Student Spotlight

Patelunas

Anthony Patelunas

Expected Graduation: Summer 2020

Research Group: Goldhamer Lab

Academic/Research Focus: Cell & Development Biology

Hometown: Windham, CT

 

Why did you choose a graduate degree in Molecular & Cell Biology and how did you decide on your area concentration?

Since I was a child, the natural world fascinated me. I spent my summers growing up wandering the hillsides of upstate New York and catching wildlife in the creek near my parents home. I wanted to pursue a research career out of pure curiosity for how life works, and I saw a PhD as the path to do that. As I became more serious about pursuing research I focused in on a question of how structures develop and how that relates to their function. Every area of biology can pursue this question at different levels, but I was enamored by the beauty of the embryo; a single cell can give rise to the diversity of anatomy and tissues that make up life. Thus, I joined the Cell and Developmental Biology concentration and began to study limb muscle development.

Why did you choose UConn?

I chose UConn for a complexity of reasons including location and the MCB department. The location was ideal to my interests, sitting quietly in eastern Connecticut among bucolic countryside reminiscent of my childhood home. Even with nature readily available, UConn is also a short drive to Providence, Boston, and New York City which provide ample opportunities without needing to live in the city. Additionally, the MCB department had a variety of research opportunities and many successful faculty. The diversity of research in the department was a huge selling point because it enabled taking my research question into very different systems and view it through many different techniques.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

My research experience in the department has provided both deep intellectual stimulation and personal growth. Coming into the department I had minimal genetics experience but with advances in sequencing and CRISPR/Cas9 in the forefront of popular science, I knew I needed to learn genetics. Joining David Goldhamer's lab provided the fastest crash course in genetics I could imagine, immediately working with Cre/lox conditional knockout animals and conditional lineage tracing alleles. In parallel, the CGI acquired Fluidigm, and then 10x Genomics, single-cell RNA sequencing equipment which I incorporated into my investigation of muscle stem cell lineage.The opportunity to work in David's lab with the facilities of the MCB department has propelled me from a curiosity about development to a deeply understanding the genetic regulation of vertebrate limb development.

How has UConn shaped you as a person?

UConn as an institution has provided opportunities beyond just my scientific development. I've become a more well-rounded person and a leader as a result of the UConn community. Through the Graduate Student Senate I've had the opportunity to engage is scholarly discussions with my peers from other departments and make friends beyond the confines of the lab. Additionally, the UConn alum community has a cohesion unlike the previous institutions I attended. As I look to end my time at UConn, I've had introductions made to alumni working in Washington DC, New York, and Boston, all willing to sit down and talk or take multiple phone calls to explore my career prospects. Even on a recent vacation trip I was stopped by three different people to talk about UConn and express their love for the institution. By engaging with the greater UConn community, the room for personal and professional growth is boundless.

What do you like most about the MCB community?

I've always felt a great deal of support from both my graduate student colleagues and the faculty in the department. During my first year, all of the faculty I emailed to talk about potential research interest willingly met with me and helped me decide how I should move forward. As I've advanced through the program, I still feel like I could reach out to any faculty in the department with questions about my professional and scientific aspirations. Additionally, the graduate students have built a community in our department that facilitates constructive feedback on your work and a social outlet when you need to step away from the rigors of the lab.

Sarah

Sarah McAnulty

Expected Graduation: Fall 2019

Research Group: Nyholm Lab

Academic/Research Focus: Cell & Development Biology

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

 


Why did you choose a graduate degree in Molecular & Cell Biology and how did you decide on your area concentration?

My choice to join our department was really just based on the kinds of questions I wanted to answer. I knew I wanted to work on the immune system of squid and there are very few people doing that kind of work. I hadn't been a molecular and cell biologist before, more of a behaviour/ecologist, but I thought Spencer Nyholm's work would be a good fit for what I wanted to do for my Ph.D. Since he was MCB, that was that!

Why did you choose UConn? 

Spencer Nyholm was here so the choice was that simple for me.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

I've had an amazing time doing research in Spencer's lab. Our department is really nice because we're so big, chances are someone has done the technique you are trying as a young grad student. So if someone in your lab can't help you, someone across the hall or down a floor can. Aside from research directly in the building, I've gotten to travel all over the world doing my squid research. I went to Hawaii a number of times to collect squid, and did a field work expedition to Japan with my advisor. It's been really fantastic

How has UConn shaped you as a person?

I found my voice and place in the science communication field and in the symbiosis community while working here. The grad school experience in general and working with Spencer has been a more formative experience than being at UConn specifically.

What do you like most about the MCB community?

MCB has a really tight knit but very welcoming group of graduate students that can make a lot of fun out of a not super happening location. We go on camping trips together in the summer, we throw theme parties that many of us go to in the winter, it's just a really great place to be even if you don't know anyone near here going into grad school. The community is really supportive both in terms of research, with labs helping other labs, and outside of the lab.

Daneille

Danielle Lesperance

Expected Graduation: Summer 2021

Research Group: Broderick Lab

Academic/Research Focus: Microbiology

Hometown: Somers, CT

 


Why did you choose a graduate degree in Molecular & Cell Biology and how did you decide on your area concentration?

I had been working as a research technician after graduating with my Bachelor’s and realized I wanted to be able to take more control of the science I was doing. I liked bench work but I knew I needed to develop more independence and critical thinking with regard to creating hypotheses and designing experiments. While I was involved in research that would be considered more “cell biology” than anything else, I had always been drawn to microbiology and the microbiome in college and was eager to get into that field despite not having much practical experience with it.

Why did you choose UConn? 

I interviewed at multiple schools and didn’t feel the “fit” I had been looking for at any except UConn. Despite being a large department in a large university, the MCB department felt friendly and manageable.  There was also a very pronounced emphasis on the collaborative nature of the department so I knew it would be a supportive environment rather than competitive.

Describe your research experience and the impact it has had on you.

I study the how the microbiome shapes host physiology in the Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) model system. I didn’t intend to work on flies coming in to graduate school but after spending the last 4 years with them, I can’t imagine working on anything else. Using such a tractable and widely applicable system has allowed me to explore connections between the microbiome and other aspects of physiology (immunity, nutrition, metabolism) that are more difficult to untangle in more complex organisms. I believe this experience has helped me think more broadly as a scientist and to consider health of an organism as a whole rather than in just one area of the body, which I have found to be important in helping me develop new hypotheses and research aims.

How has UConn shaped you as a person?

I have met people from all different backgrounds during my time at UConn, and have learned about the unique challenges that different groups of people face in their lives and careers. This has offered me new perspectives on my own life and opportunities I’ve had, and will influence my thought process in all aspects of my life moving forward. I hope that this empathy will guide me to be a positive force in the world.

What do you like most about the MCB community?

The MCB community is full of people who care. I have found that the faculty, administrative staff, teaching staff, and students are people who can be depended upon when you need them, whether your problem is a scientific one or not, and it has made my experience as a graduate student a positive one.