Scientist of the Month
Psychologist helps NASA build teams for mission to Mars
By Kristin Claes Mathews
Sometimes, coworkers just seem to click. They get along, are productive and help each other out of tight spots. That might seem like serendipity, but DePaul University’s Suzanne Bell knows there is a science to building a team that thrives. An industrial organizational psychologist, Suzanne’s research will help NASA build the right team of astronauts to send to Mars.
Suzanne is an associate professor in DePaul’s College of Science and Health and specializes in team composition. Since January 2016, she and her collaborators have been have been collecting data on teams in the Human Exploration Research Analog environment at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She analyzes how factors like team members’ personality, demographics, values and background can predict the success of a team. Their research on crews in this simulation environment will help NASA predict how a team might function in isolation for long durations in space.
“I develop the science behind identifying the right mix of people for a situation,” said Suzanne. “Future space travel is a really exciting application of this science.”
Applying research for deep-space travel
Psychology first stood out to Suzanne when she was an undergraduate. “I liked the idea of using the scientific method to translate the way people think and behave, turning it into data and analyzing it.” Business and finance were also early education interests, and she said they layered together naturally into her chosen field, which examines how people think and behave in the workplace.
“Industrial organizational psychologists are applied scientists. We balance science and practice, so everything I do needs to have a practical application to it.”
Her work with NASA will help them “get the right people in the right place.” She explained that her specialty, team composition, is an important consideration for optimal performance in almost any team context. Its importance is certainly heightened for deep-space travel.
“On Mars you will have the crew, mission control on a communication delay, and whatever technology support that’s been created. The crew will need to live and work well together. They’ll need to adapt to whatever challenges come their way” she explained.
In her previous research, Suzanne has studied how teams interact in extreme conditions like those deployed to Afghanistan, as well as in more traditional office environments.
Suzanne earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Industrial & Organizational Psychology from Texas A&M University and her bachelor’s degrees in history and psychology from Olivet Nazarene University.
An advisor in graduate school, Dr. Winfred Arthur, Jr., was a strong mentor to Suzanne. “One of the things I really appreciated was that he not only mentored me to build my expertise in areas he researched, but he also supported me when I wanted to explore areas that were a little bit different from what he studied, or when I wanted to bring in new types of statistical analyses.”
She draws on that experience when mentoring students. “I am always mindful when students are coming from different backgrounds and making sure that I get them in touch with the resources they need.”
Involving girls and young women in the sciences is important to Suzanne. “The NASA project is really great because it’s something tangible and very specific that little girls can hook onto and dream about. It’s really a pleasure to do research like that, inspiring little girls to be astronauts or the scientists who study astronauts.”
Looking forward, Suzanne plans to take a “deeper dive” into team composition and to leave a legacy with her research.
“When I look back on my career, I want to think that I’ve changed the way people think about a topic,” she said. “I want to create theory and research that really helps shift people to think in more team-based ways when they organize work.”
Focus in the lab and on the playground
Outside of the classroom and her lab, Suzanne enjoys being with her two young sons, playing outdoors and exploring the city. “I enjoy gardening and working in the yard. I sit at my desk for way too many hours, so I like to be physical when I’m outside of work.”
Finding work-life balance is all about focus for Suzanne, and she shared a bit of what she has learned:
“Particularly as a woman, there’s so much on our minds all the time: all the things that need to be done to run the lab, or all the things required for kids, if you have them. So my advice would be to focus on whatever you are doing, and do it fully. Don’t worry about the other things until it’s time to worry about them.”
When she is at work, Suzanne becomes fully engrossed in teaching and research, but as soon as she arrives at home, she switches her attention completely to “the home life.” “It’s not always possible to compartmentalize with that, but whenever I can, I do. It helps me feel, at the end of the day, that I am able to do both well.”
To learn more about Suzanne’s research, visit http://depaulne.ws/BellMars.
By Carol Hughes, MLSt
Neuroscientist Dorothy Kozlowski has been interested in brains since her high school days on the South Side of Chicago. For a science fair project, she used a “primitive EEG machine” to record and analyze readings from friends as they listened to music. The project showed that music her friends preferred resulted in more relaxed EEG patterns than music they didn’t like. The project made it to the Illinois State Science Fair, but more importantly, sparked Dorothy’s interest in neuroscience.
But it was as an undergraduate at Knox College that Dorothy caught the research bug. Initially, a biology major with plans to go into medicine, she had an opportunity to do undergraduate research examining neural development with Professor Heather Hoffman, now Chair of Psychology at Knox. That experience inspired Dorothy to enter the field of psychology and ultimately attend graduate school instead of medical school.
Curiosity about brain plasticity
A turning point in her studies came in grad school when she and others began to explore if the adult brain could change and be plastic, and if so, how. That curiosity and a genuine desire to make her research clinically relevant, directed Dorothy’s research focus to traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
She specifically looked at rats and whether an overuse of their front paw, which was dysfunctional due to an injury to the brain, could make the brain injury worse. Her early findings showed such overuse could indeed adversely impact the brain injury. This influenced the idea that perhaps early rehabilitation after a brain injury or stroke would not be the best approach in patients; instead it could actually result in a worse outcome.
“I always wanted to influence the clinical field, and this research shook up the rehab field and caught the eye of neurologists and physical therapists,” she said.
Research with students at DePaul University
In her lab at DePaul University, where Dorothy is a Vincent de Paul Professor of Biological Sciences, she expanded her TBI research in 2009 with funding from the Department of Defense. Her focus was on examining plasticity and rehabilitation following TBI. At the time, protocols used for TBI rehabilitation were the same as stroke and degenerative diseases, and assumed that the brain following TBI could reorganize just the same as following other insults. Her study examined the plasticity following TBI and attempted to define optimal rehab strategies by testing the efficacy of three commonly used rehabilitation techniques — reaching, exercise and constraints — in rats with controlled, induced TBI.
Testing was complex and time-consuming, including 10 treatment groups, each following different rehabilitation protocols. Eight students — six undergrads and two grads — worked on the project. The results of her research, published recently, showed that a brain with a traumatic injury was different; that the plasticity of brains suffering traumatic injury is decreased compared to what is seen following stroke. Her work also suggested that individuals with TBI might require more intense and varied rehab strategies than individuals with stroke. This has been well received by the clinical rehabilitation community.
Inspiring young researchers
“The way I look at research now has changed,” said Dorothy. “I am viewing research as a teaching tool; to inspire other students to get the research bug.”
Rather than focus on a research finding or to find “drug x,” Dorothy is looking at how her research inspires students to be inquisitive, to ask questions.
When asked for advice for young women entering STEM fields, Dorothy offers three points. ”Work hard, be creative with your ideas, and be good communicators,” she said. “A lot of times when I see people struggle, it is because of gaps in communication, either written or oral.”
As an undergrad, Dorothy didn’t know at the time that there would be bias against women in science. And, as a grad student, her entire lab was women. She hasn’t personally felt the sexism that others report in science, but her counsel for young women entering the field is “to remain confident and be a strong advocate for yourself. Over time you become the expert in your field. Don’t be afraid to own that expertise.”
For the record
Dorothy, a first-generation college student, has a B.A. in psychology from Knox, and an M.A. and Ph.D in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. She also has completed postdoctoral fellowships in neurosurgery at UCLA and neurobiology at Northwestern University.
She is president of the Chicago Society for Neuroscience. Dorothy also works with the Concussion Legacy Foundation and with her students, provides concussion education programs to middle and high school students in the Chicago area.
Dorothy lives in Willow Springs with her husband and 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. She enjoys spending time with family and friends, cooking and entertaining when her busy schedule permits.
In 2013, Dorothy wrote an op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune titled “Should I let my son play football?” To find out the answer and information about concussions in contact sports, you’ll have to read the op-ed at http://bit.ly/Kozlowski_sonplayingfootball.
By Marina Damiano, PhD
What’s the secret to achieving happiness and success as a woman in STEM?
“Find and do what makes you sing inside and out,” says 3-D printing CEO, entrepreneur, mentor, and scientist, Dima Elissa.
Dima believes that we must use our personal passion, not others’ expectations, as a guidepost to lay the foundation for self-determined success. As the daughter of a cardiovascular surgeon, Dima fully expected to follow in his footsteps, but instead chose another path with a different kind of “heart.” She studied Chemistry at Hanover College, then used her science background and an interest in international business to land her first job at NutraSweet…during a hiring freeze.
Convincing a company that was not hiring to bring her on was Dima’s first deliberate foray in entrepreneurialism, sales, and networking. Armed with nothing but a borrowed car and sheer excitement, she drove to NutraSweet’s suburban Chicago location and, in a time before LinkedIn, hobnobbed with the receptionist to find out who ran the international division and how she could get in touch.
A type-written letter sent directly to the President landed her an interview and the rest is history, according to Dima. She was part of the company’s new venture arm, one of the first corporate technology incubators/accelerators of its time, where she identified, evaluated, and commercialized viable new product and business ideas.
Fast forward to the present — with a brief stop to earn an MBA at Texas A&M — Dima still uses those same skills she first cultivated at NutraSweet. She is now the CEO of VisMed-3D, a company that designs and prints 3D body parts. As CEO, she develops VisMed-3D’s strategy, raises funds for its growth, and advocates for the value of 3D technology within the medical community. She credits her science education for giving her a unique platform for critical thinking, non-traditional problem-solving, and innovation. Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to “make sure you have the internal fortitude, as well as the emotional and financial resilience to walk a rocky road filled and fraught with ups and downs, sometimes in rapid fire succession like a roller coaster.”
Dima also devotes a significant amount of time to mentoring and advising female STEM entrepreneurs and fledgling companies within the technology sector. She is Vice Chairwoman for Women in Bio, an executive council member for Ms. Tech, and a Chicago Innovation Exchange Mentor. Dima is particularly passionate about leveling the playing field for girls and women in STEM. She believes that making changes to K-12 STEM education is key to achieving that goal.
“At an early age, teachers, parents, and peers shape our viewpoints and values. They also shape our self-doubts and limitations. This is especially true in the case of girls who think that STEM is not for them,” says Dima. It is possible to redirect these thought patterns, she says, by introducing teaching practices and tools that enable girls to see and seek their own abilities in a STEM field. Pursuant to this belief, Dima became a member of the STEM Steering Committee for the Apareció Foundation, a group that focuses on empowering and educating young women in underserved communities. She is also an advisor to Galvanize Labs, a Chicago company that has built a game-based platform to teach technology fundamentals to K-12 students.
With the many hats she wears, it’s hard to imagine how Dima finds time for it all. She credits daily exercise with giving her the energy to seize each day, but admits that balance is tricky because she finds it difficult to refuse invitations that involve mentoring.
“When and where possible, I want to serve my community and provide access to knowledge that has come through many years, many experiences, and many connections throughout the world,” she says. That desire to serve has inspired Dima to write LifeCrafting, a book in which she shares her life story and offers practical advice on how to “dance within the rules of life” to craft one’s own path.
Dr. Virginie Buggia-Prévot is a research scientist at the Institute for Applied Cancer Science at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. She serves as head of neuroscience target discovery and validation at the Neurodegeneration Consortium, a collaboration of MD Anderson, Baylor College of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her role is to act as a liaison between consortium members at MD Anderson and top scientists in the field at MIT and Baylor College of Medicine to find new targets for therapies to stop, slow or reverse Alzheimer’s disease. Her work involves interacting with many of the researchers and postdocs as well as keep up with the changing trends in literature. Virginie finds the experience both enriching and fun.
To arrive at her current position in Houston, Texas, Virginie faced many trials and tribulations. Through perseverance and a great support network, she gained many experiences, accumulated great wisdom and succeeded at finding a career about which she is passionate.
Virginie was born in Grenoble, France. In France, she discovered her love for the sciences and as an undergraduate, working in a lab that focused on Parkinson’s disease. Continuing her focus on neurodegenerative diseases, she completed her Ph.D. at Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France. There she studied amyloid-beta and found a novel pathway in which it associated with neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s disease. It was at this point Virginie decided to take a chance, leave France and pursue Alzheimer’s disease as a postdoc at the University of Chicago. While transitioning from France to the United States was a challenge, she found that the transition from postdoc to her current position more demanding.
At this point of her life, Virginie knew she had a crucial decision to make.
“At the same time you have to try to find opportunities,” she says.
As a postdoc, Virginie published eight articles in peer-reviewed journals, including work on the transport of the Alzheimer’s disease-associated protein BACE1, obtained $180,000 in grant funding for her research and provided the critical data to help fund a project with collaborators at Northwestern University for $400,000. However, obtaining data and becoming published were not the only keys to her success. She had to learn how to effectively network.
Virginie has learned that postdocs are not always aware of how to network efficiently, with many experiencing “failures and bad experiences.” To combat this issue, Virginie openly sought out sources to network and communicate. She became the co-chair for the seminar and social media committees at the University of Chicago’s Biological Science Division Postdoctoral Association. There were plenty of opportunities to interact with people within the university. She also enjoyed communicating outside the university through social media channels such as Twitter. Aside from gaining access to a community of academics and biotech groups outside of the University of Chicago, she also received followers from peer-reviewed journals and foundations.
“It’s always nice to be able to do something and also to promote the foundations,” says Virginie.
Meeting some of those followers in person was a great way to connect with others personally and professionally. So many postdocs do great work but their exposure may be limited, she says.
“It’s essential to have a good LinkedIn page and to promote your work. Everybody Googles you now,” says Virginie.
She fully used these tools and, as a result of the contacts she gained, successfully transitioned from postdoc to her position at MD Anderson.
Life is not meant to be all work and no play. MD Anderson encourages its employees to maintain a work-life balance. For Virginie, that notion can be a little difficult at times.
“I have a very hard time turning off my brain at night,” she says. “I’m the type of person who will wake up in the middle of the night and draw schematics and write down experiments.”
She has a true passion for science and recognizes that when you love what you do, it can be hard to walk away. Luckily for Virginie, she has found that balance with her husband, a non-scientist. They both value the arts and enjoy visiting museums and traveling in their spare time. She attributes her love for all things culinary to her French roots and takes joy in cooking at home. Virginie has found that great balance between working in an environment that she loves and living her life to the fullest extent.
For people trying to find their way through STEM careers, she offers some wise advice.
“If you are passionate about something, it will be transparent and people will definitely give you opportunities,” says Virginie. “Find people who inspire you and surround yourself with people who believe in you. Share your passions with the world and your friends because you never know where you are going to find your next opportunity. By verbalizing the things you like, the more it would be clear in your head what you are looking for.”
Virginie’s perseverance through adversity and challenges is inspiring to women in STEM everywhere.
By Rashika Rangaraj
Dr. Eileen Dolan, Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, is dedicated to transforming patient care and health through her research by combining laboratory discoveries with patient needs. Her motto has always been to improve the patient’s quality of life, which she has successfully pursued using different approaches that range from pharmacological modifications of a single protein to identifying gene variants, with the ultimate goal of making chemotherapy more efficient and less toxic. In addition to training several scientists and inspiring many more, many of whom are independent scientists, she has also initiated two programs that introduce cancer research to enthusiastic high schoolers to help them gain a better understanding of current developments in research and inspire them to pursue a career in research.
Dr. Dolan, by training, is a chemist, having completed her bachelors at the University of Dayton and her doctoral degree in Medicinal Chemistry from Purdue University. With her strong background in analytical chemistry, she transitioned into drug development and obtained her training in biochemical pharmacology in Dr. Anthony Peggs’ lab at Pennsylvania State University. During her postdoctoral study she focused on developing compounds to inhibit a specific DNA repair protein that would later passage into clinical trials against cancer. Following this she obtained her first position at the University of Chicago as a translational oncologist. Through her newly founded lab in the department of Medicine, she applied her strong chemistry and pharmacology background to address clinically relevant questions to meet the needs of cancer patients.
Then came one of the biggest turning points of her career, where she made a dramatic switch to venture into what was then an exciting, emerging field, now continues to be one with lots of promise- Pharmacogenomics. This field combines the powers of genomics and pharmacology to identify genetic variations that affect drug response and drug toxicity. She strongly believes this would eventually lead to evaluating patients for genetic variants upon which their course of therapy could be decided such that effective outcomes with lowered toxicity could be achieved, also popularly termed as “personalized medicine”. It promises to greatly improve lives of several patients suffering from toxic side-effects of chemotherapy like hearing loss and neuropathy. She has pioneered in developing novel cell-based models to study why different patients respond differently to the same chemotherapy regiment. She notes that the answer lies in their genetic make-up. She placed emphasis on taking an unbiased approach to research by “stepping back and allowing the data to dictate”. She notes that the field of genomics has been revolutionized by unbiased analysis of genomic data, where intronic (non-coding) regions in the DNA could also play a vital role in complex diseases such as cancer.
Improving patient lives is not the only gratifying part of her work; she also enjoys being an educator and mentor. Besides mentoring many graduate students, medical students and post-docs, she has initiated two notable projects to inspire young minds to pursue science. The first is the Continuing Umbrella of Research Experience (CURE) program which is designed for the most promising high school and undergraduate students from underrepresented populations interested in pursuing careers in cancer research. This allows students to immerse themselves in hands-on research and complete small achievable projects under established mentors at the University of Chicago. The second program is called researcHStart, an 8-week cancer-focused research and career development experience for the most promising high school students from the Chicago and Champaign-Urbana areas.
Drawing from her own experiences, her one advice was, “ taking risks is a big part of succeeding in life”. She stressed that as a woman one needs to cultivate a courageous, willing to take risks type of personality at the same time remember that things will not always work out as planned and be open to failure.
Dr. Dolan is an avid runner, loves to perform yoga and enjoys cooking for her family. Additionally, she spends time over the weekends with elderly citizens. She notes that their unique perspective on life is enchanting.
by Katarina Kotnik Halavaty, PhD
Guylaine Haché is a technical advisor at Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP, a litigation and intellectual property law firm in Chicago, IL. She is pursuing her J.D. (Juris Doctor) degree at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Illinois Institute of Technology. Prior to starting her law career, Guylaine obtained her Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities.
“I love science. In fact, I consider myself a scientist first and a patent practitioner second.” For her doctoral thesis, Guylaine studied the molecular mechanism by which a family of proteins called APOBEC can mutate the HIV genome. Her work was recognized as an outstanding research by graduate students in the basic biomedical sciences, and she was awarded the Beatrice Z. Milne and Theodore Brandenburg Award. While in graduate school, she held doctoral studentships from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research. After successfully completing her doctoral research Guylaine moved to Chicago to begin postdoctoral training at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. There, she studied the life cycle of HPV. In total, she authored six and co-authored three scientific articles in recognized peer reviewed journals during her short research career at the bench.
During her postdoctoral training, Guylaine began questioning whether laboratory research was the right career for her. She desired more scientific diversity rather than focusing on the narrow area of research in which she had specialized. It was a discussion with a postdoctoral colleague, Marta New, PhD, MBA, that led her to explore a career in patent law. At the time Marta was transitioning from her postdoctoral position to Entrepreneur in Residence at Northwestern University’s Innovation and New Ventures Office. “Marta brought technology transfer and patent law to my attention,” says Guylaine. After doing some research she realized that with her scientific background she would fit well in law firms specializing in patent law to protect clients’ inventions. “I was especially excited about the prospect of working at the cutting-edge of research and being exposed to a wide range of technologies,” she explains. After conducting a few informational interviews with patent attorneys, Guylaine decided to turn her research expertise and her desire to learn about a wide range of scientific issues into her new profession.
Guylaine left academia. “I was very motivated to make the switch to patent law, so I applied to numerous law firms across the country.” In the end, Guylaine landed a job as a technical advisor with Ropes & Gray LLP in Boston, MA. In her new position at Ropes & Gray, Guylaine assisted drafted and prosecuted patent applications for the firm’s clients in the United States and abroad. “Basically, this includes talking to clients about their potentially patentable inventions, conducting searches in various databases to identify what has already been invented and published, drafting and ﬁling patent applications, and taking patent applications through the patent examination process.” While at Ropes & Gray, Guylaine prosecuted patents in a wide range of technologies including molecular biology, immunology, photodynamic therapy, medical devices and diagnostics. She says that one of the most satisfying aspects of patent law is that, “It offers the opportunity to work on a wide variety of topics where one can learn about cutting-edge research before it’s published.”
Guylaine has since left Boston and is now back in Chicago. She now works as a technical advisor for Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik LLP, a mid-sized litigation and intellectual property law firm devoted exclusively to the pharmaceutical industry. In her current position, Guylaine provides technical litigation support to attorneys, works with experts to develop theories for use in patent litigation, as well as assists with patent counseling and due diligence analyses. She emphasizes that paying attention to details and having good analytical as well as communication skills are critical in her profession. A small mistake can have a serious consequence for a client. “I did not have to think about how a mistake might impact a client while performing bench research in academia,” she admits. Another situation that she encounters in her non-academic role at times is, “It’s a service industry, and clients always come first.” Now these challenges are part of her every day work.
Guylaine is attending Chicago-Kent College of Law in the evening. She is on track to graduate law school in December 2016 and looks forward to taking on more responsibilities as an attorney with Rakoczy Molino Mazzochi Siwik. She is excited to have “a more active role on cases, including taking and defending depositions, participating in negotiations and mediations, and attending court hearings.” While Guylaine enjoys applying her scientific background in a legal and business setting, she finds working and going to law school quite challenging at times. “It’s not for everyone,” she says. She recalls that at one point, she was working 8-5, attending law school by night, and getting home to study until midnight, only to get up in the morning to do it all over again. Speaking from her experiences in pursuing her goals, she believes that hard work and perseverance are the secrets to success. In the process of achieving goals she advises the following: “Just work hard and good things will happen!”
by Karen Chien, PhD.
Joan is a well established investigator who has published over 50 peer reviewed articles in journals including the Journal of Physiology-Lung and the Journal of Immunology. Her research interests range from leukocyte migration during inflammation and allergic disease to the signaling of vascular endothelial adhesion molecule (VCAM-1). One of her most important findings involves the regulation of lung function by vitamin E isoforms. She discovered that when humans consumed gamma-tocopherol, the form of vitamin E found in corn, soybean, and canola oils, there was an association with a higher incidence of asthma; the consumption of alpha tocopherol, the vitamin E isoform present in olive and sunflower oils, was associated with increased lung function. Her work uncovered mechanisms in which vitamin E can regulate the immune system. This work of paramount importance in understanding the health benefits of vitamin E has been featured internationally in media and magazines including MORE Magazine, Medical Daily, and the New York Times.
Joan spent her childhood in the small town of Charlevoix in northern Michigan, where there were only two stoplights when she was growing up! She has always had an interest in science and medicine. Although she majored in pre-medicine during college, she found that she wanted to pursue research after talking to professionals in different areas. She became intrigued with immunology after a recruitment summer internship in an immunology focused lab within the biochemistry department at Michigan State University. After receiving her PhD, she completed postdoctoral research in the field of neuro-immunology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She then spent 13 years as faculty at the University of Cincinnati, where she enjoyed working with and being surrounded by immunologists, before coming to Northwestern.
Joan chose the academic track because of a good personality fit and interest level in science. But most importantly, she enjoys being able to dive deep into the interesting questions while exploring scientific literature. Ultimately, she hopes that her work can unravel biological mechanisms of the human body that can be used to help people live better and healthier lives. Her background allows her to be creative and to study the interface between immunology, vascular biology/cardiology, neurology, signaling, and nutrition.
The motivation and drive that Joan brings to the lab is inspiring to her students and mentees. Joan has mentored many students as part of the Summer Research Opportunities Program with a focus on minorities as well as trained many women of all ages. Her dedication to research is shown by her commitment to constantly working directly at the bench alongside her students. The reason why she remains active in the lab is that “doing the experiments helps to troubleshoot with students”. Her greatest satisfaction as a mentor and professor comes from seeing a student reach the “Eureka!” moment in understanding a scientific concept. She highly encourages women to seek resources and training through different programs. This exposure gives opportunities to talk to others to find out what one is good at and passionate about; both men and women mentors can have very complementing but unique perspectives which can be helpful. Also, she emphasizes that networking and maintaining a network is important for growth and success in science. Her main advice to young scientists is, “Do whatever you really like doing because you’re going to be doing it a lot”. Being passionate about your interests in your life is critical, and also “Never give up. Don’t ever be afraid. Just go for it!”
by Yomayra Guzman, PhD
Jelena Radulovic, M.D., Ph.D., is a Professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine with a dual appointment in the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and the Pharmacology departments. In 2013, Dr. Radulovic was installed as the Dunbar Professor of Bipolar Disorders. She is also an associate editor for The Journal of Neuroscience and a senior editor for the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
Born and raised in Belgrade, Serbia, Jelena has been a scholar since her youth. Encouraged by her academic parents, Jelena learned from early on to nurture her intellect and curiosity about the world – she is fluent in Serbian, German, English, Italian, and French! During her formative years she personally witnessed the debilitating effects of neurological disease and decided to study medicine with a specialization in neuropsychiatry. Jelena received her medical degree from the University of Belgrade in 1988. Once at the “bedside,” she felt helpless because the treatments for neurological conditions at the time were mostly palliative. At that point, she understood the urgent need for basic research in neuroscience. Driven by her passion to understand neurological disease, Jelena completed a PhD in 1993. “At the beginning I hated research. It was messy!” Jelena admitted during the interview. “As a student, you learn about scientific discoveries in textbooks and they are written as facts. This was very different from science, where not one particular experiment is definitive and scientific models are constructed with time.” As time went by she became excited about her discoveries and felt fortunate that, as a researcher, she could be the first one to learn something new about the world.
Her passion for scientific research in neuroscience is palpable. Intellectually, she aspires to understand the intersection between the brain and the mind. By studying the molecular mechanisms that mediate acquisition, retrieval, and consolidation of fear memories, the Radulovic laboratory has identified key neurobiological pathways causing anxiety- and depression-like behaviors. Her academic success has been remarkable, and her research has been showcased several times in local and international news media.
An important piece of advice Jelena offers to young scientists is to not be afraid of debating, since open and honest discussions about their interests is the best way to overcome personal and professional barriers. “If there is one thing we can say about Tim Hunt, it is that his comments opened the door for honest discussions. Women and men all over the world were able to express themselves and make fun of the stereotypes,” Jelena mentioned. Jelena does not feel that her professional goals were negatively affected by her gender. In fact, her male graduate mentors, Professors Branislav Jankovic and Joachim Spiess, were quite progressive and always fostered equality in their laboratories. Influenced by these great mentors and by her own egalitarian ideals, Jelena strives to maintain a supportive atmosphere in her laboratory.
Her commitment to scientific training is obvious; Jelena states that the greatest joy of her profession is seeing her students grow and mature, both professionally and personally, throughout their training. She has mentored a substantial number of people throughout her career, many of whom have succeeded in academic and non-academic professions. In addition, Jelena collaborates with international scientists and provides her professional expertise to promote the creation of research programs in Serbia sponsored by NIH Fogarty International Center funds.
by Linda Foit, PhD
Marta New is a Principal at Baxalta Ventures where she identifies, evaluates and executes new investment opportunities in healthcare and biotechnology. She holds a PhD in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
In her current role in corporate venture capital, Marta uses strategic and analytical approaches on a daily basis when assessing the commercialization potential of new technologies to invest in. However, she has also successfully applied this line of thinking to find a fulfilling career path that best matches her interests and abilities. For instance, when nearing the end of her PhD training, she conducted some major soul-searching to determine which career would best fit her personality and her lifestyle expectations. After an initial goal to pursue an R&D position in the private sector but ending up doing a postdoc instead, she devised a plan on how a postdoctoral fellowship could best help her develop the skills she needed to succeed in a career in industry after academia. “I looked at everything I did during my postdoc through the lens of how it would look on my resume and how attractive it would look to big pharma”, Marta explains. By volunteering to take over management of the laboratory budget for example, she quickly gained experience in accounting, negotiation tactics and project management, skills that are highly valued outside of academia.
The single most influential decision however that Marta made during her time research time at Northwestern was to enroll in Kellogg’s MBA program. “Thinking like a PhD means thinking about problems very deeply” says Marta when explaining how business school has opened her up to new ways of approaching problems. “As an MBA, I now believe that there is value to thinking more broadly, knowing a little bit about everything, and then solving a problem as part of a team”. It was in one of her classes that Marta met Alicia Loffler, who taught a class on biotech management and is currently the Executive Director at Northwestern’s Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO). “By asking lots of questions during and after class, I learned a tremendous amount from Alicia about the commercialization of technologies”, says Marta, underscoring the importance of identifying mentors one can learn from. The questions she asked after class were apparently good ones, as Alicia offered her a newly created position as Entrepreneur in Residence at INVO while pursuing her MBA. In this role, Marta provided strategic recommendations for patenting, licensing and commercialization of early stage therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices developed at Northwestern and also contributed to new venture formations at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
After successfully applying her business skills in an academic setting, Marta moved to the private sector to help manage the global portfolio of dialysis products for Baxter Healthcare. One of the challenges she faced during this transition was the difference in communication styles between scientists and business professionals. Marta explains that while in scientific discussions opinion discourse is highly encouraged, during business meetings open criticism is not necessarily appreciated. Instead of playing devil’s advocate, a constructive, solution-oriented feedback that leads to consensus is much more valued in a business setting. While Marta enjoyed applying her business knowledge to products on a global scale during her work in Baxter’s marketing division, she felt she did not utilize one of her biggest assets enough – her extensive scientific training. Again, to solve this problem Marta developed a strategic career plan so that she eventually would be able to better combine her savvy for business with her passion for science. After doing some research (like a true scientist), she identified a profession that would allow her to use both her PhD as well as her MBA training on a daily basis – venture capital. Through long-term networking and skills building, Marta was eventually able to secure a position in the highly competitive field of Venture Capital, a field that speaks both to her love for science and her interest in business. She also found a new mentor, her current supervisor Geeta Vemuri, Managing partner of Baxalta Ventures, who continues to coach Marta on relevant skills important in this industry.
To somebody who seeks to break into a new professional area (as Marta has done multiple times) she has the following advice: “First, identify where you want to go. Then identify two or three people in that field and offer your help for free.” Such project-based work is not only an excellent opportunity to receive feedback and get guidance on how to improve ones’ skills. In the end, offering rather than asking for help is also a great way of building lasting relationships.
By Barbara Di Eugenio, PhD
Brooke Shipley is Professor and Head of the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science department at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). She has been at UIC since 2003, when she was hired as an Associate Professor. She had previously earned tenure at Purdue University in 2002. She was promoted to Full Professor in 2007, served as Director of Graduate Studies from 2010 to 2012 and Acting Head in Fall 2013. She was appointed as Head in Fall 2014. Her field of research is Algebraic Topology, which she informally defines as “the study of high dimensional spaces and structures using algebra”. She currently has three PhD students.
Brooke credits her interests in math and science to a special math program she took part in during junior high, that exposed her to enriched material, including simplified examples from university level abstract algebra and to her mother, who taught mathematics at community colleges and junior and senior high schools. However, her path to mathematics was not completely straight. When she was in high school she aspired to be a medical doctor first and an engineer later. When she went to Harvard she initially planned to major in physics, but then discovered that her true passion is pure math, precisely because it is not applied. After obtaining her PhD from MIT, she had two postdocs, one at the University of Notre Dame and one at the University of Chicago.
Brooke has long been interested in gender and science and has been involved with student and faculty programs for women in science since college. UIC received an NSF ADVANCE grant in 2006 to support the Women in Science and Engineering System Transformation (WISEST) program with the goal to increase the number, participation, and leadership status of women in science and engineering at UIC. From 2009 to 2012, Brooke was a co-PI on this grant, representing women faculty in science and supporting the Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs in her role as PI. Brooke was the Director of WISEST during 2012-2013.
Brooke credits her success in math to rarely doubting herself, to her mother’s example and support, and to the early math programs she took part in. Her advice to young girls is to take part in school math programs such as math circles and competitions, just having fun, and not worrying about the results. Additionally, they should actively seek other girls with the same interests. Brooke has always been seeking the professional support of other women mathematicians and scientists, and creating women groups if there was none. This is something Brooke still enjoys. The latest instance occurred when she co-led a group of six women in a research project at a one-week long workshop for women in topology, during summer 2013. They conducted research together at the workshop and the collaboration still continues by email and teleconferencing.
Brooke describes being Head of a department as “juggling 20 balls”. And she juggles additional balls, since Brooke has a 12 year old daughter to whom she devotes much of her time. Additionally, Brooke has been a dancer all her life, from ballet in grade school to modern as a graduate student to contact improvisation as a postdoc, to salsa as a professor. She also enjoys being in nature and hiking in the mountains. She has a chance to do so every summer, since her parents live in Colorado.