Tell us about your current career position.
I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and the Department of Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the idiosyncratic adverse events associated with the use of non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors to treat HIV-1.
What are the key experiences and decisions you made that have helped you reach your current position?
I began doing research in ecology as a sophomore at Occidental College with Drs.Groschen B. North and H. Elizabeth Braker. I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to design experiments and became excited about continuing towards a career in research. During my junior year, I decided that I wanted to gain experience in biomedical research and began to read about various fields of research and thought that pharmacology sounded interesting. I applied for Charles Ross Summer Research Fellowship in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Michigan and as result joined the laboratory of Dr. Richard R. Neubig. I had a very positive experience in this laboratory and was hooked on pharmacology from then on. Since I enjoyed my summer research experience so much, I pursued graduate training at the University of Michigan in the Department of Pharmacology and earned my PhD in the laboratory of Dr. Paul F. Hollenberg. In the Hollenberg Lab I gained a solid foundation in drug metabolism and P450 biochemistry. I decided to couple those skills with training in molecular biology techniques and obtained postdoctoral training in the lab of Dr. Eric F. Johnson at The Scripps Research Institute. My current research utilizes technical skills and training that was obtained in both the lab where I completed my graduate training and the lab where I worked as a postdoctoral fellow.
How did you first become interested in science?
When I was in elementary school my uncle used to tell me about his experiences working in a chemistry lab as an undergraduate. I really looked up to him so I became interested in learning more about science. Subsequently, my parents and my uncle gave me a chemistry set and from the time that I first opened it I was fascinated and worked through the experiments. A few weeks later I wrote a letter to the American Chemical Society asking about careers in science and they kindly sent me brochures and other information. Having such a positive interaction with a scientific society definitely encouraged my interest.
Were there times when you failed at something you felt was critical to your path? If so, how did you regroup and get back on track?
Certainly. There are failures along the way and a key example that many people mention is being turned down for a funding opportunity. I try to give myself time to absorb the initial disappointment before making any further decisions so that I am in a mind set to be able to think realistically and logically about my next steps. Whatever the situation has been, my mentors have played an important role in helping me identify areas where I can improve and work towards achieving a more favorable outcome. Building a network of mentors and colleagues to discuss obstacles with is critical.
What advice would you give to young persons from under-represented backgrounds who want to pursue a career in science similar to yours?
Build a strong scientific foundation through challenging course work and getting involved in research. Research is important because it gives you the unique opportunity to engage in active learning of many of the concepts that you were taught in class while also learning how to apply research methods and to think in innovative and creative ways about problems.
What are your hobbies?
Running, reading, baking and watching sports, particularly football and hockey.
What was the last book you read?
“The Big Sea” which is an autobiography of Langston Hughes. I have actually read it a few times and each time I read it I find it more engrossing as it is an illuminating commentary of the time period.
Do you have any heroes, heroines, or role models? If so, describe how they have influenced you?
I have had a number of role models in my professional career that have influenced me in a variety of ways. Dr. Richard R. Neubig provided me with my first biomedical science research experience and strongly encouraged me to pursue graduate school. Having a positive experience in his lab is a large part of the reason that I am a scientist. When I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan Dr. William B. Pratt was a member of my thesis committee and a strong mentor that always pushed me to think deeply about everything that I was doing in the lab. He impressed upon me the importance of striving to be excellent in my area of research. Dr. Pratt also encouraged me to be a well-rounded thinker by frequently passing along literary works to me that he had just finished reading. My thesis advisor Dr. Paul F. Hollenberg has been a very important role model for me since my research interests began in his lab and he taught me how to ask scientific questions and to design the appropriate experiments to answer them. In addition, he is an overall great mentor and I model my style of interacting with students in my lab after him. My postdoc advisor Dr. Eric F. Johnson taught me to be diligent and to be critical which have been really important for me as I work to establish my research program.
What is it that keeps you working hard and studying science every day?
I find the possibility of discovery and learning something new with every experiment intriguing.