Every so often, we host a course trainee multiple times in a year. One such trainee from 2017 is Sumangala “Suma” Shetty, a research and teaching specialist at Paul Copeland’s lab in Robert Wood Johnson Medical School – Rutgers University.
Suma made her debut at CSHL Meetings & Courses six years ago when she attended the 2012 Translational Control meeting. She still clearly remembers being surprised by the “talks [going] past 10 PM” and that “attendance was still at its peak during the evenings”. Last year, Suma returned to CSHL to attend three courses – The Genome Access Course, Scientific Writing Retreat, and Computational Genomics – and from our conversation it doesn’t seem like we’ve seen the last of her.
Tell us about your research interests and what you’re working on.
My research focuses on understanding the mechanism of synthesis for a specialized group of proteins referred to as selenoproteins. Selenoproteins play a crucial role in cellular homeostasis, thyroid hormone metabolism, redox regulation, storage and transport of selenium, protein folding, and signaling skeletal muscle regeneration.
We offer roughly 30 courses per year and you participated in three of those courses last year. How did you decide which courses to apply for?
In concert with my want to transition into an independent scientist, I have been focusing on developing new skill sets to keep pace with emerging data mining techniques and high-throughput screening methods for genomic data analysis. Since independent research relies on grant funding, I was interested in a workshop that focused on grant writing. Similarly, I surveyed for courses on bioinformatics and data analysis tools. There are several online tools and resources, and I have acquired several online certificates for data analysis as well as developed programming skills using Python. But I was longing for face-to-face interaction with fellow beginners to discuss pitfalls and potentials, and, most importantly, get feedback.
Keeping in mind my two goals and learning environment criteria, I consulted my mentors for advice. In addition, in December 2016, I attended a CRISPR workshop by NIH where I met Dr. Vielka Selezar. At that point in time she had just joined Cape Breton University (Canada) as a new faculty member and was in a similar situation as me so I asked her for advice. She shared with me her learning experience at CSHL’s Computational Genomics course and highly recommended it. Interestingly, when I visited the CSHL website, I found several other courses that suited my needs and I narrowed down the list to the three most relevant for my career.
What is your key takeaway from each of the three courses?
I totally enjoyed each of the courses, especially given their highly-interactive setups. The Genome Access Course exposed me to a rich collection of databases and tools. It was so engrossing and involved that I didn’t even need my second shot of caffeine in the afternoon! Totally loved it and, in fact, I think The Genome Access Course should be made mandatory for all graduate students.
My second course was the Scientific Writing Retreat. This workshop was an eye opener for several reasons: 1) It taught me how to overcome writer’s block and clean a draft for clarity; 2) I learned inside information on how a manuscript submitted to a journal is reviewed and how to improve the chances of it being accepted; 3) I chatted with a grant writing expert; and 4) The one-on-one review of my manuscript draft was, in my opinion, the best feature of this course. At the end, I felt like my fellow participants, the mentors, and I had become a tight-knit network that I could always approach with any of my tough writing issues. Charla and Steve thank you very, very much.
And finally, Computational Genomics was the most intense and most exciting seven-day course I have ever attended. We were in class almost all day till midnight and still every one of us showed up at 9:00 the next morning. It was highly informative and full of new tools to explore. My favorite part was working in teams on our take-home midterm exam and also on our final project, because I learnt a lot from my course mates. Also, through an online course on genomic data analysis by Johns Hopkins University, I had heard lectures from James Taylor and Jeff Leek but it was cool and an honor to meet and hear them in person at the course. They were extremely helpful, very humble, and the course was much more fun than an online course.
One similarity I noticed that was consistent in the three courses is that all of the course mentors were highly motivated and inspiring. They were extremely helpful, always available, and their enthusiasm was infectious.
Have you already applied what you learned from each course to your work?
I am using the data analysis tools on our pre-existing RNA-seq and proteomics data, and currently, we are storyboarding some new applications for our project using genome analysis tools. Also, tips from the Scientific Writing Retreat enabled me to finish my manuscript.
If someone interested in a CSHL course asked you for advice, what would that be?
After my experience, I strongly believe that CSHL courses are a crucial resource for learning current techniques under the direct supervision of the experts. I think a stronger awareness about CSHL courses should be raised among graduate students and postdocs; and therefore, I would strongly encourage those interested in a CSHL course to apply. A number of the courses post their past lectures online so it’s easy to browse the content and analyze if the course will suit your needs.
Our readers are curious about how course tuitions are funded. Would you like to share how you were able to pay for three courses in one year?
I am fortunate in that my PI, Paul Copeland, strongly supports my career growth. We both agreed that expanding my skill set will add new insights to our current projects and, therefore, I received financial support for my courses from Paul.
What did you like most about your time at CSHL?
The intensity and enthusiasm of everyone I met. More importantly, the one-on-one interaction and personalized discussion with experts on our individual projects.
Do you have any future plans to attend another course or, perhaps, a meeting at CSHL?
Absolutely yes. The CSHL Meetings & Courses website is in my browser favorite list, and I am already planning to apply for the Statistical Methods for Functional Genomics course.
Thank you to Suma for sharing with us her experience. We look forward to having her back at the Laboratory soon. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.