experiments to isolate and make cultures of specific viruses under controlled conditions. • Research how viruses form and their consequences on human, animal, and plant health. • Analyze nucleic acids, proteins, and other substances produced by viruses.

• Perform tests on water, food, and the environment to detect harmful viral infections and control sources of contamination. • Conduct molecular studies and experiments into genetic expression, gene manipulation, and recombinant DNA technology. • Observe, identify, and classify all viral microorganisms. • Isolate microorganisms involved in breaking down pollutants. • Develop new vaccines to cure viral infections and immunize people, plants, and animals from future infection. • May supervise biological technologists and technicians and other scientists. Virologists work indoors in laboratories and sometimes on computers. The high pressure of having to meet project deadlines can be stressful and will often result in long hours. Generally, virologists put in long workweeks. For those working with toxic or harmful chemicals, following safety rules and wearing protective, sometimes biohazard equipment will help avoid chemical injury or exposure to infection. Preventive inoculations will also help to protect medical virologists from the risk of disease.

the young scientist


where virologists work

Virologists work for governments, hospitals, colleges and universities, industrial laboratories, companies in the agricultural industry, pharmaceutical companies, food and beverage companies, diagnostic laboratories, biotechnology firms, and bioremediation companies. Contract work is becoming more common in this occupation, focusing on individual research projects to formulate vaccines.

job outlook

Long-term advancement for virologists will undoubtedly depend on the education level of the virologist. Those with master’s degrees may work as professionals in laboratory settings, performing experiments. Virologists with PhDs may conduct and lead individual and group research projects, and teach in universities, manage hospital (clinical) diagnostic virology laboratories, or advance to senior scientific appointments in government or industry. Other advancement opportunities for virologists may also depend on the size and nature of the employing organization, and the qualifications of the employee. They can move into related biology fields such as biochemistry, genetics, ecology, parasitology, or biochemical engineering. They can also become clinical technicians in health care facilities, quality-control officers in the food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries, or bioremediation specialists.

how to get there

The minimum educational requirement for becoming a virologist is a four-year bachelor of science (BS) degree in microbiology or immunology, as most universities do not offer an undergraduate degree in virology. Those who have a bachelor’s degree are qualified to work as laboratory assistants or technicians. A master’s degree or PhD is always required for senior research positions. Those who have PhDs may continue their training as post-doctoral fellows and teach at the university level. Medical virologists preparing to work in hospitals or treat patients must get a medical degree and then specialize in virology.


the young scientist

2009 Gilliam Fellow

Angelica M. Riestra photo: mark harmel


or Angelica M. Riestra, community and science have gone hand-in-hand since she designed her first science project in eighth grade to see whether homes in her largely Latino neighborhood in San Diego had high levels of lead. She found two houses contaminated with lead, and discovered that most of the residents living in those homes were not fully aware of the health risks. Now 24 and a first-year graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Riestra remains committed to changing how people in the Latino community and beyond view science. “A lot of people in our community think that science is about becoming a doctor, but there’s also a whole world of academic research. I want to help expose students to this and to provide them with the tools and confidence to be able to gain access to this field,” she said. Riestra’s parents neither speak nor read English fluently. Even though they could not help her with homework, she says their work ethic has been one of the most important lessons in her life. “As a young girl, I learned to be independent and seek out the resources I needed to accomplish my dreams,” she says. “My parents knew that I had big dreams, and they have always been my personal cheerleaders, which allowed me to venture into new territories, like being a first-generation college student, the first in my family to major in the sciences, and the first to pursue a PhD.”

I had confirmed that the students at my school had so much potential, but that most of it was not being tapped. As a high school student, Riestra realized that science could be part of those dreams. For two summers in Mark Lawson’s research lab at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), she studied how lead and pesticides af-

fect the production of a pituitary hormone. There, she found a project that brought science to bear on an issue of personal interest, recalling her father’s stories of being sprayed with pesticide while picking crops. The experience—and the fact that Lawson came from a similar background—changed Riestra’s perspective on the future. Among other things, it fueled Riestra’s commitment to involving more Latino and African American students in science activities and classes at her own high school. She developed an ambitious plan to recruit students to design science fair projects, and she helped them prepare for the science fair competition. Most of the 25 student she helped recruit that year—a record number— were selected to compete in the citywide science fair. Although excited by the accomplishments of her fellow students, she was also saddened by the experience. “I had confirmed that the students at my school had so much potential, but that most of it was not being tapped.” Riestra was nominated to participate in HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP), working for a summer with HHMI investigator William Jacobs Jr., at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Riestra’s project was to help determine the target of pyrazinamide, a drug used to treat tuberculosis, in hopes of understanding how the drug works and what makes some TB bacteria resistant to it. Riestra remembers, “My EXROP experience came at the most critical time in my life. At that point, I was questioning whether I could do it. But I worked really hard and, with Jacobs and my postdoc mentor’s belief in my potential, I realized, ‘Wow, I really can do this.’ If I hadn’t had that boost in my confidence, I don’t know if I would have continued.” Riestra hasn’t yet selected which lab she wants to join for her graduate studies at UCLA, but she already has a plan for how she will run her own lab when she is a professor. Her plan includes an outreach program like the one that made such a difference for her. “I am extremely grateful for all of the mentors who helped me to arrive at this point in my life. As a product of outreach, I want to emphasize how mentorship can change the course of a student’s life and dreams.” For Riestra, the Gilliam fellowship allows her to combine her two passions—scientific research and bringing science to the community. “It’s my passport to do both.”

2009 Gilliam Fellow

Krystal R. St. Julien photo: barbara ries


rystal R. St. Julien’s own hemoglobin got her hooked on biochemistry. Born with sickle cell anemia—a painful genetic disorder that causes red blood cells to become rigid and clump together when they don’t get enough oxygen—she spent many hours as a child in the hospital and decided, early on, to stand up to the disease. Indeed, the 22-year-old biochemistry graduate student at Stanford University announced that determination at age four. “I’m tired of being sick. I’m going to make new shots,” she told her mother. “I was really adamant about making things better.” As a teenager, St. Julien read research articles to keep up with new treatments for sickle cell disease, which can result in stroke or organ failure. With encouragement from a “really great” biology teacher at Oak Harbor Middle School in Oak Harbor, Washington, St. Julien also learned about the specific hemoglobin mutation that led to her own disease. The experience solidified her interest in molecular research, and her broad curiosity in that and other scientific subjects helped St. Julien cope with the sometimes harrowing treatments for her painful disease. St. Julien’s doctors urged the curious teenager to consider medical school, but she saw a different path for herself. “I could not conceive of myself walking the halls of a hospital every day. I knew, even from very early on, that I was meant to be a researcher,” she says. St. Julien entered the University of Washington as a biochemistry major, and she was often the only black person—and almost always the only black female—in most of her science classes. Concluding that minority students might be inspired to study the sciences if they had more role models their age, St. Julien decided to take a more active and visible role on campus and within the biology and chemistry honor societies. She was occasionally invited to speak on campus, usually about minority issues in the sciences. In one case, she spoke to the board of the University of Washington’s Safeco Insurance Minority Scholarship to encourage them to continue funding. “After hearing my speech highlighting my

hopes for the future generation of minority scientists, the board members thanked me and a few told me they were proud to have contributed to my accomplishments.” Throughout her undergraduate years, St. Julien’s sickle cell disease continued to plague her, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dream of becoming a researcher. As a senior, she worked in the laboratory of developmental biologist David Kimelman, who studies the signaling pathways that control embryonic development in zebrafish. In Kimelman’s lab, St. Julien studied a tumor suppressor that also helps to control cell shape and cell movement in vertebrate embryos. The work was sometimes frustrating. “If you make one slip, you have to start all over again,” she says. “I could easily waste a month.” But in the end, her tenacity paid off: she was the cofirst author on a research article published in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications. Kimelman says St. Julien stood out from other undergraduates because she didn’t just do as she was told in the lab. “She really thought about her project, contributed her own ideas, acted like a real scientist,” he says. “She’s a delightful person, the kind of person one would like to see teaching classes and raising another generation of scientists.” In June 2008, St. Julien graduated from the University of Washington and spent the summer at Harvard University doing research in the lab of HHMI investigator Catherine Dulac as part of HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). In Dulac’s lab, St. Julien helped develop a method to physically tease apart individual neurons from the brains of mice. Dulac’s team is now using the new technique to study genetic imprinting—the process by which a copy of a gene is silenced depending on whether it was inherited from the mother or the father—and its role in brain development and behavior. After finishing up her work at Harvard, St. Julien returned to the West Coast to begin a PhD program in biochemistry at Stanford University. Although learning about sickle cell drugs originally inspired St. Julien’s interest in biochemistry, she doesn’t expect her dissertation research to address that condition specifically. “I always kind of knew I wanted to be able to help people with diseases,” she says, but she is still deciding on the details. “I just want to find something I love researching.”

nih’s minority access to research careers (marc) program makes

science dreams a reality


ARC, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the nation’s premier program dedicated to helping students from groups underrepresented in biomedical research pursue careers in science.

lola eniola-adefeso received support from marc and now she’s an assistant professor of chemical engineering at the university of michigan-ann arbor, where she studies methods to improve heart disease drugs.

q. how can i get marc to help pay for my undergraduate education?

photo by scott galvin

A. To be eligible for support through a MARC Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research (USTAR) Award, you must be an honors student with at least junior status at a college or university that has a U-STAR grant or a grant from U-STAR’s predecessor, the Honors Undergraduate Research Training Award. MARC program directors at institutions with MARC undergraduate grants are responsible for selecting the students to be supported.

q. how can i get a marc fellowship to help pay for graduate school?

A. NIGMS funds predoctoral fellowships to enable individuals who are members of minority groups that are underrepresented in biomedical research to obtain graduate research training. Awards are conditional upon acceptance into an approved PhD, combined MDPhD, or other combined professional-PhD degree program in the biomedical sciences.

q. i just want to go to medical school. am i eligible for an nigms fellowship?

A. No. NIGMS predoctoral fellowships support medical training only as part of the combined MD-PhD degree, which prepares students for careers in biomedical research. lee aggison was a mbrs participant and is now an associate professor of molecular and cell biology and associate dean of the graduate school at the university of connecticut.

q. does marc support graduate work in all academic fields?

A. MARC awards support training in fields of study that directly prepare students for careers in biomedical research. Such fields of study include biology, chemistry, cell and molecular biology, genetics, biophysics, mathematics, pharmacology, biorelated chemistry, biochemistry, some parts of psychology and sociology, and bioengineering (but not other fields of engineering).

q. what is mbrs (minority biomedical research support)?

A. MBRS is another NIGMS initiative designed to help increase the number of minority biomedical scientists. This program awards grants to minority institutions to support research by faculty members, strengthen the institutions’ biomedical research capabilities, and provide opportunities for students to work as part of a research team.

q. how can i apply for a marc grant?

A. There is no application form for undergraduate students interested in the MARC Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research Award, the Bridges to the Baccalaureate Degree initiative, the Bridges to the Doctorate Program initiative, or the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development. Since these are institutional awards, students are selected by the institutions that receive these grants. Contact your research advisor to see how you can become involved with MARC on your campus. For more information on Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) programs, go to: minority/marc/marcdescription.htm.

the young scientist


2009 Gilliam Fellow

Steven Tuyishime photo: paul fetters


teven Tuyishime’s life changed the day that the violence of his Rwandan homeland arrived at the front door of his family’s home in Kenya, where his father was posted as a diplomat. It was 1996 and, fearing that they were no longer safe, Tuyishime’s father made the difficult decision to move to the United States. They started with little except determination. His father took a job as a laborer and studied to become a social worker, and his mother studied to be a nurse. “The transition from life in Africa to America was a tough one. I forced myself to work through feelings of isolation and concentrated on schoolwork,” recalls Tuyishime, who credits his parents’ efforts to provide better opportunities for their children as the inspiration that compels him to succeed, even today. “When I see what they went through, I can’t give myself the excuse to be lazy.” In high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, Tuyishime found solace and inspiration in science books and nurtured growing ambitions to become a doctor. He quickly mastered English and excelled at academics, winning a coveted spot as a Meyerhoff Scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The Meyerhoff program seeks to prepare high-achieving students who have an interest in the sciences or engineering for graduate study and careers in academia. “When I first told adults around my neighborhood that I had received a scholarship to college, the first question they asked was, ‘For what sport?’” Tuyishime explains. “Even now, when I tell my neighbors about my plans to earn a PhD, they don’t know what it means.” At UMBC, Tuyishime majored in biology, and soon became fascinated by infectious diseases, specifically malaria. As a freshman, he worked with Janice Zengel, a UMBC senior research scientist who studies antibiotic resistance in the bacteria Escherichia coli. “I realized I liked the process of discovery in science,” he says. “And I thought if I got a PhD and went into research, I’d have the opportunity to help even more people than I would as a doctor.”

At first, Tuyishime considered pharmacology, but research on malaria parasites in the lab of HHMI investigator Daniel Goldberg at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis changed his mind. “It was so exciting to grow the microbes in culture, and watch how they attack red blood cells,” says Tuyishime, who was there as part of HHMI’s Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP) in 2007. “After working in Goldberg’s lab, I knew microbiology was what I wanted to do.” The following summer, Tuyishime joined David Weiner’s lab at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, where he helped test the effectiveness of DNA vaccines that could be used to treat HIV. DNA vaccines use just a portion of the viral or bacterial DNA in an effort to stimulate the immune system, a promising approach for HIV because conventional vaccines that use weakened or killed virus are neither cost-effective nor safe. As he looks to the future, Tuyishime, now 21, says he’d like to develop DNA vaccines for malaria. He thinks they could one day supply a cheap and efficient way to eradicate the disease. “Malaria is a disease that shouldn’t exist. We need more people working on it so we can limit how many people it sickens and kills,” he says. While he credits his mentors with inspiring him to consider graduate studies in science, he was especially encouraged when alumni of UMBC’s Meyerhoff program talked about the great research they were conducting as university professors. “Seeing somebody who looks like me involved in cutting-edge research helped plant a seed of confidence in me that I could do it too,” he says. He now hopes he is sparking that confidence in a younger generation of budding scientists as a peer adviser for entering Meyerhoff Scholars. Tuyishime is currently applying for graduate school, and when he is a professor himself, he would like to start an after-school program that helps and encourages minority high school students who are interested in the sciences. “I recognize that there are many talented students, especially members of minority groups, who are not provided the same opportunities that I had.”

alternative careers


f you have to change paths toward pursuit of an advanced degree, you might want to consider a non-traditional career in the sciences. For most of these careers, a broad interest in the sciences is a prerequisite.

if you like to write: science writer

The best sign that you might enjoy science writing is that you love to know all about many aspects of science, can quickly learn the basics about many topics and can describe complex subjects in clear, exciting prose. Science writers are hired by newspapers, magazines, and journals and for Web site development. Many science writers are freelance authors and need to have some “business skills” as well as writing skills. While some science writers have also completed a degree in journalism, many have not. A good resoure to explore is the National Association of Science Writers Web site. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a fellowship for students interested in becoming science writers. For those of you interested in environmental journalism, check out the Society of Environmental Journalists. If you are interested in writing about medical topics, check out the American Medical Writers Association. For those of you more interested in conveying technical information, check out the Society for Technical Communication.

if you like computers and math: bioinformatics

Bioinformatics is an increasingly popular career. People in this profession help make sense of the vast quantities of information from the human genome project and other gene-sequencing projects. Bioinformatics combines computer science, library science, as well as the biological sciences to help catalog and make genetic information available to researchers, pharmacy companies, and the biotech industry. There are several master’s programs in bioinformatics around the country. One of the newest programs is at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Check out their Web site for information on bioinformatics and salary and career outlooks for this field.

if you like to work with children or young adults: science education

Science education might be the place for you. If you have ever wanted to work in a science and technology museum or a zoo, you should check out the Association of Science-Technology Centers Web site at www., and the American Association of Museums at The American Zoo and Aquarium Association at has a wonderful page on all aspects of zoo careers. Often environmental or conservation societies hire environmental educators. Working at the Natural History Center in Missoula, Montana, is a great way to get on the job experience for these types of careers. If you want to teach science or biology to middle or high school students, consider our teacher preparation options in biology. The National Science Teachers Association has a Web site at and the National Association of Biology Teachers has their Web site at

if you like drawing or photography: medical illustration

You might want to consider science illustration or medical illustration as a career. The University of California at Santa Cruz has a one year graduate program that is described at If you are interested in medical illustration, plan to get some additional training. The Web site for the Association of Medical Illustrators is; under “Profession” it includes some of the schools that currently offer training for this career.

the young scientist


ABRCMS 2009! N

ow in its ninth year, the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) is the largest, professional conference for biomedical and behavioral sciences students, including mathematics, attracting approximately 2,900 individuals, almost double the number of attendees it had the first year. “Our focus is on undergraduate students, especially minority undergraduate students, and getting them through the pipeline with the ultimate goal of going to graduate school,” says Irene Hulede, manager of the student programs division of the American Society for Microbiology. “Students come to present papers, either through poster sessions or orally, and we also give them the opportunity to talk to top-notch scientists to get a perspective on how they got where they are now.” Students come from over 285 U.S. colleges and universities for the three-day conference. One of ABRCMS’s new benefits is instituting a way to help more students and facutly get to the conference. “We’ve implemented a travel award program,” Hulede says. “This means that more students—for example, community college students—and faculty can attend. All attendees are pursuing advanced training in biomedical and behavioral sciences, including mathematics, and many have conducted independent research. Also in attendance are more than 280 representatives from graduate programs at U.S. colleges and universities, as well as scientists from government

agencies, foundations, and professional scientific societies. Keynote and other speakers are a highlight of the conference, and this year, students will get to hear from past attendees who have gone on to reach their dreams. “This year, instead of having one person give the keynote address on the opening night, we’ve invited some of these past students to be the keynote speakers,” says Hulede. “They will share their stories of how they got where they are, and encourage our attendees to keep working hard to pursue careers in research.” All of this exposure to science, mentors, and students working to achieve the same goals is a heady event for attendees. “The students are very, very excited to come to ABRCMS,” says Hulede. “This is the one time they get to present in a group that’s large, but not overwhelming. They get to have a lot of one-on-one dialogues with students who look like them, as well as faculty and industry professionals. Our attendees know they need to bring their best selves to the conference, because you never know who you’re going to meet. “ABRCMS works because it’s like a one-stop shopping for a research career—we have a bit of everything!”

the young scientist


resources for the young scientist society for the advancement of chicanos and native americans in science (sacnas)

minority access to research careers (marc)

national institute of general medical sciences (nigms) programs for minority students

national society of black physicists

american society for microbiology gradate opportunities


national institutes of health (nih) loan repayment program

ad index albert einstein college of medicine........................................................... 3 abrcms.........................................................................................................31 johns hopkins..............................................................................................14 mit................................................................................................................14 morehouse...................................................................................................18 nih undergraduate scholarship program................................................. 3 university of colorado............................................................................cv4 university of vermont...............................................................................18

The Young Scientist: A Career Guide for Underrepresented Science Graduates  
The Young Scientist: A Career Guide for Underrepresented Science Graduates  

A guide to help underrepresented minority students navigate the opportunities in research.