GTI Scholar, Sauer Lab
My name is Tristan Bell. I grew up in the Central Valley of California, just outside Sacramento. My first interest in science came from conversations with my father, who holds a Master’s of Science in Chemistry. From a young age he helped me to understand everything from food to sunrises to gasoline from a basic, chemical perspective. I attended public schools for my early and secondary education, and was fortunate to live in a school district that offered advanced math and science courses. Throughout middle and high school I developed good relationships with math and science teachers who challenged me to consider studying science in college. As a result, I entered as an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley with the intention of pursuing a degree in chemistry. Despite this early intention, I quickly found my place molecular biology, where simple chemistry can explain the complexity of living organisms.
After graduating from Berkeley, I elected to pursue a PhD in biology and had to decide between several graduate programs. I chose MIT Biology because of the unique departmental community that I witnessed here. At many large graduate programs, molecular biology is split up across many departments – biochemistry, genetics, structure, cancer biology. MIT Biology provided me with many research options to pursue as a new graduate student under a single departmental umbrella. In time, this has proven to be an excellent choice. Even beyond choosing a lab to do my graduate research in, MIT Biology’s collaborative departmental structure continues to facilitate useful and interesting conversations with researchers outside my discipline.
I currently work in the laboratory of Professor Robert Sauer, investigating the molecular mechanisms of motor proteins. The lab primarily focuses on the bacterial protease ClpXP, a ring-shaped protein motor that unfolds and degrades other proteins by pulling them through its narrow central pore. Although crystal structures of ClpX have been solved, it remains unclear how the structure of the motor changes during the process of unfolding other proteins. In my work, I use several biochemical techniques to study the structural dynamics of the ClpXP motor in real time. After completing my degree at MIT, I hope to continue in research with an academic postdoctoral fellowship, and aspire to one day become a professor.
GTI Scholar, Hemann/Lauffenburger Labs
I am currently co-advised by Professors Mike Hemann and Doug Lauffenburger. I am studying collateral sensitivity, a phenomenon where a tumor or cell line acquires resistance to one chemotherapy drug and as result becomes sensitive to a second drug. I am excited about this research because the results could be translated to the clinic rapidly, but also because my research may allow us to better understand how tumors evolve in response to frontline chemotherapies.
I first realized my love for biology when I read the Campbell and Reece Biology textbook cover-to-cover during my senior year of high school in my hometown, Silver Spring, Maryland. I did my undergrad work at Brandeis University, where I majored in biology and math. While I was at Brandeis, a close friend of mine was diagnosed with lymphoma. I ended up studying for my genetics final while staying with her on the pediatric floor at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I remember sitting in the day room after all the outpatients had gone home, reviewing mitotic recombination and retinoblastoma. While sitting there I had the earth-shattering but obvious realization that I could use the knowledge and skills I was learning in school to help people like my friend and the other kids on the floor. Thanks to medical research, my friend has been in remission for almost 8 years.
After college, Dr. Ernest Fraenkel hired me to be a research technician in his lab in the biological engineering department at MIT. When the time came to decide where to apply to grad school, I had already experienced the collaborative and exciting environment at MIT, and knew about the amazing cancer research being done in the department, so I never had any doubt that I would submit an application to MIT. I enjoyed visiting several other schools, but I chose MIT because I liked the fact that the classes are very rigorous, that the department is very collaborative and acts as one umbrella for many different types of biology, and that there are so many excellent labs studying different aspects of cancer biology.
I enjoy research and teaching, and am looking into academia and biotech as possible paths after I graduate.
GTI Scholar, Bell Lab
I’m Shalini Gupta, a graduate student in the Department of Biology. I moved to Cambridge from India to start grad school at MIT in the fall of 2016 and it has been an amazing journey so far!
I grew up on the university campus of the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in South India. I had great teachers including my scientist Dad and I spent most of high school studying Chemistry and Biology. Towards the end of high school, I won a national fellowship to pursue a research career in the Sciences — my interest lay in science at the interface of Chemistry and Biology and I chose to join the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kanpur for a four year B.S. with a major in Chemistry.
Over the period of my undergraduate study, I focused heavily on Physical Chemistry, while also taking courses offered by the Biology Department. My research experiences were in the area of computational chemistry in a broader biological context — I worked on MD simulations of a designed Zinc ion transporter and QM/MM hybrid simulations of antibiotic hydrolysis by a beta lactamases. While applying for graduate school, I was looking for an opportunity to integrate computational and experimental approaches in the broad area of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
The graduate program at MIT offered a unique opportunity to move towards doing more experimental work, even without having done too much of it in the past. The program seemed structured to encourage graduate students to get a flavor of different sub-areas within Biology, and it was the fit that I was looking for. Since my arrival, I have come to realize that the program is all that I expected, and so much more. The Biology community at MIT is vibrant and well knit; the professors are welcoming and excited to discuss their science, the graduate students know each other well and the environment helps you be the best scientist you can be!
GTI Scholar, Burge Lab
I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and attended a public high school there until senior year, when I went to a boarding school in Neuchatel, Switzerland.
Initially I wanted to be a writer: I read a lot of science fiction and idolized particular scientists, like Darwin and Carl Sagan, but it wasn’t until my undergrad at Harvard that I decided I definitely wanted to live the adventure of science for myself.
I started out in chemistry and joined a lab working on the origin of life, since I thought this was the most interesting problem in the world. I still feel that way, but along the way I discovered many other fascinating questions buried in the myriad forms into which life has since evolved. After a year as a technician continuing my senior thesis work on extracellular vesicles, I decided to pursue graduate research in biology.
I had tangential interactions with MIT as a Harvard student, all of which were positive. I had a very favorable impression of MIT’s institutional culture and the scientists it produced, so it was my top choice in applications. At interviews I was struck by the electric atmosphere on campus, the rigor and ambition of the research, and the caliber of students in the program, who were not only bright but also warm and welcoming to the department. So far I am absolutely thrilled with my decision to join them.
My goal is to spend my career pursuing interesting and impactful problems in biology, whether that be in an academic or industry context, and this seems like the perfect place to begin!
GTI Scholar, Jacks Lab
I am originally from Cuenca, Ecuador. I immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old. My parents brought my family over because they were seeking a better life and there were many more opportunities in the US at the time. We moved to Newark, New Jersey. I went to high school at an institution called St. Benedict’s Preparatory school, which despite the name was by no means what you would traditionally consider a “prep school.” The school served “at risk” students from the inner city coming from low-income families, the majority of which are Black or Latino.
I became interested in Biology during my latter years in high school when I learned about Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. I went on to pursue that interest at Stanford University, in the classroom and in a research lab that is dedicated to studying evolution. My experiences early on allowed me to learn about different fields in biology and the challenges and questions at the forefront of each of these fields. I became particularly interested in cancer biology and pursued that interest by joining a research lab that studies cancer, ultimately obtaining my undergraduate degree in Biology from Stanford.
I chose to come to MIT because I liked the way the structure of the program fosters community. This is very important to me because I believe having a strong community is essential for success and having a good experience overall. Additionally, I believed that the research at the different institutes was cutting-edge and their focus on studying basic science was appealing as well.
I am currently a graduate student in the laboratory of Professor Tyler Jacks. My current research project focuses on studying the genetics of EGFR-driven lung cancer using novel genetically engineered mouse models of this disease. In the future, I hope to lead my own research program in the field of cancer biology in an academic institution. I hope to contribute to advancing the field and to promote diversity in the sciences through mentoring and outreach.
GTI Scholar, Schwartz Lab
My name is Sarah Nordeen and I’m a graduate student. I grew up in Southeastern Wisconsin with my parents, two younger siblings, and two cats. My earliest memory of getting into science came from a first grade “field trip” that I was entirely too excited for. We learned about space for the whole year, and right before summer vacation, my teacher said my classmates and I got to take a trip to the moon. Being the overzealous seven year-old I was, I took this very literally and was beyond excited. When the trip finally arrived, I discovered that it was really just tarps hung up in the gym made to look like the night sky. I did not take the news well. Since then, I have learned to take science that doesn’t turn out as expected in stride, a skill that has been vital in my research career.
In high school, I exhausted all available science classes and headed to college at University of Wisconsin-Madison with the mindset of becoming a medical doctor. With both of my parents being in business, I had not known of the vast careers available in science. By my sophomore year, I entered the honors biology program at UW-Madison and joined an organic chemistry lab as a student researcher. Both of these experiences opened my eyes to the world of research and I quickly changed my plan from medical school to graduate school in the life sciences. I was always that kid in class that asked, “What about this?” only to have the professor respond, “We don’t know that yet.” I knew I wanted to push to answer the many questions still unknown in basic biology.
During graduate school interviews, MIT clearly stood out. I was pleasantly surprised at the sense of community in the Department of Biology and its commitment to training graduate students. From the unique first year program, a rigorous set of classes designed to make all MIT graduates well rounded biologists, to the supportive faculty. From my home in the Schwartz lab, I feel well supported and well trained here at MIT.
In the Schwartz lab, I am working on the nuclear pore complex, a massive and complicated protein assembly. The facilities at MIT provide a world-class place to conduct this research, especially with the new electron microscopy facility that will be established in the Nano building. I still have not decided what I would like to do after I receive my PhD, but I know I’ll be prepared for whatever I choose.
Mónica C. Quiñones Frías
GTI Scholar, Littleton Lab
Since I was I child I have been fascinated by nature’s intriguing beauty. White sand beaches, a tropical rainforest and the singing of the “coqui” at night describe my home in Puerto Rico. Still, I do not recall having any particular interests in science until a genetics class my senior year of high school. I felt so attracted to the molecular mechanisms that underlie our natural world that I decided to pursue a B.S. in Cellular and Molecular Biology. Once I began attending the university, I discovered the passion I have for exploring the different aspects of biology and my desire to understand them at the molecular level. This passion has fueled my ongoing pursuits to uncover the fundamental underpinnings of biological systems, in particular the brain. In return, these experiences have strengthened my interests in graduate studies with the purpose of advancing in my training and further developing my skills to become a research scientist.
My journey into scientific research began in the laboratory of Dr. José García-Arrarás at the University of Puerto Rico. Here I had the opportunity to learn how to perform research pioneering the use of an unusual model organism, the sea cucumber Holothuria glaberrima. When induced by stress, this seemingly simple organism eviscerates most of its internal organs and regenerates a functional intestine in only a month. Our goal was to answer the complex question: What cellular and molecular events mediate this outstanding regenerative capability? At first, I addressed this question alongside another undergraduate student. Here I learned the importance of collaborative work as it enriched my experience and introduced me to neuroscience. In the summer of 2013, I continued to refine my research skills and explore different approaches to neuroscience at the Summer Honors Undergraduate Research Program at Harvard Medical School. Here I had the opportunity to study the molecular basis of Alzheimer’s Disease in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Wolfe. The human element behind this research experience was captivating because I have seen family members suffer from this devastating disease. I came closer to seeing how my scientific contributions have an impact on our society and this only reaffirmed my desire to pursue graduate studies. After this experience, I felt more confident in my research skills and in the potential I have to become a leader in the field of neuroscience.
In addition to these research experiences during my undergraduate, I was also active in broader impact opportunities that allowed me to put into perspective the purpose of basic science in our society. I achieved this by applying and participating as a trainee student in a program called Neuro-ID1 at the University of Puerto Rico. This is an NIH training program with the purpose of promoting diversity in the Neurosciences by providing research opportunities to minorities. Here I got to learn from my colleagues how to approach scientific problems by learning how to see them through other lenses including that of a psychologist, forensics scientist, biochemist and computer scientist. I acquired different perspectives of the field of Neuroscience through my colleagues, providing me with a greater appreciation for the importance of interdisciplinary approaches in my graduate training. We also organized “brain awareness” activities to talk about research that suggest how the human brain works in healthy individuals in contrast to those that have mental illness. In addition, we did community service to aid elders with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Because of these experiences, Neuro-ID was pivotal in my development as a young scientist; it taught me the importance of diversity in scientific research and the fundamental concept of a “research with purpose philosophy” that I have maintained throughout my research.
Now I am a graduate student at MIT, where I am focusing on strengthening my critical thinking and teaching skills while working to become an independent researcher. My goal is to pursue questions of interest to me, applying novel ideas and approaches to fill gaps in knowledge in the field of Neuroscience. The Biology Graduate Program at MIT has provided me with the resources, training and cutting-edge facilities to develop myself into a critical thinking driven scientist. To pursue my interests in understanding the fascinating complexity of the nervous system, I joined the laboratory of Dr. Troy Littleton. I chose this laboratory because studying the synapse, the fundamental unit of communication in neurons, will help unravel the complexity of the nervous system.
My long-term goal is to become a professor. To start to approach this goal, I participated in a three-week intensive program at MIT called the Kauffman Teaching Certificate Program because my role, until now, in a classroom has been that of the student. Currently, I am a teaching assistant in the “Introduction to Biology” course for the undergraduates at MIT and has given me an appreciation for the diverse ways different students approach problems. My students have different academic backgrounds such as math, engineering, computer science and other nonbiological fields. On several occasions I have had the opportunity to learn from my students as they use their own unique ways of thinking to internalize the material. It has been rewarding to see how students from other backgrounds understand biology and develop their critical thinking.
GTI Scholar, Horvitz Lab
My name is Josh Saul. I am from Palmdale, California, a small town a few hours north of Los Angeles. I did my undergrad work at UC Berkeley where I graduated with honors from the department of Molecular and Cellular Biology.
While at Berkeley, I worked in the lab of Iswar Hariharan studying the molecular control of regeneration. It was during this time that I realized that I really enjoyed the challenge of biology and trying to make sense of the (sometimes seemingly absurd) complexity of life. As I was finishing up my undergrad, I knew I wanted to go to grad school and continue learning and performing research. I chose MIT because they had one of the best programs in terms of research in the country and (in my opinion) the best community of faculty to learn from and work with.
I am now a graduate student in the lab of Bob Horvitz. I am working on understanding how cells make decisions about their fates (i.e. what they will become and how they stick to that plan once they have made it). I plan on staying in academia, and at some point down the road I will begin looking for postdoc positions at other great universities.
GTI Scholar, Cheeseman Lab
I was born in Los Angeles in 1994 and raised there until I went to college. My father is from Mali, a French-speaking country in West Africa, so my parents sent me to a French immersion school from kindergarten through high school. There, my education followed the French curriculum and I completed the scientific Baccalaureate. Upon completion of high school, I moved to New York City to go to Columbia University, where I studied biology and did research in the Shirasu-Hiza lab on the impact of sleep on health in fruit flies.
My interest in biology has been life-long. Years before I really understood what it meant to be a biologist, I was fascinated by the life that surrounded me. When I finally started life sciences courses in middle school, they were my favorite classes. My interest in biological research developed when I began to take college-level biology courses and tried my hand at lab work. I grew to appreciate not only the fascinating questions that biologists seek to answer, but also, more importantly, the intellectual process that drives research.
When I applied to and interviewed at graduate schools, MIT was the obvious choice for me because of its unique program. It was the only school I interviewed at that seemed to prioritize involving its students in its scientific community over getting them to work as soon as possible. The courses-only first semester and the introduction to the faculty during independent activities period were indicative of the department’s emphasis on creating a tight-knit community of graduate students and integrating them into the greater biology community on campus. MIT’s philosophy of easing its students in was also ideal for me because I was unsure of what research I wanted to do as a graduate student. This program allows its students to become familiar with the faculty and the research in the department before narrowing their interests to a specific lab.
My broad area of interest is cell biology, and I hope to go on to work in academia after graduate school.