It’s a Small World After All: Expanding My Research Network

Connecting with a Brackenridge Alumn

While looking over the Brackenridge alumn group, I was interested to connect with Ted Gobillot, an MD/PhD student at the University of Washington & Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He graduated from Pitt with a BS in Molecular Biology (Biochemistry track) in 2014 studying small molecular inhibitors of an oncogenic protein implicated in polyomavirus-associated diseases.

I was particularly interested in connecting with Ted because of our shared interests in the natural sciences, biomedical research, medicine, and surgery. Ted is doing his current research in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, which is a specialty that I am considering pursuing in the future. I hope to continue conducting research in the future as a physician-scientist, so it is inspiring to see a Brackenridge alumn doing so.

Additionally, I was intrigued by the fact that Ted worked with Dr. Jeff Brodsky, a collaborator of my PI, during his time at Pitt. This really demonstrates how small the research world can be—particularly because there is so much collaboration between researchers of different disciplines, such as neurobiology and molecular biology.

How I Found My Lab

I connected with my research mentor during the spring semester of my freshman year. An upperclassman student mentor of mine, who coincidentally also was a Brackenridge scholar, had similar interests to me in neuroscience and biology, and he told me about how he found his research mentor by looking at the Pitt Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases (PIND) website. Upon his recommendation, I also looked through different PIs on the website.

On the PIND website, I found my current research mentor, Dr. Elias Aizenman, and read about his work targeting cellular signaling pathways as therapeutic targets to treat neurodegenerative disorders. I was personally greatly interested in cellular signaling pathways as they relate to neuronal cell death, particularly because of previous research I had conducted on specific proteins involved in cellular signaling pathways linked to cancer.

Thus, I emailed Dr. Aizenman, indicating my interest in his work and asking if he had any open positions for undergraduate researchers. We met in person for a brief interview, during which I learned that he was a frequent collaborator with Dr. Carlos Camacho, a PI that I had worked for before in computational biology. After the interview, Dr. Aizenman accepted me into his lab as an undergraduate researcher.

There are many ways students can connect with research mentors. I would recommend looking at department websites to find PIs whose work is interesting and emailing them to ask about potential research opportunities with them. Other ways that I know some of my peers have found their research positions include First Experiences in Research (FER) and the PittSource student job application website.

Connections in My Future Profession

In my future career as a physician-scientist, I will form connections with not only patients but also other doctors and researchers in a wide variety of fields. Physicians in different specialties work together to discuss treating patients who may have various health conditions affecting different body systems. Additionally, since research is so interdisciplinary, I will likely need to connect with other researchers outside my field to accomplish a project together, as my PI does with computational biologists and molecular biologists.

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