Lab Spotlight: Stachura Lab

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 Stachura Lab at California State University, Chico.  

How long have you had your lab?  
Since 2014

How many members make up your lab?  Students/postdocs? 
I currently have 12 members; 6 undergraduate students and 6 Master’s students.  I’m at a primarily undergraduate institution, so I don’t have any Ph.D. students or postdocs.  

What is the major research theme of your lab?  
Our major goal is to discover genes essential for hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell differentiation and proliferation, and how this normal process is disrupted in blood diseases.

What is the most exciting project in your lab right now?
We have a few exciting projects going in the lab, and they are pretty diverse.  Some students are looking at anti-cancer drugs created by a collaborator, others are looking at specific genes involved in blood formation, and others are trying to grow zebrafish blastomeres in culture.  However, our main project is supported by an NIH R15 grant to look for mutations that affect stem and progenitor cell biology.  In general, my students work in teams of 2-3, pick a gene (from a previous screen that we performed) that they are interested in, and do their own experiments to test out if that gene is important for blood formation.

What's your best approach to mentoring students in the lab?  
My approach is the “see one, do one, teach one” approach.  I show students how to do something, let them do it on their own, and then have them teach their peers; you never realize how much you don’t know until you have to teach someone else!  I also have them work in groups, and work on their own projects- that allows investment in their research.  And, I have them apply for local grants to support their research and encourage them to give talks and presentations; I think that teaching them how to put together data and present it to the public is an important part of being a scientist, and I want them to have those skills.  Overall, my students have taken to this approach quite well, and it makes a nice collaborative lab atmosphere.

What facilities or equipment does your lab absolutely depend on?  
Flow cytometers, FACS machine, fluorescent microscopes, and tissue culture equipment.

What has been your greatest challenge in managing your lab?  
I think time management is my biggest challenge.  I have a large teaching load during the semester, so teaching and managing a lab can be pretty tough- especially when grants are due, manuscripts need to be written, posters/talks need to be prepared for presentations, and students need advising.  I just view it as a challenge and try to do the best I can to get everything done.

What was the most exciting part about starting your new lab? 
I like the idea of starting from scratch- you can design it however you want, and really direct what type of research problems you’d like to work on answering.  And I also really love working hands-on with a diverse group of students.  It exciting, because they don’t necessarily know the literature, so they aren’t trapped in the same way of thinking as I can be sometimes.  Occasionally they come to me and say “let’s do x,” which to me many times are experiments that I would never even think to do.

Does your lab attend the ISEH annual meeting?  
Not currently.  Unfortunately, the meeting usually falls on the first week of our Fall semester, so it’s hard to have my students miss the first week of class.  It’s also tough for me, because I have to teach that week :)

What is the most beneficial aspect of ISEH membership for your lab?  
For us, ISEH membership allows access to a great group of collaborators and experts in the field.  It lets us interact with lots of people; it’s less intimidating, especially for my students, because they feel like they are a part of a close-knit community.  We also enjoy reading all the SimplyBlood blogs and information from ISEH members about looking for jobs, making discoveries, and generally how to be successful in science; it makes everything more relevant and relatable to my students and encourages them to continue on their career path as scientists.

How do members of your lab celebrate accomplishments?  
Anytime we publish a paper, get a grant, etc. we have some sort of celebration.  It varies between having lunch, dinner, a BBQ, or just a few beers at the local bar.

Does your lab have any fun traditions?  
When someone graduates, they always get an official medal proclaiming their status as an official “zebrafish whisperer” that they can wear during graduation.  We also have our own patches and drink coolies that are lab-member only swag.  They’re so popular that other labs at my school have been emulating our lead and making their own lab goodies :)

David Stachura, PhD
ISEH Publications Committee Member

Assistant Professor
Department of Biological Sciences
California State University, Chico


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