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Students Get Skilled - Organize the First Personal Skills Development Conference

By Neetu Gulati, Pharmacology Ph.D. Student


CWRU's first Personal Skills Development Conference was held at the university on January 31. The conference, organized by the Graduate Student Senate (GSS), featured sessions on important life skills, including work-life balance, emotional intelligence and collaborative leadership, conflict resolution, unconscious bias, among others. Yotam Blech-Hermoni, the committee chair, is pictured with Dean Rozek and Associate Dean Hamel from the School of Graduate Studies. The conference also included a panel of past recipients of the Diekhoff Award, given to faculty members by the GSS in recognition of their excellence in mentorship or teaching. The panelists discussed mentor/mentee relationships, the benefits and costs of good mentoring, and their own experiences with mentors.

The University's strategic plan has emphasized the need for further investment in professional development. Accordingly, support for the conference came from across the university, in the form of expert presenters, advertising, and financial contributions (including from the SOM Office of Graduate Education). The conference served as a prelude to the new Professional Development Center, currently being created by the School of Graduate Studies.

The event was a great success, with over 200 graduate students, professional students, and postdocs from across all schools at CWRU signing up for sessions. The School of Medicine was well represented, with more than a quarter of the registrants affiliated with the SOM. Faculty members in the SOM commented about the need for such training for their students and participants spoke to the knowledge of the presenters and the benefits of the conference, as the skills learned are applicable in daily life. With such enthusiasm for its first such event, the GSS is currently working on a second conference, geared towards Professional Skills Development for students and postdocs. This conference will be held on May 2.

For more information on the Personal Development Conference, check out the conference website. Hope to see you at the next conference!

PREP-aring for the Future

By Malana Bey
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The Graduate Education Office welcomed its 7th class of PREP Scholars this past July. The Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP), sponsored by the MARC Branch of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, is designed to provide under-represented minorities and disadvantaged students in the biomedical sciences with a year-long, mentored research experience at research-intensive institutions across the nation. PREPs also provide professional development, support to attend national scientific meetings, formal preparation for the GRE, and mentoring throughout the graduate school application process. In addition to the seven talented new Scholars, the PREP Program also welcomed Dr. Paul MacDonald as the new PREP Director with Dr. Diana Ramirez-Bergeron continuing her key role as the PREP co-director.

From the very beginning of July, it has been full speed ahead for the Scholars with lab rotations, GRE test preparation, weekly PREP meetings, seminars, and graduate courses. After several mini-rotations, the scholars selected their mentors and began their research projects in a variety of different fields. In November, all of the first year PREP Scholars attended the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) hosted by the American Society for Microbiology in Nashville, TN. Tiffany Rolle, Tristan de Jesùs, and Gwen Quintana presented posters on their research projects. Gwen was honored with a certificate of achievement in recognition of her outstanding presentation. The Scholars spent a majority of the meeting networking with graduate program directors, recruiters, and other students as well as attending numerous professional development, poster and oral sessions. Second year scholar Binta Jalloh presented her research at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) conference in Washington, DC during the same week.

The PREP directors, in close collaboration with the research mentors, worked closely with the scholars to mentor them through the graduate school application process. The scholars are currently interviewing at top universities across the nation including Emory, Johns Hopkins, U Penn, Vanderbilt, University of Michigan, and CWRU among others. The future looks bright for these up and coming researchers, and we are happy that CWRU could be one stop on their journey to new discoveries and an evolving research career. Meet our current PREP Scholars

Seeds of Discovery kicks off the Fall Semester

By Paul MacDonald
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"The seeds of great discoveries are constantly floating around us, but they only take root in minds well prepared to receive them."

- American Physicist, Joseph Henry -


The entering class of PhD students from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine was honored at a white lab coat ceremony on Friday, August 23, 2013. The ceremony, entitled Seeds of Discovery, recognized over 70 incoming PhD students from twelve different School of Medicine departments and training programs. The purpose of Seeds of Discovery is to publically welcome students as junior colleagues that are taking their initial steps into the research profession. The ceremony was held in the Wolstein Research Building auditorium on the CWRU School of Medicine campus. Over 80 parents, family members, and friends of the students attended the ceremony.

The day's events began with a luncheon for the families in Thwing Hall. Associate Dean Paul MacDonald and his staff from the Graduate Education Office hosted the luncheon. Students from the Biomedical Graduate Student Organization provided the audience with important perspectives on what their students will experience along their journey through the various CWRU PhD programs. The students participating in the luncheon included Sharon Rymut (BGOS president), Christina Antonopoulos, Yianna Antonopoulos, Darwin Babino, Stacy Chung, Caroline Farrington, Callie Merry, and Tom Richardson. Numerous parents were thankful for the perspectives that the students shared. Following the luncheon, the group took advantage of the beautiful, sunny, summer day and walked the short distance to The Cleveland Museum of Art for free self-guided tours.

The Seeds of Discovery ceremony began at 4 pm with the students processing into the auditorium to "Procession of Nobles" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. In line with the students and sitting among them, were the Chairs of the various programs and their graduate program directors. Dr. MacDonald welcomed everyone to the ceremony. His opening remarks focused on the entry of these students into this profession as a calling and he highlighted the richness and diversity of this incoming class. School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, provided the keynote address that centered on the significance of PhD students in the School of Medicine and the important role that they will play as future leaders in the research enterprise system. She encouraged them to remain open-minded and dedicated to their professional responsibilities. Then, the students were presented with embroidered laboratory coats.The Chairs of each program announced the names of their entering students while the graduate program directors, in a symbolic gesture, helped the students into their lab coats. Mark Chance, PhD, Vice-Dean for Research in the School of Medicine, closed the ceremony with an enthusiastic charge to the students that they are not only colleagues, but also the future leaders of the national research effort.

A reception followed the ceremony for all those attending. The smiling faces and enthusiastic chatter lasted until well into the evening.

An Enduring Tradition: The Biomedical Graduate Student Symposium

By Yotam Blech-Hermoni
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The Biomedical Graduate Student Symposium has been highlighting graduate student excellence in research at the School of Medicine since 1977. Christina Antonopoulos (center) was Chair of the BGSS Committee in 2013, while Elise Blankenship (left) is the current Chair. Dr. David McDonald (right) has been the faculty advisor to the Committee since 2007.

"Immersing yourself in the entire academic experience" is how Christina Antonopoulos (Pathology) describes graduate school. It's not just about scholastics - organizational skills, the ability to work effectively with others, and serving colleagues and the greater scientific community are the skills that make graduate students successful professionals. As Chair of the Biomedical Graduate Student Symposium (BGSS) Committee in 2013, these are the skills that Christina (now a fifth year doctoral candidate in the laboratory of Dr. George Dubyak) had to master. Apprehensive at first, the experience quickly became a reward in its own right, as the seventeen or so students who made up the Committee came together to address every aspect of the symposium, from reserving the space to recruiting judges and soliciting abstracts to hosting the keynote speaker. While Dr. David McDonald, Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology and faculty advisor to the BGSS Committee, is there to help make sure the process doesn't fall apart, he readily admits that "the committee attracts talented and motivated students and is almost completely self-sufficient."

The BGSS was created in 1977, by Dr. Jonathan Lis (Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology), in an effort to highlight excellence in biomedical graduate student research. The BGSS features student poster and platform presentations, as well as a student-invited guest speaker, a preeminent researcher most often from outside the CWRU community. The 2013 BGSS boasted 59 posters, 6 talks, 37 faculty judges, and a keynote address by Dr. Robert Sah (UCSD), a prominent investigator of cartilage bioengineering. Participating in the symposium doesn't only provide students with the opportunity to present their data before a collegial audience, but prizes are also awarded for best poster and platform presentations. Christina, who has also participated in the BGSS as a presenter since 2010, still remembers the feeling of disappointment when she couldn't quite nail her first poster presentation, but also the feeling of triumph when her poster presentation the following year won her a prize.The BGSS, which stands as the foremost opportunity for School of Medicine (SOM) graduate students to engage with the entire CWRU scientific community is fully supported by the Biomedical Sciences Training Program (BSTP), while additional funds are contributed by vendors, SOM departments, the SOM Dean's office, and the CWRU President's office to support the student awards.

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"Watching great students work together is reward enough," says Dr. David McDonald (Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology), who has been faculty advisor for the BGSS Committee since 2007. However, making this SOM tradition an enduring one is doubtless a nice perk.

The 37th Biomedical Graduate Student Symposium will be held on May 9, 2014. Dr. Lynn Landmesser, Professor and Chair of Neurosciences, has been invited to give the keynote address "in recognition of her outstanding support of student education and research over the many years she has been at [CWRU]," says Dr. McDonald. With the Symposium just around the corner, this year's Committee Chair, Elise Blankenship (second year student in the Program in Systems Biology and Bioinformatics), is already fully immersed in making this year's Symposium a success. Even so, she is "already working on [her] poster...!"

Meet the New Director of C3MB

By Christian Pira, Biochemistry undergraduate, 2017
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Meet Dr. George Dubyak, Professor of Physiology and Biophysics and the new director of the C3MB course. As of Fall 2013, Dr. Dubyak has been coordinating faculty topic sessions, planning course updates, as well as working with students to progress through and excel in the course. Indeed, George continues a decades-long tradition of teaching in C3MB where his sections garner high praise from the students.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Dr. Dubyak is a true Philadelphian. He is passionate about the Phillies, the Eagles, and the Philly Cheese Steak. His Ph.D. in Physiology was obtained from the University of Pennsylvania, located on the near east side of Philadelphia, His postdoctoral research training in Biophysics occurred there as well. CWRU was indeed fortunate to lure him to Cleveland in 1986 to begin nearly three decades of leadership, research, training, and teaching on the School of Medicine campus. George has taught graduate courses across multiple disciplines, directed numerous T32 training grants, and has been co-director of the prestigious Medical Scientist Training Program for over a decade.

Referring to his first semester as Director of C3MB, Dr. Dubyak says he has been getting to know how the "smaller gears of the course mesh together to make the whole thing tick." He has become more familiar with different faculty teaching styles and how the 5 blocks of C3MB interact to give the course its magic. Moving forward, Dr. Dubyak would like to begin the course earlier and streamline some topics as a means to decompress the experience. George frequently likens the current format to "drinking out of a fire hose." There is little time for the students to reflect, work with concepts, or internalize the information presented in class. He wants to see an increase in small group paper discussions as a means to promote more active learning and peer-peer interactions. Adding a graded component to these discussions will reduce the pressure of an exam-only grading scheme. His gradual approach to refining C3MB will allow him and the teaching faculty to evaluate the strengths and identify new areas for improvement. George is focused on making C3MB a better experience for our first semester Ph.D.s and provide students with a "very important set of skills" for their future training experiences. He is passionate about the course and his students. He wants nothing more than to see them grow and succeed. George's final words of advice to C3MB students are "Don't fall behind." He urges students to stay on top of things and keep themselves organized. These are sound words of advise from one of our busiest research and academic leaders in the School of Medicine.

Tech Transfer Careers for Ph.D.s

By Sharon Rymut, President of the BGSO and Pharmacology PhD student


Did you know that technology transfer is a growing alternative career and has increasing importance at the biotechnology, university, and pharmaceutical companies? With research at the university level gaining influence in the industrial world, technology transfer is a critical intermediate between the two involved parties. The mission of the technology transfer office here at Case Western Reserve is "to protect the rights of both the inventor and the university, and to assess the commercial potential of new discoveries". Basically, they want to help develop personal innovations, inventions, and ideas and to commercialize that knowledge. Recently, the Biomedical Graduate Student Organization (BGSO) hosted Michael Haag from the Technology Transfer Office here at Case Western Reserve. He described the technology transfer field as a growing field for those who want to work at the interface of technology, science, and business. He also emphasized the need for candidates with their PhDs in the life sciences. Successful candidates in the field have a strong, science background, as well as business acuity. As Mr. Haag described it, it is important to understand all three sectors: science, business, and technology; however, it is better for one to have a strong science background than a business or technology background. It takes years to develop a solid science skill set, while the business and technology involved here can be taught on the job.

For more information regarding Technology Transfer, check out Case Western Reserve University Technology Transfer website and "Technology transfer and idea commercialization" by Judith Sheft (Nature Biotechnology 26, 711-712 (2008)).

Semester Update on the BSTP

By Martin Snider, BSTP Director
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The Biomedical Sciences Training Program is a multidisciplinary PhD program that admits students who earn their degrees in a wide range of fields from Biochemistry to Neurosciences to Systems Biology. The 2013 class included 21 students with outstanding backgrounds. They hail from around the world and they have hometowns in 10 states and Puerto Rico. We're confident that they'll be strong contributors to our academic and research excellence. These students have completing the process of selecting their research labs. Last month, the students selected mentors in the basic science and clinical departments of the School of Medicine and at the Lerner Research Institute of the Cleveland Clinic and they're getting started on their thesis research.

We're in the process of recruiting the class that will begin the program this summer. As candidates for the program visit CWRU this winter and spring, we'll benefit from the efforts of over 100 faculty and nearly as many students in the interview process. They're fantastic ambassadors for our PhD program and for our research enterprise.

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The above banner is from our Art of Science contestant Stacey Chung.

"NIH-3T3 cells were transiently transfected with pCMV-oncoDbl, which expresses a truncated form of the guanine nucleotide exchange factor Dbl. In the left panel, cells were stained for actin (Texas red phalloidin), in which the cells expressing onco-Dbl, as indicated in the middle panel by the anti-Dbl/Alexa-488 stain, show formation of stress fibers. Multi-nucleation is also a marker for cells that express onco-Dbl, as seen in the middle panel."