People

Visitor of the Week: Chantell Balaan

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Meet Chantell Balaan of the University of Hawai’I at Mānoa where she is a PhD student in the only Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican tetra) lab in Hawai'i led by her PI, Dr. Masato Yoshizawa. Chantell recently wrapped up a week at our lecture-based workshop on Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – her first course at CSHL.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My current research focuses on utilizing a novel model, Astyanax mexicanus (Mexican tetra), to better understand ASD etiology and how various diets may affect our model both behaviorally as well as physiologically.  

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I have always appreciated the biomedical relevance to our research and would like to further pursue it in a translational way. Our ultimate goal is to develop robust, streamlined therapies for the children and families dealing with ASD.

How did your scientific journey begin?
My journey in science started as a curious little girl wading in the taro patches of my family’s farm where I spent my weekends observing nature. I believe it was here where I developed my observational skills that I currently utilize in my behavioral research.   

Was there something specific about the Workshop on Autism Spectrum Disorder that drew you to apply?
The opportunity to apply to this workshop was advertised by my PI’s mentor, Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai who urged that this would be a great opportunity. The panel of speakers really drew me in to apply and the topics to be covered is significant to the overall direction of my PhD.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the workshop to your work?
I have a greater understanding of the clinical perspective and implications of our animal research and I want to always be conscious of this when analyzing my data, especially when I am trying to characterize a fish across ASD-relevant behaviors.

What is your key takeaway from the workshop?
I have several takeaways from the course: 1) ASD is a heterogeneous condition; therefore, our approach need to be a heterogeneous one as well, and 2) There is no one best way to behaviorally and physiologically model ASD using a non-human model. There is no one best non-human model out there, but each model still has its importance in helping us understand basic brain biology that can better inform us of the underlying neurological mechanisms of ASD.

If someone curious in attending this workshop asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely recommend them to take the workshop! This workshop exceeded my expectations and opened my mind to the field in a more comprehensive matter. Because I am studying Autism Spectrum Disorder, there is both a clinical and bench work research component to the field. At this workshop, there was a great balance between lecturers and presentations of that dynamic. If you want to attend a course and are interested, please apply! 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I enjoyed the scenery here in Long Island! It is truly beautiful and has a peaceful atmosphere to it. I know it may be odd to hear that given I am from Hawaii, but there is a different type of beauty that blankets the Banbury campus. There is also a nice beach that is a short walk behind the Robertson House. Additionally, the Robertson House was arranged nicely and our accommodations fit the scenery.

Chantell received financial support from the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) to cover her course tuition. On behalf of Chantell, thank you to IBRO for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Chantell for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Eduardo Scopel Ferreira da Costa

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Meet Eduardo Scopel Ferreira da Costa of the University of Georgia. He is a third year PhD student, a member of Douda Bensasson’s lab, and since last week has been training in our yeast course (and for the Plate Race). Though just a little over a week into the three-week annual course, the Brazilian national is fully immersed and has already gathered newfound techniques and experiments to bring back to his home institution.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
From an evolutionary and ecological perspective, I study the variation in the number of chromosomes (aneuploidy) in yeast living in different environments; e.g. beer, oak trees, or humans. The long-term goal of my project is to develop a model that can estimate the occurrence of this type of mutation not only in yeast, but in any eukaryote.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Aneuploidy is associated with drug resistance in pathogenic fungi and many diseases in humans, including cancer. It is quite common in yeast, which is also an amazing model system with a wide availability of tools. The possibility to combine evolutionary biology with bioinformatics to study such an exciting topic was the main reason why I chose this as the focus of my research.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I knew I wanted to work in science since high school. I was always very curious and excited to make things work better, which was the main reason I decided to get my undergraduate degree in Engineering. That drive to work in science grew after I got my master’s in Biotechnology and was consolidated after I started teaching undergraduate Engineering classes back in Brazil. The experience of mentoring students and being able to share my knowledge with others is very rewarding, and is one of my major long-term goals as a scientist.

Was there something specific about the Yeast Genetics & Genomics course that drew you to apply?
My training is in Engineering and I have been working exclusively with bioinformatics lately. So, I felt that the next logical step for me was to strengthen my training in yeast genetics and wet lab techniques. I believe that to completely utilize the awesome power of yeast genetics I needed to know how to generate the data I am accustomed to analyzing everyday using computational tools. The combination of the training given by lead scientists in the field with the immersive environment provided by the course were other reasons that drew me to apply.

The techniques I was mostly interested in learning were Genome Engineering, Synthetic Genetic Arrays, and Fluctuation Analysis.

Though you’re only roughly one third of the way through the course, what have you so far learned from it that you can apply to your work?
Before coming to the Yeast Course, I was only working on the computational analysis of data generated from other studies. Now, I will be able to generate data myself and follow-up with my computational analyses. When I go back, I will immediately start using experiments I learned in the course, many of which are not currently being done in the Lab I work in.

Do you already have a takeaway from the course that you want to share?
The instructors and TAs have done an amazing job planning a course that challenges students constantly. Even though the workload of the course is very high, it is totally worth it. I feel like I have been learning something new every day, even in subjects where I have been working on for a long time. Also, the experiments are carefully designed for the students to learn multiple techniques and concepts simultaneously. This combination of depth and breadth of content is rarely found in similar courses.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I had an amazing experience learning many new things and meeting outstanding scientists from different fields. This has the potential to be a turning point in someone’s professional career. My only advice would be to come well- rested and prepared for a very intense and challenging course.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The immersive environment of the course and having the opportunity to meet people that share the same passion I have for science.

Eduardo received financial support from Regeneron to cover a portion of his tuition. On behalf of Eduardo, thank you to Regeneron for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Alison for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Tuce Tombaz

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Meet Tuce Tombaz of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway). The Turkish national is a Ph.D. candidate within the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience and is currently training at our three-week summer course on Imaging Structure & Function in Nervous System. This is Tuce’s first course at CSHL, and she is our second trainee this summer hailing from Jonathan Whitlock’s lab.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My general interests cover a variety of topics spanning sensory and motor explorations in systems neuroscience. My work focuses on how rodent brains represent different aspects of behavior, and this interfaces with social cognition. More specifically, I investigate whether individual cells represent performed and observed actions similarly, a finding which could pave the way for understanding the neural bases of social learning.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Initially, I didn’t know. I have a background in molecular biology and genetics. I was interested in microscopy techniques to visualize things that are not visible to the naked eye. I have spent quite a of bit time in different labs to learn more about different methods that aim to answer different questions. I became very interested in my current project when I first read about it in the job description. It allows me to use imaging techniques to look for something fundamental to the animals’ experience.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I can’t specify an instance that inspired me, but having worked in multiple labs throughout my career enabled me to complete a combination of projects I completed that made me more curious about novel questions. I really enjoyed the collaborative aspects of these projects and thinking about how to solve difficult problems. It was initially at the molecular level and now at the behavior level.

Was there something specific about the Imaging Structure & Function in the Nervous System course that drew you to apply?
Yes, I knew that there is no other course which could teach so much about imaging techniques than this course. It is quite common that, during the span of the graduate program, you are extremely busy with acquiring data such that you are often unaware of the operative details of the system you are using. I was always curious to know how the system works and that fundamentally requires you to dismantle and assemble a microscope. During this course, I was able to set up multiple imaging systems from scratch and learn the theory behind them. I understand that the knowledge I will gather throughout the course will be invaluable, so I feel privileged to be here.

Though you’re only one third of the way through the course, what have you so far learned from it that you can apply to your work?
So far, I have learnt the very basics of optics, different types of imaging setups and how they are used. I also built wide-field and fluorescence microscopes. This knowledge can already be transferable because we don’t learn about any of these in graduate school and how it could all affect our data. By the end of the course I will be able to learn how to combine certain imaging systems with the optogenetic manipulations that would certainly be important for my project and also other projects in the lab.

Do you already have a takeaway from the course that you want to share?
It is really hard to pinpoint one so I will name two:

  1. Know your imaging setup completely; what the bits and pieces are and what could potentially make a big difference.

  2. Design the imaging setup according to your needs.

Both of these would give you a sense of what might be wrong with your imaging.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would highly encourage motivated scientists to attend this course. It is a very useful course if one is curious about how to build scopes for effective usage. I should also add that the course is intense. You will get to learn so much in a very short period of time.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
Meeting new people was definitely one of the highlights of this course. The campus is also very pretty.

Tuce received financial support from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of her course tuition. On behalf of Tuce, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Tuce for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Patrick Capel

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Meet Patrick Capel of the University of Warwick. The SynBio CDT PhD student, co-supervised by Emzo de los Santos and Christophe Corre, is currently about halfway through his training at our annual course on Synthetic Biology.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am interested in natural products – compounds that are derived from nature and are often very complex. More specifically I want to be able to use cell-free transcription-translation systems to investigate their biosynthesis and create new pathways in a way that is more similar to chemistry than it is biology!

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I love organic synthesis, but I was drawn towards biosynthesis because biology allows us to do what we would need a myriad of reagents and conditions to do at physiological pH and with greater control. For me, cell-free transcription-translation is very similar to chemistry where you mix reagents together and let it go to get your protein of interest so it seemed like a good fit for me.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I was always encouraged to ask questions, and often taken to places like planetariums and the Natural History Museum in London (mainly to look at the dinosaurs) when I was young which made me fall in love with all things science.

Was there something specific about the Synthetic Biology course that drew you to apply?
I was drawn to the course as two of the main topics (DNA assembly and cell free transcription-translation) are things that I directly use in my PhD work. Also, microfluidics is something I can see myself using in the not-too-distant future.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
I have learnt a lot about optimizing protocols for DNA synthesis, which I will be getting the lab to tinker with as soon as I get home. I have also explored some modeling whilst here which I am trying to apply to my own work too. 

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Give everything a go and talk to other people about what you are up too! Your idea about a potential experiment might sound a bit too crazy to you but it might be logically sound to someone else.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I’d tell them to come if they can. You learn a lot about everything covered during the course and also get to talk about everything that surrounds science in the canteen, along with making connections with other people in a way that is very different from a conference or a short meeting. There is a real community feeling here and I already can’t wait to bump into my course mates and instructors at conferences later in my academic life. 

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
S wimming in the harbor with my newfound friends and staying up late chatting about everything from local adventures to life philosophies.

Patrick received financial support from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Center to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Patrick, thank you to HHMI and the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Center for supporting and enabling our young scientists to participate in training courses where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Patrick for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

Visitor of the Week: Bartul Mimica

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Meet Bartul Mimica of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway). The Croatian national is part of Jonathan Whitlock’s lab within the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience. A PhD student, Bartul has spent the last two weeks with us at the Neural Data Science course.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I am generally interested in the neurophysiological bases of behavior, i.e. how individual cells encode the moment-to-moment variability in what we or others are doing. I work on several projects, but my main focus was devoted to studying the cortical representation of posture with single-unit recordings and 3D tracking (our study was published in Science last year – you can read more about the research here)

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
A long, long time ago – I read about the discovery grid cells with extracellular recordings and became fascinated not only with the finding, but also the method. I went to Norway to learn the method, but also stumbled upon different questions about the methodology of tracking animal behavior, which got me into what I am doing today.

How did your scientific journey begin?
It was probably an amalgam of various thought processes across a lengthy span of time, the proclivity to ask questions and seek answers (however rough the road towards them was), and then channeling those inner drives to find a niche in the job market. I also always wanted to do a job which valued curiosity and intellectual honesty. I hope others agree with me on this, too.

Was there something specific about the Neural Data Science course that drew you to apply?
Data analysis is the bedrock of contemporary systems neuroscience. In my line of work, it spills over into almost every day-to-day activity in the lab, or outside it. The range of topics and quality of speakers were irresistible, so I decided to apply. And I’m happy to say that a day did not go by without my learning something I would be able to use in my work back home.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the course to your work?
At my home institution, we analyze electrophysiological, imaging and behavioral data, so it is fair to say everything I learned from the course can be applied to some degree in my work. A lot of the methods for extracting spike or calcium signal data that we covered during the course are already implemented in our processing pipelines. However, I think implementing pose estimation from marker-less tracking videos and analogue signal analyses will be the next steps for me and my lab mates.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
It is hard to single one thing out, but I guess generally one could say that it is crucial to have a meticulous, well thought-out plan before analyzing data or writing a paper. In this day and age, a lot of sophisticated methods are only a button-click away for ordinary users, but it is really important to get the feeling for the raw data and understand the requirements for using different analyses before doing any actual work.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
The course is very, very useful, but also rather intense. It’s definitely worth considering if you want to improve your analytical skills, the smaller-sized groups increase focus and make you progress quicker.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The new friendships I gained and certainly the weather, which has been merciful compared to the Norwegian one.

Bartul received financial support from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Bartul, thank you to HHMI for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Bartul for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.