Stories of a Non-traditional Career Path

Not everyone's career path is traditional.  Gabriel Leung and April Apostol are "more seasoned" graduate students in the Quantitative and Systems Biology program at the University of California, Merced. Here, they share their atypical trajectories to graduate school, and why they think embarking on a PhD a bit later in life better prepared them for the road ahead.

Growing up, science always had a place at the table;  Growing up, science always had a place at the table; my dad made a habit of interjecting notes about science into our dinnertime conversations. My dad had a small scientific library, in my early teens I loved to explore them and see how far I could read before I was completely confused. Included in this collection was, “the Molecular Biology of the Gene”, by James D. Watson, 1965, first edition. Amazingly, I was able to understand it and, by the time it was required-reading for my undergraduate eukaryotic molecular biology class, I was also amazed at h…

Getting a Job at a Primarily Undergraduate Institution

In my last post, I spoke about my transition from functioning primarily as a researcher to becoming a professor that has more teaching responsibility at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI). What’s different about life at a PUI? Well, the main focus is on undergraduate education. As we are scientists, much of our scholarship is still focused on performing impactful research. The difference? We are less dependent on soft money and integrate undergraduate students into our research whenever we can. I also integrate my research into the classes that I teach to get more students exposed to hematology and immunology. After all, it is a proven best practice for students learning science to actually do science! As you might imagine, it is a much different process getting a job at a PUI compared to obtaining a research position. Here are some tips for preparing and getting a job at a PUI.

Prepare for the career change. Think you want to teach? You should try it out! Some suggestions? T…

Lab Spotlight: Ott Laboratory

Simply Blood Lab Spotlight
Each month, Simply Blood spotlights a lab focused on the research of basic hematology, immunology, stem cell research, cell and gene therapy, and other related aspects.  Get to know these different labs around the world! This month, we are featuring the Ott Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital.

How long have you had your lab?
We opened the lab here at the MGH Cancer Center in September, 2017.

How many members make up your lab? Students/postdocs?
Currently the lab is staffed with a lab manager and two research technicians - one in charge of running high-throughput small molecule screening assays and another in charge of functional genetic assays using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing technology. We also have a computational analyst in our group who is responsible for processing and analyzing genome-wide transcriptomic and epigenomic datasets. Currently we are in the process of recruiting several postdoctoral fellows, including a synthetic organic chemist and a m…

Regulation of Translation in Blood Stem Cells

The laboratory of Dr. Vijay Sankaran at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard recently reported a breakthrough discovery about the role of ribosome levels in human hematopoiesis and Diamond-Blackfan Anemia (DBA). DBA is a genetic blood disorder that is caused by mutations in genes that encode ribosomal proteins (RPs), and results in low red blood cell counts. Since RPs are broadly involved in protein translation, one of the outstanding questions was why RP gene mutations would cause reduced red blood cell counts without affecting other hematopoietic lineages.

In the paper, that was published in the journal Cell (, Rajiv Khajuria et al. modeled loss-of-function mutations in RP genes that are found in DBA patients. They found that limited availability of ribosomes differentially affects mRNA transcripts, and especially reduces translation of transcripts with short or unstructured 5’ UTRs that are necessary for …

Innovations in Multiparametric Flow Cytometry

Of all of the tools available to biomedical scientists, flow cytometry ranks among the most powerful. Its capacity to interrogate tens of thousands of cells per second and to measure multiple parameters simultaneously, coupled with its flexibility, has established this technique as central to the experimental process in many different disciplines. This is all the more true for hematology, whose target cells’ size, shape, and nature to exist as a single-cell suspensions makes flow cytometry indispensable for addressing biological questions we ask.

Flow cytometry in some form has been around since the 1940s, when it was used to detect bacteria in aerosols through illumination by a Ford headlight and detected via a photomultiplier tube (Gucker FT et al., 1947; for historical overview on flow cytometry, see Shapiro H, 2003). Since then, the technique’s development has been immense, limited essentially only by the technological constraints of the time. As lasers became smaller, so did flow…

Things Nobody Told Me about Being a PI - Part 1

You may be able to do 50 mini-preps in an hour, or prepare next-generation sequencing libraries like nobody’s business, but there are several skills that are essential for running a successful lab for which no prior training was provided.
OK, so you have had a productive post-doc, published some nice papers, maybe even secured some independent funding.  Then the almost unthinkable happens, your hard work pays off and you secure at tenure-track faculty position at the research institute of your dreams.  YAY!  This was my situation about 6-years ago.  It was fun, exciting, daunting, challenging, and exhausting all at the same time.  All of you aspiring PIs out there by now have a reasonable idea of what the expectations are as a junior faculty member (beautifully laid out in detail in Simply Blood posts last year from Dr. Eric Pietras;  Pretty simple right – publish good papers, secure independent grant funding, mentor trainees to be useful membe…

Lab Spotlight: Beaudin Laboratory

Simply Blood Lab Spotlight
Each month, Simply Blood spotlights a lab focused on the research of basic hematology, immunology, stem cell research, cell and gene therapy, and other related aspects.  Get to know these different labs around the world! This month, we are featuring the Beaudin Laboratory at the University of California - Mercedin the United States. 

How long have you had your lab?  
I started my lab in September, 2016 - so about a year and half.

How many members make up your lab?  Students/postdocs?
My lab is currently made up of three graduate students, a technician, and 6 undergraduate researchers. I'd love to add a postdoc or two. 

What is the major research theme of your lab?
My lab focuses on developmental hematopoiesis.  We are broadly interested in defining the cellular and molecular mechanisms regulating the establishment of fetal-derived immune cells, as well as understanding how perturbation during development drives immune dysfunction across the lifespan.

What i…