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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Testimonials

Four current trainees in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology have generously agreed to answer a few simple questions about choosing to join BMB. What will your story be?

Michael Estrella, PhD Student

Michael EstrellaWhat drove you to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health?
Initially, the reputation of the School is what attracted me to apply. Graduate education at a School of Public Health offers the distinct advantage of inter-disciplinary training at the intersection of basic science and global health issues. After coming to the School and meeting the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department's faculty and students, I was impressed with the commitment to excellence and decided that I wanted to be a part of their family. I wanted to be where I could receive cutting edge training in science and be surrounded by professors that are leaders in their respective fields. I also wanted access to those professors to establish professional relationships that would enrich my scientific development. It is fair to state that these expectations have been met and in many instances exceeded. In fact, I believe the largest asset of our Department is our supportive and closely-knit faculty and staff. It is clear they are committed to our education and success in science.

What is your field of research?
Current project: Structural and Functional Characterization of the CMR Complex for CRISPR-Mediated Antiviral Immunity
Interest: Biochemistry, Structural Biology, X-ray Crystallography, Small Non-coding RNA Biology

What are the challenges of the program? What do you find challenging?
The first year of the PhD curriculum is the most challenging. It requires balancing course work, laboratory experiments and departmental presentations. Classes are advanced and cover a diverse set of disciplines including: biophysics, cell biology, genetics, bioinformatics, bio-organic chemistry, molecular biology and structural biology. The pace is intense and tests not only your ability to study but also your time management, laboratory research and presentation skills. Yet each challenge is also an opportunity, which when coupled with our supportive faculty, facilitates your ability to hone these skills.

What are the highlights of the program?
The faculty and staff are central to the Department's strength, which is to provide a supportive environment. They set the tone for scientific excellence and professional rigor along with with a friendly and collaborative atmosphere for students. This makes science fun and creates an environment in which you can thrive professionally. Additionally, Ph. D. students are empowered to be highly involved in the Department's development; we are consistently asked how to improve the curriculum, are consulted when hiring new faculty and discuss other facets of the program as they relate to our training. While here you feel that your concerns are being addressed and your opinions matter.

What advice would you give a future BMB applicant?
I would advise an applicant to consider some of the intangibles when selecting a Ph. D. program, particularly since it is a decision that determines where you will be for the next 5 years. From my experience, I believe if you are happy with what you are doing and where you are at, success will follow. I would recommend that you ask students in the program you're considering how they feel about their decision to join, and what factors influenced their decision.

What do you do in your "down time"to relax?
I enjoy going out with friends to various Baltimore restaurants and bars. I also occasionally attend Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals games.

Looking into the future, after completion of the program what will you take with you? (Goals, etc.)
After completion of my PhD degree, I hope to complete my post-doctoral training and eventually become an independent investigator at a university or government institute. Ideally I would be using structural and biochemical approaches to discover new roles of non-coding RNAs in biology. I also hope to be in an environment similar to that of BMB going forward, because my experiences here will forever color my professional career. I have come to expect that science should be conducted as it is the case in BMB, with care and dedication coupled with a fantastic collaborative environment.

Brent Monseur, ScM Graduate

What drove you to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health?
Brent TurnerI was interested in strengthening my candidacy for medical school admission; however, I wanted something different than the traditional post baccalaureate experience. The flexible curriculum of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology MHS program allowed me to complete my core sciences while also pursuing other academic interests such as maternal and child health, contraceptive technology and family planning. Furthermore, the University-wide seminars provided the opportunity to explore other facets of public health. Lastly, I was intrigued by the possibility to stay an extra year in the lab for practical experience (extending the MHS into a Sc.M. Degree) in the field of reproductive biology.

What is your field of research?
Current project: Membrane block to polyspermy
Interest: Infertility treatment and prevention

What are the challenges of the program? What do you find challenging?
The program is very accelerated and requires a lot of time management, organization and self-discipline. Furthermore, the amount of classes you want to enroll in can be daunting. Try to pick your favorites and not overload.

What are the highlights of the program?
The people - from the students, faculty, staff and guest lecturers, everyone is invested in the greater Hopkins community. You will make lifelong friends and invaluable connections for both your personal and professional success.

What advice would you give a future BMB applicant?
Explore the public health community and all it has to offer. It's easy to focus only on the hard science, but anyone in the science/medical field can benefit from the wide array of electives offered. That goes for people too - just introduce yourself, start a club, or join the student assembly.

What do you do in your "down time" to relax?
Explore the different neighborhoods of Baltimore. Also, there are a lot of great volunteering options in the community. I served as an HIV Counselor at a local LGBT friendly health clinic.

Looking into the future, after completion of the program what will you take with you? (goals, etc.)
I had plans of attending Medical School directly after completing the MHS program, but after being accepted I decided to defer in order to pursue a ScM degree with Dr. Janice Evans. I hope to take the basic science skills I am learning with JHSPH forward, and perhaps apply for an MD/PhD program. Considering my interest in women's reproductive health, I plan on completing an OB GYN residency and ultimately a Fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. My goal as a future physician is to incorporate the knowledge I gained from JHSPH to better optimize current assisted reproductive technologies and to address the associated disparities in access, particularly for the LGBT community.

Alissa Richmond Armstrong, Postdoctoral Trainee

Alissa ArmstrongWhat drove you to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health?
For my postdoctoral training, I wanted to reconnect with my interest in how environmental factors impact reproductive health and early development. In addition to the suitable research focus provided by Dr. Daniela Drummond-Barbosa, I knew that the scientifically and professionally diverse environment of the School of Public Health would provide many new learning opportunities.

What is your field of research?
The Drummond-Barbosa Lab is elucidating how ovarian stem cells are regulated by diet using Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism. Toward this goal, I am examining how inter-organ communication modulates adult stem cell lineages in response to dietary changes.

What do you find challenging?
The number of seminars and journal clubs can be a blessing and a curse. While it may be tempting to attend the majority of those events, it is important to choose the most interesting/appropriate for you.

What are the highlights of the program?
The scientific rigor ensures that everyone is on top of their game. Also, the scientific diversity provides exposure to a wide range of topics.

What do you do in your "down time" to relax?
When I am not spending time with my daughter, I enjoy reading, shopping and trying different cuisines.

Looking into the future, after completion of the program what will you take with you? (Goals, etc.)
The independent and critical thinking skills obtained upon completion of my postdoctoral training in this department will prepare me for becoming a Principal Investigator guiding innovative research on the impact that environmental changes may have on the cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling reproduction and early development. Interacting with graduate students, faculty and staff not only provides mentoring and networking opportunities, but will also build long-lasting relationships that I believe will enhance my own career development.

What advice would you give a future BMB applicant?
Take advantage of the wealth of resources at the School of Public Health and surrounding JHU institutions.

David Huang, ScM Student

What drove you to Johns Hopkins School of Public Health?
David HuangI have been drawn to public health throughout my undergraduate experience at Johns Hopkins University. I chose the MHS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology to strengthen my science background and improve my application for a career in medicine. The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health is unique in the fields that it offers and I was intrigued by the mission statement Protecting Health, Saving Lives - Millions at a Time. In my choice of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I was inspired by conversations with Dr. Alfred Sommer, the former Dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. His landmark contributions as an ophthalmologist and epidemiologist in the study of anthrax and the prevention of blindness caused by Vitamin A deficiency, stand as a testament to how advances in basic science, epidemiology, and clinical care of individual can combine to impact the world. The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology appealed to me because of the complex nature of molecular mechanisms and their role in disease and public health.

What is your field of research?
As part of the two year Master of Science program, I have had the opportunity to participate in research that culminates in a thesis reporting on original work. My interest in the program led me to Dr. Matunis's lab and the study of RAP80, a protein that is intrinsically linked with DNA damage repair and the recruitment of the breast cancer susceptibility protein BRCA1.

What are the challenges of the program? What do you find challenging?
JHSPH utilizes a quarter system for its academic year and as a result, the pace of the courses and exams can be very quick. I personally found the pace challenging at times because of the heavier science course load that BMB and other pre-med students take.

What are the highlights of the program?
JHSPH is listed as the premier School of Public Health in the country for a good reason. The faculty in BMB, as well as the rest of the school, are some of the best in the world. It was not unusual for me to be lectured by professors who are at the top of their respective field or use a citation in a paper without realizing that it was one of the faculty here at JHSPH.

What advice would you give a future BMB applicant?
The BMB program is flexible with respect to the core course load. It is one of the best schools in the country - explore classes outside of our department and pursue a certificate program if you find it interesting. The MHS is a great program, but be sure to stay on top of your core classes and seek help when you need it.

What do you do in your "down time" to relax?
For my down time, I like to workout at the Cooley Fitness Center on campus or find a pickup game of 5v5 basketball. Baltimore offers tons of opportunities from volunteering to going to a Ravens/Orioles game. Also, DC is only a short MARC train ride away.

Looking into the future, after completion of the program what will you take with you? (goals, etc.)
My course work and laboratory experience from the Masters program has been extremely rewarding and has prepared me well for the next step in Medical School. My time in the MHS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has only strengthened my desire to pursue a career in both public health and medicine. I hope to use the strong scientific and research background that I received to contribute to the scientific community in medical school and as a physician.