The next scientist to be featured in the 2018 edition of our Repeat Visitor series is Leila Rieder. Leila is a K99 postdoctoral fellow in Erica Larschan’s lab in Brown University with a visiting appointment at Princeton University. And, next April, she will take on her new role as Assistant Professor in the Biology Department of Emory University. Leila made her CSHL Meetings & Courses debut in August 2017 when she trained at the Proteomics course. She returned for this year’s Quantitative Imaging: From Acquisition to Analysis course (QICM) followed by a poster presentation at the Nuclear Organization & Function meeting a few weeks later. We caught up with Leila to chat about her experience at our meetings and courses, and if she has any plans of participating in a near future meeting or course.
Tell us about your research interests and how you decided to make it the focus of your research.
I’m most interested in how genes are coordinately regulated -- turned on and off at the same time. Cells are remarkably good at this and we don’t know how they do it! I first began by focusing on how sex chromosomes are singled out for unique regulation, a process called dosage compensation. In these systems, basically all the genes carried on a single chromosome are coordinately regulated. However, it’s not simply the chromosomal location that leads to this coordinated regulation; there are other signals. While researching the role of a known dosage compensation protein on the male X-chromosome, I discovered the same protein was involved in regulating another group of coordinated genes: the histones. These genes are often clustered together within genomes and are notable and unique for many reasons. Every time a cell divides, it needs a huge output of histone proteins in the right ratios so they are incredibly important genes!
How did your scientific journey begin?
My father is a cell biologist and, to be honest, because it was important to me to forge my own path, I tried very hard to be anything other than a biologist! But because of my father’s research, I spent my childhood summers at the Marine Biological Laboratory and sat through so many meals where the entertainment (the entire conversation!) was dominated by my father and his colleagues debating their newest results. They couldn’t get together without “talking science” and I wanted to have those conversations myself -- and now I do!
This year, we hosted 26 meetings and 34 courses - how did you narrow down which ones to attend?
I taught myself most of the microscopy I know, and was intensely aware that I was probably doing 50% of it incorrectly. (After the course, I realized I was closer to 90%.) I knew that if I wanted to perform experiments correctly, I needed formal guidance and a background in theory. I’ll soon be in a position to guide my trainees through their own research, and will make sure to never suggest they do sloppy or ignorant microscopy!
As for the meeting, I decided it was important to understand how my favorite genes and loci were situated in the nucleus. I had been working in the field of coordinated gene regulation but without deeply considering higher-order organization and genomic context.
What is your key takeaway from QICM? Also, what advice would you give to someone interested in this course?
Quantitative microscopy is incredibly powerful when used correctly, but there are many ways to use it to find false positives and red herrings. Most of all, I will never apply a quantitative microscopy technique without first researching all the ways in which it can go wrong. I think the best time to take this course is when you have some basic microscopy experience but haven’t yet significantly applied it to your biological question. Be prepared to hear about the different ways your past experiments were sub-par. It’s not a great feeling, but it’s better to learn sooner rather than later!
For Nuclear Organization & Function, what feedback can you provide for those interested in participating in its 2020 iteration?
The field of nuclear organization and function is much broader than I imagined! It focused on specific topics that were not as relevant to my work as I had expected but, due to it, I now read more broadly. The meeting itself is a great opportunity to meet people—both those who are everyday names as well as those you might not have heard of but are doing really interesting work. I presented a poster entitled “Dynamic identification of the dosage-compensated Drosophila male X-chromosome during early embryogenesis,” and the experience was intense, as many poster sessions are, but friendly. I liked that the meeting was small so it was neither difficult to find people nor for them to find me.
Since you’ve experienced both meeting and course life at CSHL, did you notice any differences or similarities between the two function types?
Since you basically live and work with your course mates for two straight weeks, you really get to know them. We come from so many backgrounds and different countries, and are using what we learn during the course for wildly different purposes. This diversity really adds to the experience. This is all true of the meeting participants as well, but you don’t get to know them to the same extent since the meetings are only four days long.
Our readers are always eager to learn of ways to fund registration. Can you share how you were able to fund your CSHL meeting and course participation?
Since I am located at Brown and Princeton Universities - neither of which are far from CSHL - transportation to CSHL is easier and less costly for me than for most. For tuition and registration support, I received small grants from my home institution, NCI for QICM, and CSHL generously delayed payment for the course tuition until my K99 grant was available. I was also provided tuition support by NICHD when I took the Proteomics course in 2017.
What did you like most about your experience at CSHL?
Overall, I enjoyed meeting so many interesting people from backgrounds so different than mine. At the meeting, what I liked the most was the chance to sit next to someone new at dinner. As for the course, the instructors, TA’s, and vendors were really fantastic and you can absolutely tell they love teaching the course—they live and breathe it even more than the students do! And they had boundless energy. They never got tired of answering questions and, when the students finally shuffled out at the end of a long evening, they stayed to set up for the next day. They are amazing!
Do you have a future CSHL course or meeting on your radar?
Yes! Now that I am about to begin my own research group, I plan on taking the Workshop on Leadership in Biosciences this coming March. And, someday if I have time, I’d like to take the Programming for Biology course. I’m also planning to attend the Mechanisms of Eukaryotic Transcription meeting in 2019.
Both the Quantitative Imaging: From Acquisition to Analysis and Proteomics courses will return to the Laboratory in 2019; and applications are already being accepted. Apply to QICM by January 31, 2019 here, and to Proteomics by April 1, 2019 here.
Thank you to Leila for sharing with us her experience, and we look forward to having her back at the Laboratory again. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here and here.