How would you describe your area of study to your grandmother?
While prostate cancer is often curable through surgical intervention, sometimes a treatment called hormone ablation therapy is necessary to stop or slow the progression. However, the disease can become resistant to hormone ablation therapy, and this resistant form is treatable but incurable. I study how prostate cancer changes to become resistant to hormone ablation therapy and how we may approach new therapeutic options.
An idea that I am pursuing is based around how the tissue surrounding the cancer might influence the cancer cells to become resistant. For instance, the bones, the most common site of prostate cancer metastases, are very different than the place prostate cancer comes from, and this change might influence the tumor resistance. I also study how the cancer cells behave after the cells themselves change, or “redecorate” there current surroundings. The even deeper question is how these different cell environments might be affecting a protein called Bnip3 and a cell process called mitophoagy, both of which can prevent cells from dying.
What is your primary motivation for persevering through graduate school?
I enjoy the life sciences, being creative, and solving problems. I get to do this every day here.
What do you want to do with your degree?
I am looking toward academia, but remaining open to the idea of industry. In either case I want to stay focused on human diseases.
Did you take time off before starting your Ph.D. degree or come directly from an undergraduate or master’s degree program?
I came to the Van Andel Institute Graduate School Ph.D. program right after receiving my Bachelor of Science degree.
How has your previous coursework contributed to your breadth of knowledge?
Coming with a degree in biochemistry gives me a more detailed understanding of the underlying principles that affect the behavior of the large molecules and processes of the cell. This has helped me to design intricate experiments and understand the subtle nuances that might influence the interpretation of data. In fact, I strongly credit my biochemical background for one of the key hypotheses I developed.
How do you think earning an advanced degree will change your role in society?
It will make me an innovator and leader.
Did your past experiences in life or education help prepare you for graduate school or did you have to develop different strategies to succeed?
My tenacity towards doing the things that interest me has helped me significantly, but a lot of it I had to learn as I got here. The mental and time consuming demands of graduate school require more organization and planning than I have ever needed before.
What is your favorite stress-reduction technique?
Fishing, aquariums, or constructing something.
What accomplishment (academic or other) are you most proud of?
Passing my pre-doctoral candidacy oral exam. After making it through the most academically rigorous year and a half of my life I stood in a room alone for two hours defending my novel ideas to four brilliant doctors whom decided I am worthy to continue my research. This meant that all my efforts up to that point had paid off and that I am capable of generating good ideas.
Do you think there is any value in social networking with other graduate students in non-related fields?
Yes. Cross disciplinary knowledge is very important to generating great and useful ideas, and knowing people that can help bridge that gap is just as important.
Has your perception of this Ph.D. program changed since you began the program?
I’ve always liked the program because the classes are problem based and student driven, and the program focuses intentionally on professional development areas that other programs miss out on.
If you were asked to put something in a time capsule for each year you have been in the program and this capsule would not be opened for 25 years, what would you contribute?
If you hadn’t been admitted to graduate school, what do you think you would be doing right now?
I would be a lab technician somewhere and I would be trying to solve whatever problems my mind could fixate on.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about your doctoral education experience?
It is extremely difficult, but once I got used to the demands I realized that it is the most satisfying work and schooling I have ever done and it fits my personality perfectly.