I seem to have a talent for solving problems. I am particularly successful with practical problems. It is because I am attracted to them. Every problem is like a fun game to me. Whether it is finding an optimum condition for an enzymatic reaction or finding a potential treatment for a cancer, it is something that I am always excited do and I do it with great pleasure. As I grow, I start to understand the potential financial advantage of being able to solve problems in many high-profit industrial fields. But, I had Biology in my genes… my parents are both Biologists and moreover, my Dad is a Molecular Geneticist. Even though they wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, in high school I was more interested in plasmids and cells than anything else. So, here I am, after 4 years of Molecular Biology and Genetics major, 2.3 years of internship in US and subsequent 1.25 years of Master’s in the same field, I am applying for a PhD position at one of the top schools in the world, with an ambition to become one of the world’s best scientists unraveling hidden wonders of the world of Biology.
While I was at my first year of pursuing a Master’s Degree, at XXXX University, I realized (when I compared myself to my co-workers), that in the world of research, it is important to be able to find the right motivation. It is imperative that the idea of scientific discovery, idea of finding something new, even discovering a protein-protein interaction or a new control mechanism (both of which may be used for treating, or even curing people!) pushes me forward even when I am very tired.
I realized that being a good scientist takes more than just a good theoretical background and skillful hands, which my mentors believe I have. It takes breaking through emotional barriers, keeping personal life separate from the academy and heading towards the discovery at full speed at all times, no matter what the “weather” is. I also realized that a non-ceasing self- improvement is an essential part of being successful as a scientist. One has to find the inherent weaknesses and fix them, upgrading the “discovery-making machine” – what I believe I am (or at least, about to become) as a scientist.
I am profoundly interested in the world of intracellular signaling and its connection with the cell cycle. The highly-specific relay of information processed from the outside of a cell deep into its nucleus intrigues me. It is fascinating how signal cascades function and how they malfunction, leading to cancer. The further we understand how a signal pathway works, the closer we are to be able to provide treatments and cures for patients who suffer from diseases related to that pathway. I have worked on canonical Wnt signaling for over a year now and I believe that even this one pathway can be a major part of my future decade (at least) of research life.
In parallel with basic research, I am planning to work on methods development. Invention of a single new technology has greater significance for humanity than most single findings in basic research. Many times, scientists made important discoveries through inventing a revolutionary technique or improving an existing one. Power of one original technique, given it has a high impact, is harnessed on the road to thousands of other discoveries. Thus, just like in a signal transduction cascade, impact brought by one important discovery/invention of a method is amplified. It is not that I think the discoveries in basic research are less exciting – I love basic research. Plus, the demand for novel technologies arises during basic research. Methods development is just another angle through which I am planning to contribute as a molecular biologist/biochemist.
At the beginning of my second semester as a freshman (at Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, XXXX University), I volunteered to join Dr. Alice Brown’s laboratory as a research student, where we were studying the molecular biology of inherited neuropathies, particularly the Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. In her lab I was able to learn many basic techniques such as PCR, electrophoresis and restriction digestion analysis. After almost a year of assisting her PhD students with their projects, Dr. Brown assigned an independent screening project to me. With my “beginner’s luck” I discovered several novel mutations in the GDAP1 and Cx32 genes of the hereditary neuropathy patients I was screening. These mutations are published in the Brain article (Green et al., 2004) and became part of a Master’s Thesis of one of the students. Since members of two laboratories contributed to the article and since I was only an undergraduate at that time, my name was listed as 12th out of 16 authors, even though I discovered and characterized two out of five novel mutations described in the article.
At the end of my 3rd year, I joined Dr. John Black’s laboratory in Baylor College of Medicine, as a summer intern. The main research topic in this lab was about myosin folding and novel putative chaperone for myosin – UNC-45. I was highly motivated by this new research field and I decided to freeze my undergraduate study and stay for a year with Dr. Black. My first year, during which I was working on fluorescent probes for myosin motor domain, resulted in a poster that I presented in a departmental retreat in Galveston (where Dr. Black moved at the end of that academic year). I wanted more experience and a preferably a publication too, so I stayed for one more year with Dr. Black. During the second year (now at University of Texas Medical Branch – Galveston), I worked on several projects, two of which are never going to be published, since I could not finish them by the time I had to return to XXXX country and I believe the funding for those projects was cut. The project that could get published was about myosin degradation via ubiquitin-proteasome pathway (Johnson et al., J Cell Biol, 2007). This was the major project of the lab at that moment and I contributed two figures showing in vitro evidence that myosin is indeed degraded via ubiquitin-proteasome pathway.
I returned back to XXXX country in 2005 and finished my undergraduate study. Then, in 2006, I became a Master’s student in XXXX University. I joined Dr. Alex Sage’s lab, whose research topic was identifying novel cancer-related Wnt/beta-catenin pathway target genes. After working 6 months in Dr. Sage’s lab, we already were planning two manuscripts. In one of the articles, as a first author of a prospective J Biol Chem article, I show that a gene (on which, there are about 40 articles in PubMed) is a target of the pathway and provide evidence that this gene plays a significant role in several brain tumors. In the second prospective article, proposed to be submitted to Cancer Research, I am currently the second author and here we identify two genes (7 articles and 155 articles in PubMed!) as transcriptional targets of the Wnt/beta-catenin pathway and their significance in hepatocellular carcinoma.
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