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IDP Alumni Stories

Alexandra Chadwick, PhD

Alexandra Chadwick_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2016

MCW Mentor: Daisy Sahoo, PhD

Research Area: Biochemistry

What are you are currently doing in your position?
I am currently an Associate Director of Preclinical Research and Development, focused on discovering and developing therapies that safely edit the genomes of adults to confer protection against coronary artery disease.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
Graduate school averages 5-7 years in length, so do you picture yourself in this area for that amount of time? If you are unsure what scientific field you want to pursue, start browsing the internet to see if there are any particular labs you would be interested in working with.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
The IDP program allowed me to pursue multiple scientific fields in order to find the right fit for me. My training in Dr. Sahoo’s laboratory on cardiovascular disease has been instrumental in my professional career and I am forever grateful to her mentorship and training. 

What drew you to MCW?
The first year interdisciplinary studies were so important, as I gained experience from multiple scientific fields before choosing a graduate study focus. Pursuing a doctoral degree is a long, difficult journey if not working on something you love. Further, the MCW location is fantastic for overall cost of living, especially compared to a number of other universities located within large cities. 

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Derek Francis, PhD

Year Graduated MCW: 2008

MCW Mentor: Candice Klug, PhD

Research Area: Biophysics

What are you are currently doing in your position?
I’m currently working in the pharmaceutical industry; our company (Syneos) partners with pharmaceutical companies to help them advance drugs through the clinical trial process as well as through successful commercial launch. More specifically, I help them analyze the clinical landscape, assess their product in development, and help them understand how to communicate the value of their product to healthcare providers. I work with individuals across scientific affairs, commercial, regulatory affairs, legal, and more, as well as interface with clinicians on the front lines. The opportunity to develop the skills necessary to think about problems through a number of lenses is something I’m grateful to MCW for providing.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
For individuals considering MCW, my advice would be to speak to as many scientists as possible, at both the PI and student/postdoc level, and get a great feel for the environment. Finding a mentor and work environment that is challenging yet supportive is important, as it will shape your short-and long-term future. I found Candice to be a great mentor and someone I’m glad to see enjoy continued success at MCW.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
This experience taught me the importance of working in a very collaborative environment. The Biophysics Department itself was very collaborative, and I also got the opportunity to partner with other labs at UCLA and Vanderbilt. This is certainly a skill/mindset that lacks for many PhD students, and is an unfortunate gap in their skill sets if they ever leave academia, as I did.

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Heather Komas, PhD

Year Graduated MCW: 2011

MCW Mentor: Jimmy Feix, PhD

Research Area: Molecular Biophysics – studied novel antimicrobial peptides

Current Title and Institution: Manager, North America Corporate Sales – Promega Corporation

What are you currently doing in your position?
I am the manager for a Promega sales team with members covering all portions of the United States and Canada. I have the honor to work with a company that has a mission to support science but also connection, sustainability and innovation. I believe in the value of servant leadership and have been able to practice it. With a background in science, a PhD in BioPhysics, I am at home speaking with life science researchers aiding in their progress. I strive to support the career and life goals of those around me through various activities at work but also through a number of other avenues such as chairing our school’s Fall Festival and leading a Girl Scout Troop. Serving others is how I was raised and how I am meant to live my life.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
Be open to changes in your life path, do not be afraid to explore your options, keep an open mind to alternatives that you may have not considered. This all may help spark a direction in your career path of which you would never have considered!

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
With exploring my interests and knowing that I was interested in having a job in industry but also wanted to give teaching a try, I originally worked as an adjunct professor and a marketing specialist for a scientific company. I was able to foster an enjoyment for teaching, interacting with people (this was certainly a gasp for me!), and discussing science. It was then that I joined Promega (the company at which I hope to maintain a lifetime career). Promega was far different from where I thought I would end up. After all, I started as a chemist and was now joining a life science company. Certainly the scientific diversity and knowledge from the IDP program helped me with this transition. I originally joined in their Technical Service Team spending my days answering scientific questions for researchers. After a few years, I knew I was looking for more. I wanted to be on the front line working with researchers as they put their lab’s together and start projects. This lead me to the Corporate Sales team and now to my current role as a manager on that team. Without those original years in the IDP program, I would not have had the life science knowledge for a career at Promega. I also would not have known that other options outside of chemistry existed. I am extremely thankful for having the opportunity to broaden my knowledge through the program and that it helped me get to a career I love!

What drew you to MCW?
I have a fun story! When considering my career path, I originally thought having a PhD in chemistry was the best path forward for me. After all, I had an undergraduate degree in chemistry and was hoping to work in a new product development lab at the time. After a couple of offers from other graduate schools, I decided it might be beneficial to diversify my scientific knowledge. It was then that my undergraduate advisor and I looked at the information from MCW and the IDP program. After reviewing and interviewing, I was offered a position in the program (after time on the waiting list – so for those of you waiting, keep up the hard work and determination!). I had great interactions and so many different and new opportunities to explore science that I was previously unaware of. The IDP program allowed me time to learn techniques unfamiliar to me and to explore my interests.

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Shraddha Nayak, PhD

Nayak Shraddha_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2015

MCW Mentor: John Auchampach, PhD & Daisy Sahoo, PhD

Research Area: Pharmacology and Toxicology - The role of adenosine receptors

Current Title and Institution: Postdoctoral Fellow in the Dept. of Biochemistry at University of Utah

What are you currently doing in your position?
My primary work is to collaborate with scientists to create visualizations that enable them to visualize their hypotheses and/or communicate their findings. One of my big projects is to explore visualization tools to develop an intuitive and interactive way to visualize metabolic flux. A small portion of my time goes into education and outreach for scientific visualization.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
Seek out scientists and people you want to work with, express your thoughts/ goals clearly to them, and take charge of the mentoring relationships you establish. You have a lot of choice to find some good mentors at MCW. Be creative and don’t be scared to design your own path.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
The IDP gave me access to some very cool scientists (IDP faculty) who supported and trusted me when I made a switch from benchwork to scientific visualization. The IDP program helped me perform collaborative research that gave me interactive skills essential for my work today.

What drew you to MCW?
I really liked some Neuroscience research going on at MCW at the time of application. I also wanted to go to a place where it snows.

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Website | Twitter | LinkedIn

Fallon Noto, PhD

Fallon Noto_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2012

MCW Mentor: Stephen Duncan, DPhil

Research Area: Cell and Developmental Biology

What are you currently doing in your position?
I’m the Executive Director for R&D and In Vivo Oncology Services at Hera Biolabs, a contract research organization. I lead a team of 9 scientists and technicians in our studies that involve mice and rats, including human tumor xenografts, pre-clinical cancer treatment studies, liver and immune humanization, and creation of genetically modified rodent strains.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
take every opportunity given to you to work with other labs and PIs within the institution you choose and be open to learning new techniques, exploring fields other than your own, and stepping outside your comfort zone.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
IDP allowed me to explore a variety of scientific fields, gain expertise in a wide range of laboratory techniques, and forged collaborations with scientists within the institution as well as outside in academia and biotech to expand my opportunities for a future in science.

What drew you to MCW?
proximity to family and the interdisciplinary nature of the program. I was interested in a program that had scientific experts from multiple fields in a collaborative environment. 

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Rebecca Schill, PhD

Rebecca Schill_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2018

MCW Mentor: Daisy Sahoo, PhD

Research Area: Biochemistry - Bone Marrow Adipose Tissue Biology

Current Title and Institution: Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Dr. Ormond MacDougald Laboratory. University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor Michigan

What are you currently doing in your position?
My research in the MacDougald lab focuses on the role of glucocorticoids in bone marrow adipose tissue expansion following caloric restriction. My work has also recently expanded to using single-nuclei RNA sequencing to profile the transcriptome of bone marrow adipocytes in hopes of better understanding the role of these adipocytes in bone health and overall physiology.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?

The IDP program is an excellent opportunity to explore a diverse array of research environments. My advice would be to use the first-year rotations to try areas of research and/or departments outside of your comfort zone. My second piece of advice would be to reach out to your fellow classmates for advice and encouragement. Grad school is not without its challenges and having a friendly and reliable network of scientists is always helpful.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
IDP helped to position me for my current role by helping me to establish a group of career-long mentors. In addition to my PhD advisor, I have maintained professional relationships with many of the PI’s I rotated or collaborated with during my time at MCW.

What drew you to MCW?
My first introduction to MCW was as an undergrad when a professor that I was working with mentioned that he had been a postdoctoral fellow at MCW. This professor invited Dr. Jung-Ja Kim, a professor in MCW’s Department of Biochemistry, to come to my undergraduate institution and discuss her research. Dr. Kim helped me to recognize that getting a PhD was an achievable goal.

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Kathryn Schultz, PhD

Kathryn Schultz_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2011

MCW Mentor: Candice Klug, PhD

Research Area: Biophysics

Current Title and Institution: Research Scientist, MCW

What are you currently doing in your position?
Studying structural dynamics of the proteins in the lipopolysaccharide transport (LPT) system found in Gram negative bacteria using site directed spin labeling (SDSL) electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
When visiting graduate schools, pay close attention to the learning environment and the research atmosphere. I think you’ll find MCW’s learn environment to be inviting rather than intimidating and the research atmosphere collaborative rather than competitive.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
IDP gave me the opportunity to try out different areas of research and really find the type of research that I am both passionate about and study best.

What drew you to MCW?
I like that at MCW faculty are eager to mentor graduate students and the atmosphere is friendly and collaborative.

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Cayla Thompson, PhD

Cayla Thompson_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2017

MCW Mentor: Michele Battle, PhD

Research Area: Cell & Developmental Biology - The role of GATA factors in intestinal regionalization

Current Title and Institution: Senior Scientist at FUJIFILM Cellular Dynamics

What are you currently doing in your position?
My team is currently constructing a document to present a cell therapy candidate for Parkinson’s Disease to the FDA for Investigational New Drug (IND) clearance. We will also develop the next new cell therapy program at FCDI.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
There is beauty in an interdisciplinary program. If you don’t already know what it is that you want to study, you have the opportunity to get a little taste from each department. If you already know what field peaks your interest, you have the opportunity to use the rotations to build your skillset and/or experience a subject to which you haven’t yet been exposed. The knowledge, skillset, and experience of the professors at MCW is invaluable. MCW is a great choice!

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
The collaborative effort of experiments at MCW allowed me to work cross-departmentally which gave me a more broad sense of my otherwise very narrowly focused research. This has helped me to look outside of the problems that lay directly in front of me so that I can troubleshoot from multiple angles/perspectives, or to break an idea down from it’s larger components. Being able to attend seminars from multiple departments has also helped to have at least a little bit of knowledge from multiple areas of the biomedical sciences. This is important at my company where the next new product may be a cell type that I am less familiar with, but that I’ve at least gained a little bit of context previously. The greatest help has been the consistent push for critical and independent thinking that all of the professors at MCW instill in the students. 

What drew you to MCW?
I appreciated the collaborative culture at MCW which I experienced during an undergraduate summer research program (SPUR). I quickly learned this was not the case at every institution that I visited/interviewed. Collaboration is multi-departmental across MCW and carried offsite as well. This type of communication and willingness to share data and brainstorm is how science advances most productively.

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Dustin Whitney, PhD

Dustin Whitney_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2013

MCW Mentor: Brian Volkman, PhD

Research Area: Biochemistry

Current Title and Institution: Data Scientist II, Bluebird Bio

What are you currently doing in your position?
I develop analysis plans and oversee execution of correlative analyses and single cell RNAseq studies for the Severe Genetic Diseases franchise at bluebird bio in the Research Department. Additionally, I lead two cross-functional forums that execute on the scientific goals for sickle cell anemia, and transfusion-dependent thalassemia programs.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?

The advice I got from another MCW graduate was to join a graduate lab for the people and join a postdoctoral fellowship for the science. I ended up traveling this path, and I’m glad I did. I had the best rapport with the lab I ultimately joined at MCW, and came to realize that the research was what I was looking for in the end. It’s hard to know what you want before you have much experience.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
I learned critical thinking and grant writing skills from my advisor, and built a solid foundation of biochemical principles. Exposure to other research areas at MCW provided a broad perspective of multiple fields.

What drew you to MCW?
I was interested in several professors within the IDP program, and enjoyed speaking with them and the experience of the interview process more than the other schools I applied to. The facilities were very nice, as well.

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Moua Yang, PhD

Moua Yang_ProfileYear Graduated MCW: 2018

MCW Mentor: Roy Silverstein, MD

Research Area: Cell & Developmental Biology - Thrombosis and Hemostasis

Current Title and Institution: Postdoctoral research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School

What are you currently doing in your position?
I am currently a postdoctoral research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School. I am currently utilizing chemical and biological approaches to study thiol isomerases, an enzyme important in protein folding, in blood clotting. I am also coupling bench work with a translational component by utilizing patient samples. This is an exciting time as I am developing a research program in bleeding and blood clotting that combines the training acquired from MCW with the current training at my institution. The skill sets that I am developing will allow me to expand my research capabilities to their full potential.

What advice do you have to applicants who are considering MCW?
My advices to applicants considering MCW are to have an open mind on what you want to study during and after your PhD training and to find good mentors in the program. I started the program wanting to study virology but found that I like the cell biology of blood clotting. In addition, the mentoring that I received over the years have inspired me to pursue a career in academia.

How did the IDP position you for your current role?
I strongly believe that the IDP program positioned me with the necessary skillsets to excel as a scientist based on the coursework, the program’s emphasis on developing good communication (both written and oral), problem solving, and critical thinking. These skillsets also uniquely position us to be competitive for careers outside of science.

What drew you to MCW?
MCW ranked high on my list of PhD programs that I want to pursue because of the emphasis on research, the close connection between the graduate and medical school with the hospital system, and the priority to make sure that students succeed.

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