Letter from the Director

Dr. Nael McCarty

I have just finished my first month as the new Director of the GDBBS.  What a month it's been! The Division is such a complicated enterprise, so there has been a lot of learning – the fact that this is such an important enterprise makes a comprehensive understanding of all of its parts absolutely crucial.  During this first month, I've gotten connected to the outstanding Division Staff, all of whom are committed to providing top-notch customer service to our students, our faculty, and the Programs that tie them together.  We are in very good hands.  To facilitate a team approach to graduate education, I also have made it a priority to meet with all of the eight Program Directors who work so hard to make their Programs the excellent sources of training that they already are.  I have learned about some of the great strengths of our programs, and some of the challenges that they face.  This month, I will be meeting with all of the Directors of Graduate Studies in the Programs, in order to also learn from them.  One of my major goals is to help these Program Leaders learn from each others' long experiences in program development and management, to the benefit of all.  

The GDBBS has a bright future, made possible by the hard work of countless program faculty, LGS Deans, and prior Division Directors – particularly that of our most recent Director, Dr. Keith Wilkinson.   My 21 years of experience as a member of the training faculty in a variety of contexts, my strong experience in leadership roles in a wide variety of training-related activities, and my deep commitment to our students and faculty set me up for this important task of carrying on this tradition of excellence.  My motivation for this effort lies in my deep commitment to graduate education and research training, on behalf of both the students and the training faculty – with the support of our GDBBS alumni,  I will do my very best to ensure that our training programs maintain their excellence, building upon the strong momentum established by my colleagues and predecessors, to ensure the bright future of the GDBBS.

GDBBS Student Accomplishments Spotlight

GDBBS trains some amazing students with brilliant minds and passions inside and outside the laboratory. Here is a spotlight of some exceptional students whose futures look very bright!

Sarah Bay- Genetics and Molecular Biology

Sarah is a 6th year GMB student performing her dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. Tamara Caspary. She was selected by the Genetics Society of America as a Science Writing Intern where she contributes her work to the GSA blog: Genes to Genomes. Her most popular post (which held the record for most clicked story) explains genetics by using wizards and muggles from Harry Potter! Check it out here: https://genestogenomes.org/inherit-the-wand/

Scott Wilkinson- Cancer Biology

Scott is a 5th year CB student completing his dissertation work in Dr. Adam Marcus' laboratory with an impressive list of accomplishments throughout his training. Some of his most recent accolades include: 

  • Co-first authorship with Jessica Konen (CB) for their paper "LKB1 kinase-dependent and -independent defects disrupt polarity and adhesion signaling to drive collagen remodeling during invasion" in Molecular Biology of the Cell where it was selected for the cover and is nominated for MBoC Paper of the Year
  • Funding throughout his dissertation work by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (Years 1-4) and an NRSA F31 Predoctoral Fellowship (Years 4-5)
  • Awards presented at the GDBBS Banquet for his service and teaching include the Emory Graduate Career Teaching Award and the Bill and Catherine Rice Award

James Burkett- Neuroscience

James is a member of Dr. Larry Young's laboratory and recently published a paper in Science entitled "Oxytocin-dependent consolation behavior in rodents." In the paper, James and his labmates demonstrated that prairie voles can console each other in an oxytocin-dependent manner. This novel study has received a lot of press, including in The Atlantic

Lauren Byrd-Lyotis- Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Lauren is a 5th year MMG student completing her dissertation work in the laboratory of Dr. David Steinhauer. Lauren has been an outstanding student throughout her graduate career. Below are just a few of her accomplishments:

  • An excellent record of authorship including a first author publication in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences entitled "Shotgun glycomics of pig lung identifies natural endogenous receptors for influenza viruses" and a first author publication in Journal of Virology entitled "Influenza hemagglutinin (HA) stem region mutations that stabilize or destabilize the structure of multiple HA subtypes"
  • Individual funding via an NRSA F31 Predoctoral Fellowship
  • Local and international awards including the MMG Scholar of the Year Award in 2014 and the Stojiljkovic Memorial Travel Award in 2015 to deliver an oral presentation at the Negative Strand Virology meeting in Siena, Italy

Updates from the Laney Graduate School Office of Development and Alumni Relations

  • This Fall at the GDBBS Banquet, we’ll look forward to a new named award, the Margaret and Thomas Lew Graduate Award in Biochemistry, which will provide top off awards to outstanding students in the Biomedical Sciences programs related to biochemical sciences.
  • In mid-June, the MSP program will host an Alumni Symposium welcoming back four alumni: Vidya Balasubramanian, Alana Reed, Yanci Mannery, and Shannon Elf.  These alumni will speak to current students about their career paths after graduating from the MSP program. Meetings like this, a reception at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, a networking event with our Advanced Degree Consulting Consortium student group, etc. align with our goal to engage alumni through discipline specific avenues and help our students and alumni connect in meaningful ways.

Two major fundraising initiatives for the immediate future include:

  • Internship opportunities for students: To connect graduate students with important work being done outside the academy, the Laney Graduate School is seeking partnership with organizations that can provide experiential learning opportunities for top-performing doctoral students. An investment of $5,000 will fund an internship so if individuals or companies are interested in learning more, please contact Robin Harpak at robin.harpak@emory.edu
  • Emory University-Laney Graduate School STEM Research and Career Symposium- The 2016 STEM Symposium will bring faculty advisors and their students from diverse backgrounds to the Emory campus for two days of shared research presentations, networking, mentoring, and recruitment. Participants will include outstanding undergraduates intending to pursue a PhD or MD/PhD and graduate students seeking postdoctoral opportunities.  The LGS is a major sponsor of the STEM Symposium.  Many students are unable to attend due to financial burden and the LGS has limited scholarships. With your gift, students from across the US will be able to explore their pathway. To support the STEM symposium, contact Robin Harpak at robin.harpak@emory.edu

Thank you to Wells Fargo for your continued support of the Laney Graduate School!

DSAC Symposium 2016: A student's perspective

Amielle Moreno


Poster presenters around me rolled out their presentations as I arrived at my bulletin board. Unscrewing the top of my still new poster tube, it seemed smaller than it was at my last conference. As the image unfurled, first the knees, the red uniform and finally the undeniable face of 1990s Chicago Bulls All-Star Michel Jordan appeared. This was not my poster. This was my partner’s prized elementary school possession and I laughed at the drastic changes I would have to make to my elevator talk.

This daydream of mine, as well as intense preparation, are common part of the graduate school experience leading up to their poster or oral presentations. While every surface within reaching distance from me was occupied by paper, first place talks winner, Emily Rye, was practicing her speech ad nauseum. “I must have rehearsed it thirty times,” the BCDB graduate student said. Working independently, she had finalized her script a week before the symposium. If you had seen her during her commute, what appeared to be the use of blue tooth was actually her practicing until the presentation was memorized by rote. In contrast, talk presenter David Nicholson of the Neuroscience program could be found in lab daily before his presentation, collecting data for his presentation up until the day before.  

The vital role of this symposium is student development; gaining skills in auditorium and poster presentation. Composed of recent candidacy students, this year’s presentations lacked the practice of near-thesis students. Standouts presentations included Jessica Konen from Cancer Biology. True to their moniker, the follower cancer cells were videoed conga-lining after the leader cell, making them seem endearing. Jessica described their taxis as “smart.” Philip Zakas from MSP conducted an amazing presentation on ancestral proteins, which pulled the audience through not only the course of his research but the process of scientific reasoning. Robert Petit from PBEE got one of the biggest unintended laughs of the day by dryly delivering the line “and now for the interesting stuff: the graphs!”

While all the participants wanted resume fodder, traveling grants and kudos, what seemed to be an underlying desire was justification as to why they haven’t seen their friends since recruitment weekend. Addressing that concern, the post-talk mixer was the highlight of the day for the beleaguered poster and talk presenters.

Reconnecting with friends aside, absence of an invited speaker made the event more modest than previous iterations. Without the extension outside of Emory, the proceedings displayed a distinct lack of presentation aplomb and audience attendance was modest. My own research path was ineffably re-routed after the presentation made by the epigenetic expert, Dr. Sweatt, three years previous.  When contacted for comment Natty Chalermpalanupap, a DSAC representative for the Neuroscience program replied “No speaker, straight to the parteeey. ☺”

I came away from my first DSAC symposium presentation with a 2nd place poster presentation travel award and a dedication to take advantage of this opportunity in the future. Maybe closer to graduation, I’ll bring the Michael Jordan poster.