Postdoc w/ Dr. Robert Barlow, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Center for Vision Research
About the UM Experience
The long-term goal of my current research project is to understand the processes underlying the loss of vision in hypoglycemic mice. Our lab has observed accelerated retinal degeneration in two separate mouse models that are metabolically stressed due to chronic hypoglycemia. We are studying the progression of these degenerations and hope to uncover their underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. We plan a rigorous, multifaceted study of retinal/RPE anatomy, retinal and photoreceptor sensitivity, retinal cell death, and visual function. I will concentrate on studying the retina with a combination of electrophysiological, anatomical, and behavioral techniques. In addition to standard ERG methods, I will image the retina with high-resolution optical coherence tomography [OCT] and measure visual function with a new behavioral technique. These new techniques, combined with ERG recordings, hold great promise for long-term, noninvasive tracking of retinal degeneration in individual mice.
Fond UM Memory
I think that my time at Miami was time extremely well spent.
When I first discovered the graduate program, I was unsure whether I wanted to pursue a career in medicine [and attend medical school] or if I wanted to pursue biomedical research. I found out about the graduate program at Miami, applied, and came in for my interviews with an open mind. I was extremely impressed with the wide variety of research interests in the department and the quality of the faculty and students. I felt that given the right guidance, I would certainly find an area that would interest me since the department had such broad interests. I had also always liked the city of Miami, its weather, and its culture. Quite honestly, I figured that if I were going to make a mistake about what I was going to do with my next year I would rather be in Miami making money in a graduate program then building up $30,000+ in debt and deciding that medical school was not for me. I decided to take a chance on Miami and Pharmacology and I guess the rest is history.
I believe that the single most important thing I learned in Miami was that in science you should always strive to ask interesting questions. You should not be afraid to go out of your comfort zone to follow these questions. Always maintain flexibility in your approach. My graduate project started as a relatively straightforward electrophysiological study. I learned two-electrode voltage clamp electrophysiology very well and thought that most of my time would be spent assaying various mutant receptors and toxins with this technique. Then, midway through my graduate years, the field drastically changed with the release of a crystal structure of a homologous protein to the nicotinic receptor. I needed to quickly learn new techniques such as homology modeling and computer protein docking, in order to supplement my other work and answer the questions I was asking. In the end, my project ended up being stronger and more interesting because I was willing to follow my question and step out of my comfort zone.
I feel extremely fortunate to have worked with my mentor, Dr. Charles Luetje. He is one of the true visionaries in the field of receptor research. He has also provided me with a model of how to approach science and how to run a successful laboratory. He fostered an environment of continuous learning. He stressed that there would be many times in my scientific career when I would be thrown into an area where I would have little or no expertise and I would need to get up to speed as fast as possible. He encouraged publication of my results and helped develop skills such as writing for peer-reviewed journals, preparing for departmental seminars, and presenting data at national meetings. He also encouraged collaborations with others. These are the exact set of skills I see myself needing in my new position. I feel as though I am well prepared for a career in science because I have learned from one of the best in his field.
I am a Duke University graduate. Dr. Kerry Burnstein received her doctorate and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina [a hated Duke rival] before coming to Miami. On many occasions Kerry and I had joked about our alma maters and the relative merits of each university. Despite her North Carolina ties, Dr. Burnstein served as the mentor for my first rotation as a graduate student and, as fate would have it, was selected as a member of my qualifying examination committee. I was cautiously optimistic about my preparation for my qualifying examination; but, I had heard that virtually any questions would be fair game in the meeting and this was worrisome. What would people ask? When my examination day finally arrived, my nerves were kicking in. My committee members all arrived promptly and it was time to begin my presentation. My strategy was to take control of the meeting from the outset and talk about what I knew best the material in my mock grant proposal. I did not want to deal with any extraneous questions. I was about to begin my talk when Kerry's hand shot up. I feared that there was something seriously wrong with my proposal since I had barely said a word and there was already a question. Kerry looked at me and asked for me to spell the name of the head coach of Duke's mens basketball team. I learned three things from that meeting: (1) In science, prepare for anything. (2) If you do not know the answer and the person asking the question does not know the answer, make something up. (3) K-R-Z-Y-Z-E-W-S-K-I.