Visitor of the Week: Tianhao Xu


Meet Tianhao Xu of Rosalind Franklin University. The Chinese national is a Ph.D. candidate working in Dr. Gustavo Martinez’s lab within the Center for Cancer Cell Biology, Immunology, and Infection. He made his CSHL debut by training at this year’s Advanced Sequencing Technologies & Applications course.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
My research interest is to understand the molecular mechanism of CD8+ T cell differentiation. I’m currently working on understanding the role of two transcription factors, NFAT1 and NFAT2, in CD8+ T cell differentiation and function.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
The truth is I didn’t know of my current research field until my rotation in Dr. Martinez’s lab. In the first year of our graduate program, we are able to rotate with different PIs before deciding which lab to join. During my rotation in the immunology lab, I knew I had found my research focus because, I felt excited and rewarded every time I did the hands-on manipulation of CD8+ T cells!

How did your scientific journey begin?
My interest in science developed at a very young age during the hours and hours I spent playing with my childhood friends in gardens and wild fields. I also like to read science and nature books. This may sound boring or cliché, but the high school biology class brought me onto the biological science path and I still clearly remember the very first day I prepared slides and saw the onion cellular structures.

Was there something specific about the Advanced Sequencing Technologies & Applications course that drew you to apply?
The next-gen sequencing technology, especially RNA-seq and ATAC-seq are powerful tools unveiling the transcriptome and chromatin accessibility changes that bridge transcription factor changes and phenotypic changes in any given cell. Therefore, this course is perfect for me to further study the mechanisms behind NFAT dependent phenotypic changes in CD8+ T cell differentiation.

What and/or how will you apply what you've learned from the course to your work?
I’m still navigating my way in bioinformatics. However, I think I’m getting a more in-depth understanding of the potential application as well as the limitation of next-gen sequencing technology. I can’t wait to bring my knowledge about next-gen sequencing to my lab mates and home institution; and I hope to set up an Amazon Machine Images (AMI), using bioinformatics tools presently available to us, dedicated to all Rosalind Franklin graduate students.

What is your key takeaway from the course?
Leaving your research comfort zone and learning new things can be terrifying. However, you shouldn’t be. The course lecturers and your classmates will be there to help you achieve your goal. A part of becoming a scientist is having the drive to learn and discover new things continuously.

If someone curious in attending this course asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?

  1. The course will be intense. Make sure to read all the guidelines (especially those related to the course pre-requests), and become familiar with the layout of CSHL to easily navigate the buildings and available facilities.

  2. Do not be afraid to ask questions.

  3. Make sure to bring a heavy jacket.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
It is “almost” freezing during this time of the year, but I did enjoy the autumnal feeling and seeing the tree leaves change colors. Most importantly, I have to say the food was fantastic. I never felt this happy eating in the cafeteria before.

Tianhao received a scholarship from the Helmsley Charitable Trust to cover a portion of his course tuition. On behalf of Tianhao, thank you to the Helmsley Charitable Trust for supporting and enabling our young scientists to attend a CSHL course where they expand their skills, knowledge, and network.

Thank you to Tianhao 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.