Once I learned what science was really about, I knew that's what I wanted to do."
At the service of science
"I went to two open houses at Rockefeller before enrolling, and the students overwhelmingly confirmed what I'd heard about it. I was drawn to the program's flexibility, and the fact that in such a tightly knit community, I'll have an opportunity to learn so much more than just my own field."
Daniel Gilmer was on a one-way track to medical school. As an undergraduate, he participated in a mission trip to Africa, served as president of the Howard University Impact Movement and spent a spring break helping Hurricane Katrina victims rebuild their lives in New Orleans. With a drive to help others and his love of biology, becoming a medical doctor seemed a natural fit. Then he spent a summer at the bench.
The summer before his senior year at Howard - where he later received a B.S. in biology for his work on the differential effects of silver nanoparticles on various cancer cells and healthy cells - Daniel spent a summer doing research in a Howard Hughes Medical Institute laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as part of HHMI's Exceptional Research Opportunities Program. "That summer, I realized that I could learn even more in the lab than I had in classes," he says. On advice from his mentor at MIT, he made short work of applying to doctoral programs. Before enrolling in Rockefeller University's graduate program, though, he accepted a postbaccalaureate fellowship with the National Cancer Institute, where he spent the last year.
Daniel moved to Rockefeller in July. "I went to two open houses at Rockefeller before enrolling, and the students overwhelmingly confirmed what I'd heard about it," he says. "I was drawn to the program's flexibility, and the fact that in such a tightly knit community, I'll have an opportunity to learn so much more than just my own field."
Rewiring gene switches
"I'm in a very particular field, and though there is an incredible diversity of people and fields at Rockefeller, you never feel like you're lost in a crowd. There are many opportunities to get to know people in other fields and not only learn from them but even contribute to their work in return. The collaborative spirit is alive and well here."
Fabio Casadio already knew what he wanted to study when he matriculated at Rockefeller. It was the more mundane issues he needed extra help with. "It's hard not to succeed at Rockefeller," says Fabio. "Not only does the university provide housing and a stipend, but they even help with things like international taxes. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd have survived without that kind of support." F abio first came to Rockefeller University as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow. He spent the summer in Frederick Cross's Laboratory of Yeast Molecular Genetics, studying the expression of genes that contribute to symmetrical cell division. He returned to his hometown of Bologna, Italy, to complete a graduate- level degree in molecular biology at the University of Bologna, but he knew he wanted to come back to Rockefeller for his Ph.D. C urrently a student in C. David Allis's Laboratory of Chromatin Biology and Epigenetics, Fabio is part of a team that studies histones, proteins that are central to the activation and inactivation of individual genes in individual cells and thus hold important implications for the study of cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, AIDS and other diseases in which normal gene activity is disrupted. "I'm in a very particular field, and though there is an incredible diversity of people and fields at Rockefeller, you never feel like you're lost in a crowd. There are many opportunities to get to know people in other fields and not only learn from them but even contribute to their work in return. The collaborative spirit is alive and well here."
Biting questions for neuroscience
Lindsay Bellani's academic research began in the rivers and streams of the South, where she waded into ecology through studies in water quality. As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, her interest had shifted to molecular biology and genomics, specifically gene regulation in hermaphroditic roundworms. But by graduation, she knew what she wanted to pursue for her doctorate: neuroscience. "Thinking about how behaviors are coordinated in the brain fascinated me, and I knew it was what I wanted to study."
After her rotations at Rockefeller, Lindsay joined Leslie Vosshall's Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior, where she is trying to answer a question that has baffled hikers and researchers alike: Why do mosquitoes bite some people more than others? "We know there are these groups of people, but why? Is there something in our blood that mosquitoes can sense that differentially affects their fecundity? It's a very broad behavior question, but I want to find specific molecular explanations."
When she interviewed at Rockefeller, she was attracted by the university's spirit of supporting its students' research, wherever the science took them. And that's been her experience so far. At the end of her second year, Lindsay had approval from Rockefeller's Institutional Review Board to measure the attraction of mosquitoes to people and sample their blood and the microbiota on their skin to search for answers. "I have a lot of independence, but also help when I need it," she says. "I don't know the answers yet, but I've got a promising way to start looking for them."
The growth factor
Growing up, Tamara Ouspenskaia always loved math and thought she might someday use her facility with numbers in business. After immigrating to Canada from Russia at the age of 15, however, she was inspired by a high school science teacher. "Once I learned what science was really about, I knew that's what I wanted to do," she says.
As an undergraduate at McGill University, Tamara dove into biochemistry. She did stints in physiology and pharmacology labs and, for her master's degree, she undertook biochemical experiments to identify novel players in the signaling cascade for a growth factor, TGF-β. But when she came to Rockefeller and began her lab rotations, she decided she wanted to work in an animal model. She joined Elaine Fuchs's Laboratory of Mammalian Cell Biology and Development to work on stem cells in mice. "It always bothered me that I couldn't be sure whether the work I was doing in cell cultures would actually apply in real life, so the mouse model was perfect." Tamara plans to investigate the function of new genes involved in skin cancers. In Dr. Fuchs, she found a strong female mentor. "I hope some of her brilliance will rub off on me."
Applying to Ph.D. programs, Tamara knew she wanted to be in a big city. The idea of living in one of the world's great cultural capitals was a major draw. "One great thing about living here is I get to see every band I like, popular or not. Some people go traveling when they are 25, and I guess I am, too: I moved to New York."