The David Rockefeller Graduate Program

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I have a lot of independence, but also help when I need it. I don't know the answers yet, but I've got a promising way to start looking for them."

Alumni Profiles


Jonathan Dworkin Photo

Associate Professor, Columbia University

Jonathan Dworkin

"Being a principal investigator now myself, I really appreciate how special the Rockefeller experience is. The freedom you're given as a student makes the whole experience more open and challenging. Learning to work and think independently is an extremely important part of a research education, and it's a great confidence builder when you're finished."

Jonathan Dworkin knew more about Rockefeller University than most prospective students: He grew up here. When he was a young child, Jonathan's father, Barry Dworkin, was both a student and a junior faculty member at the university. "I grew up feeling that the lab is a fun place to be. I still like working in labs." Appropriately, Jonathan, a 1997 Rockefeller graduate, now runs his own laboratory, in the microbiology department of Columbia University Medical Center, where he studies spore-forming bacteria, including those that cause anthrax, botulism and tetanus. His current research goal is to understand the process by which bacterial spores are formed and how they interact with various host organisms.

As a Rockefeller student, Jonathan worked with Peter Model and Marjorie Russel, experts in bacterial genetics. His dissertation was on the transcriptional regulation mechanisms of Escherichia coli. "Being a principal investigator now myself, I really appreciate how special the Rockefeller experience is. The freedom you're given as a student makes the whole experience more open and challenging. Learning to work and think independently is an extremely important part of a research education, and it's a great confidence builder when you're finished."

Jonathan encourages his own students at Columbia to work and think independently, but he notices one missing element. "Rockefeller has much more of a family feel about it, and that isn't just because I grew up around there. During Convocation, the ladies from the Purchasing Office came to the room where we were putting on our regalia and they fussed over us like mothers. It's just another thing that is unique to Rockefeller."

Natalie de Souza Photo

Senior editor, Nature Methods

Natalie de Souza

Natalie de Souza has always loved both science and writing, and when the time came to pick a career, she chose one that includes both. The 2002 Rockefeller graduate is a senior editor at Nature Methods, where she vets manuscript submissions, solicits reviews, reviews the reviews and ultimately decides, along with four other editors, what ends up in each issue of the prestigious journal. She edits research papers and writes for the publication as well. The position affords a sweeping perspective on the best methods research in the life sciences but also an intimate engagement with the nitty-gritty experimentation behind any given paper, and she likes the combination.

"To know what advances in methodology matter, you need a really good understanding of what biological questions are being asked," says Natalie, who took the job in 2006 following a postdoctoral fellowship at Columbia University. "The way you achieve that is through talking to a lot of people and reading extensively about current research, which are both things that I instinctively enjoy."

At Rockefeller, Natalie studied the biogenesis and trafficking of membrane proteins. At Columbia, she worked on the regulation of Notch signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans. Natalie's rigorous lab training gave her the experience required to deliver the most cutting edge and consequential methods research to the scientific community. "It's as close as you can be to the scientific process without actually doing research," she says. "It's a real privilege to have this kind of view of science and, most of the time, it's also fun."

Mandë Holford Photo

Assistant Professor of Chemical Biology, Hunter College and Research Associate at the American Museum of Natural History

Mandë Holford

For a scientist who studies snails, Mandë Holford's life is as fast paced as they come. Since graduating from Tom W. Muir's lab at Rockefeller in 2003, she's had a National Science Foundation diplomacy fellowship and a postdoc in evolutionary biology and electrophysiology, both of which took her around the world.

When the Brooklyn native was looking at graduate schools, she was determined to leave New York, but a visit to Rockefeller's campus changed her mind. "I was blown away. At Rockefeller, the students were happy, not stressed. From day one, you're treated like someone who's here to learn science," says Mandë, who studied expressed protein ligation, a tool that uses organic chemistry to address biological questions.

Mandë's career has come full circle: back in New York, her research at Hunter College and the American Museum of Natural History explores the structural function of peptidic toxins in marine snails and their application to therapeutics. Collecting samples takes her to Panama and Mozambique, but Mandë is never far from her Rockefeller roots. The peptide-synthesizing machine she uses, and the field of peptide chemistry itself, were invented by Nobel Prize winner Bruce Merrifield, whose Rockefeller lab was once one floor above Mandë's. "At Rockefeller, science is the star. You're there working with the greats, solving real-world problems. That was very special to me."

Andrew Plump Photo

Deputy Head of Research and Translational Medicine, Sanofi

Andrew Plump

"Being at Rockefeller full-time was a wonderful immersion. The environment really made it easy to focus on my work, and my years there were undoubtedly the most exciting of my professional life."

Ask Andrew Plump what he does for a living and you'll have a lively discussion. A 1993 Rockefeller graduate, Andy works at the pharmaceutical company Sanofi as the deputy head of research and translational medicine, responsible for the global cross-therapeutic research portfolio. Prior to joining Sanofi in the summer of 2012, Andy spent 11 years at Merck as the cardiovascular franchise integrator and subsequently as the cardiovascular worldwide discovery head. ďIn both my Sanofi and Merck roles, I bring together the bench and clinical arms of pharmaceutical research and development. I coordinate the work of people across the world into a cohesive effort to forward the goals of drug development."

Andy began his education at MIT, where he studied virology, political science and urban studies. UCSF Medical School was his next move. "MIT was a very experiment-driven place, but in medical school the learning is very memory based and lecture heavy. It wasnít long before I wanted to get back in the lab." He enrolled in a summer study program with Jan L. Breslow, head of Rockefeller's Laboratory of Biochemical Genetics and Metabolism, and later took a leave of absence from UCSF to enroll in Rockefellerís Ph.D. program. "Being at Rockefeller full time was a wonderful immersion. The environment made it easy to focus on my work, and my years there were undoubtedly the most exciting of my professional life."