Mentor: Alison Bertuch, M.D., Ph.D.
Undergraduate major: Biology
Undergraduate school: Northwestern State University of Louisiana
Research Interests: Telomere maintenance roles of Ku and Ku DNA end binding in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
Nov. 2015 American Society for Microbiology Science Teaching Fellow
Oct. 2015 FASEB MARC Sponsorship- 2015 Institute on Teaching and Mentoring
Chen H, Xue J, Churikov D, Hass EP, Shi S, Lemon LD, Luciano P, Bertuch AA, Zappulla DC, Géli V, Wu J, Lei M. Structural Insights into Yeast Telomerase Recruitment to Telomeres. Cell. 2018 Jan 11;172(1-2):331-343.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.12.008. Epub 2017 Dec 28. PubMed PMID: 29290466; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5839504.
Williams JM, Ouenzar F, Lemon LD, Chartrand P, Bertuch AA. The principal role of Ku in telomere length maintenance is promotion of Est1 association with telomeres. Genetics. 2014 Aug;197(4):1123-36. doi: 10.1534/genetics.114.164707.Epub 2014 May 30. PubMed PMID: 24879463; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4125388.
Describe your research.
My work centers around telomeres, or the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes, and how they are maintained. Telomere shortening is a hallmark of aging; as we get older, our telomeres shorten until they reach a length that causes our cells to stop dividing. Conversely, long telomeres and hyper activity of the enzyme that maintains them, telomerase, is a hallmark of cancerous cells. Many people get cancer and everyone ages so it’s important that we understand how our telomere length is properly maintained. I specifically study the proteins involved in telomere maintenance in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Why did you choose your mentor?
I was in search of a mentor who was kind and genuinely cared about their trainees. I also wanted to work with someone who would take an active role in training me as a scientist. My PI, Dr. Alison Bertuch, has been this type of mentor and so much more. She’s passionate about exploring scientific questions and mentoring her trainees. Also, she does a superb job in teaching her students how to think about and do science. This was made clear to me during my first year as a graduate student when I saw older students from her lab give seminar talks.
How does Baylor's location in the Texas Medical Center enhance your training and research?
Baylor is at the center of the largest medical center in the world. It’s close proximity to other institutions and hospitals has given me the opportunity to be exposed to world-class, groundbreaking research on a daily basis through seminars, workshops, symposiums, etc. There is always an occasion to learn something new.
What are your career plans?
My long-term career goal is to obtain a faculty position at a primarily undergraduate institution where I can teach using research-based practices and create a positive learning environment for my students. I am especially passionate about providing research experiences to undergraduate students, so I also plan to maintain my own research lab.
In the immediate future, I will be starting a postdoctoral fellowship in the Fellowships in Research and Science Teaching (FIRST) program at Emory University, where I will be working with Dr. Anita Corbett on links between post-transcriptional processing of mRNA and epigenetic status in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
What aspects of training at BCM do you feel are most influential in preparing you for your intended career?
During our training at BCM, we have many opportunities to learn how to effectively communicate our science to other scientists as well as the general public. We also have multiple chances to practice communicating our science (in both formal and informal settings) while receiving constructive feedback from faculty members and peers. Personally, I feel the training in presenting my science via discussion and presentations will be extremely beneficial as I move into a faculty position.
What do you enjoy most about living in Houston?
The diversity- Houston is America’s most diverse city and I’ve met people from all over the world while living here. This has given me the opportunity to explore and experience so many different cultures. The diversity of Houston is reflected in the wide array of festivals, musical and art performances, and (most importantly to me) cuisine. Houston is a hub for world-class cuisine and, since it’s such an affordable city to live in, graduate students can afford to experience food from all corners of the world.