Visitor of the Week: Hayden Huggins

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Meet Hayden Huggins of the East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine. The fourth year Ph.D. Candidate is a member of Dr. Brett Keiper’s lab in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department. He was on campus for the 2018 Germ Cells meeting where he presented a poster entitled, “mRNA cap-binding protein IFE-3 is critical for germ cell sex-determination in C. elegans”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Broadly, my research interests focus on gene regulation by modulating mRNA translation during germline development. Currently, I am working on mRNA cap-binding isoforms (eIF4E) and how they can selectively regulate subsets of mRNAs in C. elegans germline.    

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
Two things drew me to what I study: 1) I love watching things grow and change over time so animal development is perfect for me; I’ve always said I’m not happy unless I’m studying a phenotype. 2) How biological information is turned into form and function also greatly interests me, so what better place to study this phenomenon than protein synthesis. 

How did your scientific journey begin? 
I have always known I wanted to be involved in research science, but it wasn’t until late in my undergrad that I determined the capacity. While at the Appalachian State University, I started an undergrad research rotation in a virology lab and got bit by the research-bug pretty hard. I subsequently met my current boss, became very interested in his research direction, and now it’s hard to imagine doing anything else.          

Was there something specific about Germ Cells meeting that drew you to attend?
In a couple years, I will be looking for a postdoc position and since many of the leaders in my field attend the Germ Cells meeting at CSHL, it was the perfect opportunity to introduce myself to them and talk about my and their research interests. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
That there is a really strong germ cell community which spans across many developmental systems, with a lot of really exceptional scientists in each. It makes me happy with my choice to stay in this field.    

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?  
In the past year we started CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing in the Keiper lab, with success in tagging our favorite genes with fluorescent proteins. Seeing other researchers’ CRISPR/Cas9 projects has inspired me to do even more genome editing. It is a very powerful tool for developmental biology. I have also learned a little bit about grant writing as a postdoc from Dr. Jordan Ward (UCSC) which I think will prove to be invaluable when I start to secure funding as a postdoc.     

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would tell them that CSHL meetings are excellent places to meet like-minded scientists in your field. There is an abundance of networking opportunities, which are important for those interested in pursuing careers in academic research science. 

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my first one and I will absolutely be attending germ cell meetings – and potentially translation meetings – at CSHL in the future.  

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
The scenery is quite nice here, and the bar was a great place to hang out after the plenary sessions. I also enjoyed the sense of community that I got from the germ cell field.

Thank you to Hayden 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.